Tag Archives: NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

Salmon, Steelhead Inhabiting KingCo’s Upper Green A Step Closer

Nearly a year after one federal agency mandated that downstream fish passage be built at a dam in eastern King County, another has again begun to plan towards that end.

It’s a move that would reopen 60 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead in the upper Green River above Howard Hanson Dam, finished without fish ladders in 1961.

AN ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS HOWARD HANSON DAM ON THE UPPER GREEN RIVER. A BIOP REQUIRES THAT DOWNSTREAM FISH PASSAGE BE BUILT AT THE FACILITY TO AID ESA-LISTED CHINOOK, STEELHEAD AND ORCAS. (COE)

According to a Seattle Times article out this morning, the Army Corps of Engineers’ 2020 Work Plan includes $3 million to jumpstart a project it began working on in the early 2000s but stopped in 2011 when it became clear expenses would exceed funding.

But now with the struggles of the region’s orcas front and center, reporter Lynda V. Mapes writes that Washington’s entire Congressional delegation recently sent the Corps a letter “insisting” the work start again.

“It is critical the design and cost update phase of this project is completed and the project is moved onto the construction phase,” the lawmakers state, adding that it would double the amount of fish habitat in the basin.

It also follows on last February’s new biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service that the Corps had to help ESA-listed juvenile Chinook and steelhead get from above Howard Hanson to the Green below there.

Upstream adult passage facilities are already in place 3 miles below the Corps’ flood-control dam, so essentially federal engineers need to construct a collector on the reservoir to help young fish get past it before mature kings, winter-runs as well as coho are placed in the upper watershed.

NMFS estimated that providing passage would lead to nearly 2,000 more natural-original Chinook returning to the Green, which becomes the Duwamish River a hop, skip and a jump away from our offices.

The federal fishery overseers gave the Corps a target of February 2031 to have the new facility’s bugs worked out and be operating for that spring’s smolt outmigration.

Mapes reports that with the project on hold so long, “a new design and new authorization are needed.”

Yuasa’s 2020 Visions: Halibut Highlights, Blackmouth Openers, First Derbies Coming Up

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

This month marks a time when anglers begin gazing into the crystal ball to see what the 2020 fishing season has in store for halibut, salmon and other fish species.

For starters, the good news is halibut chasers can look forward to a more stabilized fishery in marine areas enabling them to make early plans for the upcoming spring season.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

“In Area 2A (Washington, Oregon and California) we’ve moved in a new direction that started in 2019 and goes through 2022 where quotas remain status quo barring any unforeseen issues,” said Heather Hall, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fish policy coordinator.

“We’ve added a lot more days of fishing up front in 2020 compared to last year,” Hall said. “It helps knowing we have the catch quota available (there was 39,000 pounds leftover in 2019 Puget Sound fisheries) and how our fisheries did last year.”

In past seasons, the sport halibut fishery would open in early May, but in 2020 the proposal is to open the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 6 to 10) on April 16.
In those two areas, fishing is allowed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from April 16 to May 16 and May 28 to June 27, plus Memorial Day weekend on May 22-24.

The western Strait (Area 5) will be open Thursdays and Saturdays only from April 30 to May 16; and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from May 16 to June 28. Fishing is open daily from May 22-24 on Memorial Day weekend only.

The northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push (Areas 3 and 4) is open Thursdays and Saturdays from April 30 to May 16 and May 28 to June 27, plus Memorial Day weekend on May 22-24.

Just like last year, the southern ports of Westport and Ilwaco (Areas 1 and 2) are open Thursdays and Sundays from April 30 to May 17 and May 28 to June 28; and May 21 only during Memorial Day weekend.

Fishing areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved and/or additional fishing dates might be added if quotas aren’t attained.

“The season(s) will last as long as there is available quota,” Hall said. “We aren’t sure what kind of effort and fishing success there will be in that early April opener. It’s been many years since we opened in April so it will be interesting to see how it goes.”

In general, a shift in how the halibut fisheries are devised annually continues to be well received since it provides no last-minute changes or closures that have frustrated anglers prior to 2017 who have made fishing plans well in advance of the dates set forth.

The Area 2A catch quota (includes Washington, Oregon and California) for sport, treaty tribal and non-treaty commercial is 1.5-million pounds, and 89 percent – 1,329,575 pounds – of the quota was caught in 2019.

The total sport halibut catch quota is 277,100 pounds for Washington, and 97 percent – 270,024 pounds – of the quota was caught in 2019.

A breakdown in the sport allocation in Puget Sound-Strait (Areas 5 to 10) fisheries is 77,550 pounds; Neah Bay/La Push (Areas 3 and 4) is 128,187 pounds; Westport (Area 2) is 62,896 pounds; and Ilwaco (Area 1) is 15,127 pounds.

The average weight of halibut in 2019 was 18.5 pounds in Puget Sound-Strait; 17.6 pounds at Neah Bay/La Push; 18.3 pounds at Westport; and 14.5 pounds at Ilwaco.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Feb. 3-7 in Anchorage, Alaska to determine seasons and catch quotas from California north to Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service will then make its final approval on halibut fishing dates sometime in March or sooner.

Facts on winter chinook

The holiday celebrations are in the rearview mirror and it’s time to look at winter chinook fishing options, including a few that began this month.

Central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 10, 11 and 12) are now open for winter hatchery blackmouth – a term used for a chinook’s dark gum-line. Area 10 is open through March 31; and Areas 11 and 12 are open through April 30.

“There wasn’t a lot of bait around in Area 10 when it was last open (fishing closed on Nov. 12) although we managed to release some bigger sized blackmouth,” said Justin Wong, owner of Cut Plug Charter in Seattle. “We didn’t catch a lot of shakers (chinook under the 22-inch minimum size limit) so that is a good thing.”

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Lastly, consider getting out sooner than later since early closures hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (fish over the 22-inch minimum size limit).

In central Puget Sound look for blackmouth at Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; northwest side of Vashon Island by the channel marker; Yeomalt Point and Skiff Point on the east side of Bainbridge Island; and Allen Bank off Blake Island’s southeastern corner.

In south-central Puget Sound try around the Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island; Southworth Ferry Landing; and Colvos Passage off the Girl Scout Camp.

Hood Canal doesn’t garner as much attention in the winter but don’t underestimate what can be a decent fishery off Misery Point, Hazel Point, Pleasant Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Seabeck Bay and Seal Rock.

Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) open year-round for hatchery chinook is another overlooked fishery. Good places are Fox Point; Gibson Point; Point Fosdick; Hale Passage; Anderson Island; Lyle Point; and Devil’s Head and Johnson Point.

Other choices on the horizon for winter chinook are the San Juan Islands (Area 7) open Feb. 1 through April 15; northern Puget Sound (Area 9) open Feb. 1 through April 15; and the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) open Feb. 1 through April 30.

Salmon season meeting dates set for 2020

It’s never too late to begin making plans to be a part of the sport-salmon fishing season setting process. For the moment the early outlook appears to resemble last year’s fisheries with a few improvements, but more details won’t come to light until later next month.

Tentative meeting dates – Feb. 28, WDFW salmon forecast public meeting at DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia; March 16, North of Falcon public meeting at Lacey Community Center; March 19, North of Falcon public meeting in Sequim; March 23, Pacific Fishery Management Council public hearing at Westport; March 25, North of Falcon public meeting at WDFW Mill Creek office; and March 30, North of Falcon public meeting at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Avenue West in Lynnwood.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt final salmon seasons on April 5-11 at the Hilton Vancouver, 301 West 6th Street in Vancouver, WA.

Specific meeting agendas and times should be known soon. Details: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/management/north-falcon.

Oldest salmon derby gets underway

The Tengu Blackmouth Derby – the oldest salmon derby that began prior to and shortly after World War II in 1946 – is held on Sundays 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. starting Jan. 5 through Feb. 23 on Elliott Bay at the Seacrest Boathouse (now known as Marination Ma Kai) in West Seattle.

In previous years, the derby started in October when Area 10 opens for winter hatchery chinook. However, this year’s non-retention of chinook delayed the event to coincide with the Jan. 1 opener. Last year, the derby was cancelled when WDFW decided to shutdown Area 10 just a few weeks after it began.

What makes the derby so challenging is the simple fact blackmouth are scarce around the inner bay during winter months.

The derby is named after Tengu, a fabled Japanese character who stretched the truth, and just like Pinocchio, Tengu’s nose grew with every lie.

In a typical derby season, the catch ranges from 20 to 23 legal-size chinook and has reached as high as 50 to 100 fish although catches have dipped dramatically since 2009. The record-low catch was four fish in 2010, and all-time high was 234 in 1979.

The last full-length season was 2017 when 18 blackmouth were caught and a winning fish of 9 pounds-15 ounces went to Guy Mamiya. Justin Wong had the most fish with a total of five followed by John Mirante with four fish.

It has been a while since a big fish was caught in the derby dating back to 1958 when Tom Osaki landed a 25-3 fish. In the past decade, the largest was 15-5 caught by Marcus Nitta during the 2008 derby.

To further test your skills, only mooching is allowed in the derby. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. The membership fee is $15 and $5 for children age 12-and-under. Tickets will be available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle. Rental boats with or without motors are available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Some Dungeness crab fisheries extended into January

The Dungeness crab season along the east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) will remain open daily through Jan. 31 – originally it was scheduled to close after Dec. 31.

WDFW indicates crab abundance can support an additional in-season increase to the harvest shares. Managers made the decision to extend the season to offset a closure that occurred between Oct. 23 through Nov. 28 while crab abundance was assessed.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Elsewhere some sections of northern Puget Sound and Hood Canal are also open daily now through Jan. 31. They are Area 9 between the Hood Canal Bridge and a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point (Port Gamble, Port Ludlow) and the portion of Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) north of a line projected due east from Ayock Point.

Crabbers won’t be required to have a Puget Sound Dungeness crab license endorsement or record Dungeness crab retained on a Catch Record Card when crabbing in January in Areas 8-1 and 8-2 and open sections of Area 9 and 12. However, a valid shellfish or combination license is required. The 2019 winter catch cards must be returned to WDFW by Feb. 4.

Sport crabbers are reminded that setting or pulling traps from a vessel is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

NW Fishing Derby Series begins next month in San Juan Islands

The future of the revamped series is just on the horizon with three derbies happening in the San Juan Islands (Area 7), which is a winter chinook fishing hotspot.

They include the Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 (sold out but has a waiting list); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Each has a first-place prize for the largest fish of $12,000 to $20,000.

Other events soon after are Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15 with a $10,000 first place prize; and Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22 with a $3,000 check for the largest fish.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.

The highlight of the series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package.

A huge “thank you” to our other sponsors who make the series a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

You can get a first glimpse of the new derby boat pulled with a 2019 Chevy Silverado – provided by our sponsor Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet – during The Seattle Boat Show from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1 at the CenturyLink Field and Event Center in Seattle.

The Northwest Fishing Derby Series is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating Program which serves the NMTA’s core purpose—to increase the number of boaters in the Pacific Northwest.

The derby series is the most visible element of the program, which promotes boating and fishing throughout the region by partnering with existing derbies and marketing those events through targeted advertising, public relations and promotional materials. For details, go to www.NorthwestFishingDerbySeries.com.

I’ll see you on the water soon!

As Lummis Pitch Increased Chinook Releases For Orcas, Hatchery Opponents Dig In

In what’s billed as “a simple idea to save orcas,” the Lummi Nation wants to rear and release Chinook from one or more sea pens in the San Juan Islands.

The salmon would be grown to provide more forage for the starving southern residents in a key feeding area for them.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

“The orcas eat hatchery fish. We eat hatchery fish. Not because it’s what we wanted — it’s something we’re forced into,” Jeremiah Julius, Lummi Indian Business Council chairman, told Bitterroot, an online magazine. “To think that wild salmon are going to come back in the next decade in the numbers that are needed to stop the extinction of orcas is foolish.”

A not unattractive likely side benefit would be more fish for fishermen who are also suffering the same fate as the whales, too few kings.

In the lengthy article, Jake Bullinger reports that the Lummis’ 2019 goal is to identify money for the project and places to park the pens.

The nation considers orcas to be their “relatives under the waves,” and the lack of Chinook is also being felt by tribal and nontribal fishermen alike.

If the Lummis’ idea seems vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s basically an echo of what WDFW and British Columbia anglers already do.

The state agency delays the release of some of its Puget Sound hatchery Chinook production to stave off the urge of the salmon to migrate to the North Pacific, providing the resident “blackmouth” fishery, while since 2017 the South Vancouver Island Angler’s Coalition in Sooke has released half a million smolts annually, and aims to put out 2 million in the coming years.

(Long Live The Kings also raises and releases 750,000 kings from Glenwood Springs on Orcas Island.)

“If there’s lots of fish out there, we’re not going to be fighting who gets the fish between commercial, recreational, and First Nations. And if we put more fish out there, there will be enough food for the killer whales to survive and thrive,” the coalition’s Christopher Bos told Bullinger.

How the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has become very invested in orca recovery, feels about the Lummis’ idea is unclear, as is whether there’s enough forage in the inland sea for more Chinook (though not in Deep South Sound, where anchovy populations are booming).

KAITLYN CAMPION SHOWS OFF A 22-POUND HATCHERY CHINOOK CAUGHT IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS 2014. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

But it’s all a more “proactive” approach, in Bos’s words, than what some are pushing at this moment:

To be brutally honest, allowing the orcas (and fisheries) to shrivel by keeping their thumb on their best short-term hope we have in our radically altered environment — boosting hatchery production — because it “could undermine recovery efforts for wild chinook and the needed rebuilding of runs throughout their historic range, their size and age structure, and the run-timing that the whales evolved with.”

Per the rest of that Vancouver Sun opinion piece by a Wild Fish Conservancy staffer and others last weekend, increasing Chinook would just lead to higher fishing intensity and catch of wild stocks, and they say that mixed-stock fisheries should be closed and foraging areas should be set aside instead.

And yesterday in The Seattle Times, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research argued, “The only real solution for reversal of the downhill trend in Chinook salmon size and abundance, and for the southern resident killer whale population, is to recover the natural wild runs of Chinook and their supporting ecosystems as soon as possible.”

Yet even as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on critically needed salmon habitat restoration, “At the pace we’re recovering estuaries, it will take 90 years to achieve the goals of the recovery plan,” tribal biologist Eric Beamer told KUOW last fall in a story focusing on Washington’s best, most intact watershed, the Skagit.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

Inside fisheries have also been reduced “at great cost” as much as 90 percent, but wild Chinook numbers are just not rebuilding because they are limited by their freshwater spawning and rearing habitat’s capacity to do so.

Don’t get me wrong, there will never ever be a morning I wake up and say, “You know what, to hell with fixing this gigantic ass mess we’ve made from the ridgetops to bathymetric depths.”

My dying breath will be, “It’s the habitat, stupid.” (And I won’t just be talking about salmon.)

But the Only-this-very-special-magic-pixie-dust-will-work approach of the anti-hatchery brigade just isn’t helpful or realistic.

Ideas like increasing Chinook abundance, done right, will provide a key bridge to when the habitat can once again support the kind of numbers J, K and L Pods need right now.

Let’s get to work.

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Oregon Lawmakers Hear Dire Warning About Willamette Salmonids, Fish Passage Work

Oregon lawmakers heard grim news about the future of Willamette Valley salmon and steelhead runs unless plans to increase fish passage around the Corps of Engineers’ so-called “Big 4” dams are expedited and fully implemented.

ODFW’s Bruce McIntosh warned that the stocks otherwise will go extinct, “likely within our lifetime,” if the federal agency and Congress doesn’t better connect the large amount of fish habitat available in the upper watersheds of the North and South Santiams, McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette to the rest of the system.

Even as some projects to do that are years behind schedule, important funding to finish the work has been zeroed out starting this fall, he said.

WATER FLOWS THROUGH FLOOD GATES AT LOOKOUT POINT DAM DURING A 2013 TEST TO DETERMINE HOW BEST TO AID THE DOWNSTREAM MIGRATION OF LISTED SALMON AND STEELHEAD STOCKS. A STATE MANAGER SAYS THAT 70 TO 90 PERCENT OF SMOLTS DIE AT THE DAMS. (MARY KAREN SCULLION, CORPS OF ENGINEERS RESERVOIR REGULATION & WATER QUALITY SECTION)

The Corps has operated 13 dams in the watershed starting with the first 50 years ago for hydropower and flood control — preventing $1 billion in damage this spring, it touted — and has provided hatchery mitigation since Congress authorized it in 1951. They’ve also built adult collection facilities.

But the problem is getting young fish hatched in redds in the mountain reaches safely down past the dams. McIntosh says 70 to 90 percent die as they try to navigate through the facilities.

It’s more and more important with listed wild returns at Willamette Falls decreasing since at least the turn of the millennium, from 20,000-plus spring Chinook in the first years of the 2000s to 5,000 last year, and from 16,000 winter steelhead in 2002 to 2000 in 2018.

“Frankly, when you look at that, you can hear the battle drums of endangered species, not just threatened species. That’s the crossroads we sit at now,” McIntosh, the state’s deputy fish chief, told members of the House Committee on Natural Resources in a televised work session (starts at about 1:12:30) yesterday.

Increasing the number of returning wild fish could mean that fishery restrictions can be eased, but if runs continue to plummet, they will only get tighter due to the Endangered Species Act.

Pointing to a slide in his presentation that also showed Grand Ronde Tribe members dipnetting for the first time, McIntosh said, “There’s a whole fleet and economy around the fisheries at Willamette Falls and the Lower Columbia that is at stake here.”

McIntosh did acknowledge the “new actor on the stage” affecting returning salmonid numbers — sea lions that arrived at Willamette Falls in the past decade and which feast on returning salmon and steelhead at the chokepoint.

But he also reported that since ODFW received the OK from the National Marine Fisheries Service last fall to kill pinnipeds there, 34 have been euthanized.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

McIntosh said that most of what federal engineers need to do further up in the watershed is included in a 2008 federal biological opinion.

“Frankly, the Corps needs to get about the business of modifying those dams and operations, and Congress must fund them. That’s where we sit today,” McIntosh said.

He allowed that the Corps’ task was not easy, given the nature of the reservoirs, predation in them and how young fish prefer to travel at the surface of the lakes, and that some work has been accomplished.

Adult fish are being trucked around Detroit Dam on the North Santiam and Foster on the South Santiam, for instance, but there’s no way to collect smolts that otherwise have to go over the spillway or through the turbines and hope for the best. However, an “extreme draining” test on Fall Creek Reservoir showed promise for flushing fish and ridding the impoundment of nonnative fish.

THE CORPS OF ENGINEERS FISH COLLECTION FACILITY BELOW COUGAR DAM, ON A MCKENZIE TRIBUTARY. (ACOE)

He also said that other improvements are several years behind schedule, with the completion date at Lookout Point Dam on the Middle Fork — behind which is an estimated 94 percent of the highest quality spawning and rearing waters for springers in that system — now “unknown.”

Eighty-five percent of the best habitat on the South Santiam is behind Foster and Green Peter Reservoirs, 71 percent on the North Santiam is behind Detroit Reservoir, and 25 percent is behind Cougar Dam on a tributary of the McKenzie, he said.

And what’s even worse, according to McIntosh, is that the Trump Administration’s construction budget for Willamette basin work has been “zeroed out” starting this October.

McIntosh also highlighted how the Corps has been backing away from mitigating its dams with hatchery fish and is now producing 20 percent less than in past decade.

“And we frankly suspect there are more reductions to follow,” he said.

He claimed that the feds consider putting out their 4.6 million salmon and steelhead and 750,000 trout to be “discretionary” rather than a line item in their budget.

As the Corps has recently mulled turning over hatchery production in the basin to private vendors, McIntosh said he’s joked with federal staffers that they should turn over their dams to PGE, which saw “significant increase in survival” after it installed upstream and downstream fish passage at its Clackamas River dams.

At a cost of $90 million, 97 percent of juvenile salmon and steelhead now safely pass the facilities, according to the Portland-based utility.

ODFW’S BRUCE MCINTOSH SPEAKS BEFORE THE OREGON LEGISLATURE’S HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CHAIRED BY REP. BRAD WITT. (OREGON LEGISLATURE)

“What’s at stake? It’s our legacy. While we fully support the Corps and federal government efforts to restore wild fish to sustainable levels in the valley, they also have a mitigation responsibility, and our message to them is, we will not accept paper fish in exchange for real fish,” McIntosh said.

“When they get about the business of recovering wild fish, we can talk about reducing that mitigation responsibility,” he said.

At the end of the work session, Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) said that he intended to have a letter drafted supporting construction work on the Willamette system to aid fish passage.

With 13 Sea Lions Euthanized At Willamette Falls, ODFW Notes Uptick In Wild Steelhead Return

THE FOLLOWING IS AN OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE

Wild Willamette winter steelhead, an iconic run that is considered by many to be the most imperiled fish in Oregon, are posting some their best returns in three years. ODFW’s biologists hope this is the beginning of a turnaround, and evidence the fish are responding positively to the removal of one of their most voracious predators – California sea lions.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

To date, more than 2,400 winter steelhead have crossed Willamette Falls into the upper river and its tributaries on their way to spawn, in what’s shaping up as the best return in years. Based on passage numbers to date, ODFW is projecting the total return this year will come in around 3,200 winter steelhead. That would be nearly double last year’s return of 1,829 fish, and nearly a fourfold increase from the record low return of just 822 fish in 2017.

“We’re excited to see some of the best winter steelhead returns in recent years,” said Dr. Shaun Clements, ODFW senior policy analyst. “We’re encouraged by the fish numbers and by the success in implementing the sea lion removal program. We’ve definitely been able to reduce predation this year and provide some relief to the fish.”

ODFW biologists have been monitoring Willamette wild winter steelhead for a number of years and have shown that California sea lions were consuming up to 25 percent of the winter steelhead run. Biologists warned that unless something was done to protect the steelhead from such heavy losses to predation, the fish were in imminent danger of going extinct.

Sea lions are federally managed, so in 2017 ODFW applied to the National Marine Fisheries Service for authorization to remove California sea lions from Willamette Falls. Following a year-long public review and comment process, an authorization was granted last November.

Trapping began a month later in mid-December, and ODFW has since removed and euthanized 13 California sea lions. Many of these animals had been present in the vicinity of Willamette Falls since last August and almost all had been coming to the Falls for a number of years. The 11th sea lion was removed on March 13. With the removal of this animal, there were no sea lions on the lower river for six days, and the steelhead were free to move through the lower river and over the falls without being preyed upon by sea lions. This respite from the sea lions took place during a warming trend when daily crossings increased from double to triple digits. Lots of steelhead were moving into the Willamette, and, for the first March in many years, there were no sea lions hunting them. Unfortunately, the respite was short-lived, as more California sea lions have since moved into the area. On March 22, two more California sea lions were trapped and euthanized.

“We typically see an increase in sea lion abundance at the Falls in April as additional animals move in to feed on the more abundant spring Chinook,” said Clements. “We always expected it would take 2-3 years to fully manage predation at this site but we’re encouraged by the early results.” ODFW will get a final count on winter steelhead at the end of May, when the spawning migration typically ends.

Study Finds Side Channel Restoration One Key For Puget Sound Chinook Recovery

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

Teasing apart the elements of Puget Sound rivers that matter most to fish, researchers have found that one of the best ways to recover threatened Chinook salmon may be to restore the winding side channels that once gave young fish essential rearing habitat and refuge from high winter flows.

Models were based on fine-scale river mapping and tracking salmon populations across Puget Sound. They showed that habitat restoration projects in the Cedar River southeast of Seattle could boost the number of young Chinook salmon produced by each spawning adult by adding side channel habitat.

BRAIDS OF THE SAUK RIVER BETWEEN DARRINGTON AND ROCKPORT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Additional side channels and other habitat improvements also appear to help stabilize salmon numbers, making them less vulnerable to flooding or other extreme conditions that may come more often with climate change.

“The risk of those extreme catastrophes is lessened because the water can spread out and slow down, with less impact to the fish,” said Correigh Greene, a research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and coauthor of the The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site new research published last week in PLOS ONE. The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries, Cramer Fish Sciences, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife used aerial photographs to chart and measure each twist and turn of 10 of Puget Sound’s largest rivers, from the Skagit to the Dungeness, and relate them to Chinook salmon populations.

Restoring Habitat Key To Salmon Recovery

The findings also provide important confirmation that restoring Chinook salmon habitat, a key recovery strategy for Puget Sound populations, can deliver real improvements in their survival and productivity.

“We now know that there is a detectable response to habitat restoration that can inform our decisions about how to pursue recovery and dedicate funding where it will do the most good for fish,” said Elizabeth Babcock, Northern Puget Sound Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, who helps carry out recovery plans for threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon.

River Complexity Leads to Better Salmon Habitat

Biologists view the braided networks of side channels that are common in natural rivers in the Northwest as evidence of a river’s “complexity,” which also includes deep pools, outcrops, and log jams, all of which provide important habitat for juvenile and adult fish. Generally, the more complexity a river displays, the better habitat it will provide for fish, because they can more easily find refuge and rearing habitat when they need it.

Many Puget Sound rivers have suffered reduced complexity through years of development as dikes, roads, and riprap have hemmed them into straight, narrow channels with far less room. That leaves less refuge for juvenile fish to grow before migrating into the Salish Sea.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

Of all the factors that contribute to a river’s complexity, the researchers found that side channels and the number of junctions among them, and to a lesser extent woody material such as log jams, are most important to Chinook salmon. More complex rivers are generally slower than narrow rivers with impervious banks, so the juvenile salmon aren’t swept downstream faster than they’re ready to go. The more habitat complexity, the researchers found, the higher the productivity of Chinook salmon populations.

Models Can Help Plan and Track Habitat Restoration

“Once we link habitat metrics to meaningful productivity metrics, we can start to answer some of the big questions, such as, “How much restoration achieves recovery, and what qualities do you most want to focus on,” said Jason Hall, a senior scientist at Cramer Fish Sciences and lead author of the new study. He noted that the answers may differ from species to species and river to river. Habitat complexity also appeared to reduce fluctuations in salmon numbers from year to year, “supporting the idea that habitat complexity buffers populations from annual variation in environmental conditions,” the scientists wrote.

Habitat protection and restoration along the Cedar River, which provides much of Seattle’s municipal water, is an example of the kind of restoration that can help recover Puget Sound Chinook salmon in the long run, Greene said. Understanding the habitat qualities most important to fish helps estimate “how much we have to do to move the needle over the whole life cycle.” The same mapping and modeling approach that was demonstrated by the research can help plan and track the benefits of other restoration occurring in estuaries and along Puget Sound’s shorelines, the authors said.

IN A RELATED STORY OUT TODAY, SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITIES SAYS THAT A  PAIR OF CHINOOK WERE SPOTTED IN A SECTION OF THORNTON CREEK THAT WAS RESTORED IN 2014 TO BE BETTER SPAWNING HABITAT AND THAT THE TWO WERE THE FIRST OF THEIR SPECIES SEEN IN THE URBAN STREAM IN EIGHT YEARS. (SPU)

“If you have funding for restoration, where can you spend it to deliver the best benefit for fish?” Babcock asked. “We’re finally starting to have better answers to that question.”

Fall King Production In Green-Duwamish Could Be Increased By 2 Million

With the plight of starving orcas front and center in the region, federal fishery overseers will consider a proposal to raise an additional 2 million fall Chinook smolts in the Green-Duwamish.

FEDERAL OVERSEERS WILL CONSIDER A PLAN TO BOOST PRODUCTION OF DUWAMISH-GREEN FALL CHINOOK BY 2 MILLION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The National Marine Fisheries Service put out a notice late last week that it will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for whether to boost releases in the King County river system above the level originally proposed by state and tribal managers.

“The alternative to be analyzed in the DSEIS is informed by the applicant’s interest in increasing hatchery production of juvenile Chinook salmon, and NMFS’ analysis of the status of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and the importance of Chinook salmon prey to their food base,” a notice published in the Federal Register reads.

Green-Duwamish Chinook were identified as among the most important current feedstocks for orcas, and they also provide sport and tribal fisheries.

The original EIS for the system called for release of as many as 5.1 million fall kings, mostly by WDFW and with 600,000 of those part of a new Muckleshoot “Fish Restoration Facility ” to be built below Howard Hansen Dam on the upper Green.

The supplementary Chinook would be reared at WDFW’s Soos Creek Hatchery for release at Palmer Ponds.

NSIA Hails Federal Appeals Court’s Reaffirmation Of Spill

Salmon, steelhead and angling advocates are cheering a federal appeals court decision today reaffirming a judge’s requirement for more spring spill on the Columbia and Snake.

“Fish WIN!” reads the subject line of a press release emailed out from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

The news comes a day before spill operations are set to begin on the river system, the purpose of which is to help more young ESA-listed Chinook, coho, steelhead and other species get to sea safely.

The National Marine Fisheries Service had appealed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Simon a year ago, but a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it.

The press release from NSIA and others including the National Wildlife Federation points to key wording in the decision:

The district court properly concluded that the listed species remain in a “precarious” state, and that they will remain in such a state without further conservation efforts beyond those included in the 2014 BiOp.
. . .
Significant evidence from decades of studies show[s] that spill volumes higher than those proposed in the 2014 BiOp will lead to higher survival rates for outmigrating [juvenile salmon].

The ruling comes at a key moment as salmon stocks struggle with aftereffects from The Blob.

“Fewer fish could be a nail in the coffin for more iconic Northwest fishing brands,” NSIA’s Liz Hamilton said. “I know of companies trying to decide whether this is their last year in existence – brands that fishermen would recognize and recommend. We need hope, not more despair. And at the spill level the court required – and that has now been affirmed on appeal – we are going to see larger adult salmon returns.”

Others involved in the win include the state of Oregon, Nez Perce Tribe, state chapters of the National Wildlife Federation, Salmon For All and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

The states of Washington, Idaho and Montana as well as Northwest River partners, among others, sided with NMFS.

Hamilton said that fears spill would mean less electricity were a “false alarm” as water and wind are at a surplus for turbines to turn this time  of year.

‘Paperwork, A**-covering, Scary Numbers And Veiled Lawsuit Threats’ — Skagit Steelheading Still Up In Air

Frustrations are boiling over on the Skagit-Sauk steelheading front.

A group of anglers who’ve been a driving force in trying to reopen the rivers since 2013 all but threw in the towel on a spring catch-and-release season this year.

ANGLERS WORK SOME OF THE SAUK’S “LUMBERYARDS” FOR BIG NATIVE STEELHEAD AS WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Whatever happens next will not be good. One of our most litigious dot-orgs has got the Feds wrapped up in paperwork, ass-covering, scary numbers and veiled lawsuit threats,” Occupy Skagit posted on its Facebook page overnight. “If a season were to open now, it will be too short and concentrated with too many encounters. Best to not open it.”

But another angler who’s been closely tracking the issue is holding out hope.

“NOAA is dragging their feet,” replied Ryley Fee, “and whoever the organizations are who are impeding on our right to fish by threatening lawsuits ought to be publicized so we can all write them a letter and let them know how we feel about taking this resource away from us this year. I’m pissed off and angry, and need an outlet if it doesn’t open.”

The North Cascades rivers haven’t been open for a winter-spring C&R fishery since 2009 due to a series of low forecasted returns, then was written out of the regulations, but subsequently saw strong escapement though this year’s run is predicted to be a bit low but in the fishable range.

As for which dot-orgs might be involved in the stalling tactics, if one were to draw up a list of the usual suspects, it would likely include the Wild Fish Conservancy, which stumbled very badly recently when it made exaggerated claims about Atlantic salmon but ultimately was on the prevailing side in the Puget Sound netpen issue; the Native Fish Society; and The Conservation Angler.

The three either wrote or signed onto a letter calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service to withdraw its December pending approval of WDFW and three Skagit Valley tribes’ fishing plan for the system.

More pragmatic steelhead groups have offered qualified support for a season.

(As for Occupy Skagit’s concerns about “too many encounters” in a condensed fishery, that’s the reason the rivers will be monitored by state creel samplers, to gauge relative effort and success and modify any season if need be.)

The final 30-day comment period on the state and tribes’ plan wrapped up back in January, and ever since anglers on all sides have been waiting with bated breath for word from NOAA-F’s regional administrator Barry Thom one way or another on whether the rivers would open.

Certainly the feds have had more on their plate than just approving or sending back Skagit-Sauk steelhead plans this winter — there’s also been their initial review of the 10-year Puget Sound Chinook plan, plus involvement in North of Falcon salmon season setting and southern resident killer whale issues.

But the delays are rapidly narrowing the window on a fishery in the next month, and at some point we’re just going to run out of time, which is probably the end game for some parties, the unstated acceptance of others, and the increasingly grim reality for those who just want to get back on the water.

California Sea Lions Meet Key Population Goal, Say Federal Researchers

California sea lions have reached a high enough level that West Coast states could begin to take over management.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reports that the pinnipeds are at their “optimal sustainable population,” a triggering point in the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

SEA LIONS CROWD THE DOCKS AT ASTORIA IN SPRING 2015. (WDFW)

Graphs produced by researchers at the federal Alaska and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers for the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the species show sea lion numbers are at their habitat’s carrying capacity, around 275,000 animals.

They first hit that benchmark around 2008, rising to 306,000 before The Blob took a bite out of their lunch, but then rebounded.

“The population has basically come into balance with its environment,” said Alaska-based research biologist Sharon Melin in a NMFS story announcing the news. “The marine environment is always changing, and their population is at a point where it responds very quickly to changes in the environment.”

Melin and her coauthors’ work was published today in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

The story notes that the tripling of sea lion numbers from fewer than 90,000 in 1975 has not come without consequences including chowing down on ESA-listed Chinook, steelhead and other stocks.

NMFS permits Northwest states to take out problem pinnipeds at Bonneville, and the story says that “the species maintained OSP levels even when small numbers of adult males were being removed to protect salmon runs in the Columbia River and climate events were depressing growth.”

To Melin, that means such removal programs are not all that likely to impact the species’ overall population, according to the story.

ODFW is currently asking NMFS for permits to remove sea lions from Willamette Falls, where they’re feasting on winter steelhead like their ancestor Herschel did at the Ballard Locks.