Tag Archives: nmfs

WDFW-WFC Settle Skykomish Summer Steelhead Lawsuit; State Plans New Broodstock Program

Editor’s note: Updated 2:35 p.m., May 3, 2019 with additional comments from WDFW

The hacking away at Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunities as we’ve known them continues, though there’s also a glimmer of hope to save a popular fishery.

Releases of Skamania-strain summer-runs will be ended in the Skykomish River in the coming years following a lawsuit settlement between a highly litigious environmental group and state managers, who are also making a separate bid to replace the fish with locally adapted broodstock.

SKYKOMISH RIVER STEELHEADERS WILL BE ABLE TO CATCH SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUNS THROUGH AT LEAST THE 2024 SEASON UNDER A LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT, BUT IN A SEPARATE MOVE STATE HATCHERY OPERATORS WANT TO SWITCH TO A NEW LOCALLY ADAPTED BROODSTOCK IN THE COMING YEARS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The deal reached in federal court this week allows WDFW to release 116,000 smolts this spring and next from Reiter Ponds, ensuring fair numbers of returning adults will be available for harvest in the popular river in the coming years, but drops that number to 60,000 and then 40,000 in 2021 and 2022.

Technically, the agreement with the Wild Fish Conservancy would allow the agency to continue to produce Skamanias in the Sky afterwards if the National Marine Fisheries Service provides ESA coverage for the hatchery program.

But in reality, the feds are the ones who have been pushing WDFW to stop releasing the out-of-basin fish in Puget Sound waters.

In a July 21, 2017 letter, NMFS Regional Administrator Barry Thom told then WDFW Director Jim Unsworth he should look for “alternative” stocks to hold fisheries over.

So afterwards the agency considered using steelhead from a tributary elsewhere in the Skykomish-Snoqualmie watershed for a long-shot broodstock replacement bid.

For a blog I did last June, that plan to use Tolt summers was described to me as the best hope to save the fishery.

But the consent decree signed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington in Seattle by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and WFC’s Kurt Beardslee and their attorneys this week, and Judge James L. Robart yesterday, specifically bars using any fish out of the South Fork Tolt for the next eight years.

Yet in a twist, another option has since emerged.

WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes recently submitted a hatchery genetic management plan to use steelhead collected in the South Fork Skykomish instead — “a new path forward,” in the state’s words, and one that would seemingly secure the program from potential budget cuts being eyed coming out of the end of the legislative session.

It still needs NMFS’ buy-in, but those fish are a mix of wild and naturalized hatchery steelhead that since 1958 have returned to a fish trap at the base of the impassable 104-foot-tall Sunset Falls just east of Index and have been trucked upstream.

They have less Skamania heritage than those from the Tolt, according to a WDFW genetic analysis.

Last year, 348 summer-runs showed up at the falls, with the 221 unclipped fish released into the South Fork and the 127 clipped ones not allowed to pass.

Edward Eleazer, the state’s regional fisheries manager, says that that “pretty robust” population will help WDFW reach production goals a lot more quickly than if they had tried to pump redds for Tolt steelhead eggs, rear them at Tokul Creek Hatchery, and then transfer first-generation returning adults to Reiter to build up broodstock there, like was being considered last year.

The proposed HGMP calls for the release of 116,000 smolts reared from natural-origin parents annually, “providing important harvest opportunities primarily for recreational fisheries but also for treaty tribes.”

It’s a lifeline of hope for the last best summer steelhead fishery in Puget Sound.

“Once the South Fork broodstock is established, it should provide stable, reliable, and perhaps enhanced summer-run fishing on the Skykomish for the foreseeable future,” said Mark Spada, president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club.

UNDER A PLAN SUBMITTED BY WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES, STEELHEAD COLLECTED IN THE SOUTH FORK WOULD BE USED TO PRODUCE SMOLTS THAT WOULD BE SCATTERPLANTED NOT ONLY THERE BUT IN THE NORTH FORK AS WELL, EXPANDING ANGLER OPPORTUNITY GREATLY. (JOE MABEL, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CC 4.0)

It could also spread out the fishery so we’re not all focused in the half mile of water at and below Reiter Ponds.

Spada said that under the HGMP, smolts could be scatter-planted into the Sky’s South and North Forks, and that that “could provide a lot of additional angling opportunity.”

Both stems of the Sky and their tribs are paralleled by state, county and logging roads.

“There are a lot more options to expand the fishery,” confirms Eleazer, who sounds pretty excited about it. “Now we can recycle fish. Before we weren’t allowed to … There’s a lot of river miles.”

He acknowledges that it all still does depend on NMFS approval, but says so far the feds haven’t expressed any negative comments or asked for more information on the proposal.

Eleazer says that where in the future fisheries will necessarily become more “surgical” and adaptive because of ESA constraints, that’s not the case in the waters above Sunset Falls.

He says that the program will also provide a “key tool in recovering that wild population” on the North Fork Skykomish.

It’s another testament to WDFW standing by the Sky and its importance to anglers.

“We know that transitioning to a local stock is better for fish, and that the Skykomish is a tremendously popular steelhead river,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind in a press release. “People will be able to continue enjoying the experience here much as they have in the past.”

The news is not as good for the river system to the north, however.

The WDFW-WFC court settlement essentially ends releases out of Whitehorse Ponds into the North Fork Stillaguamish with this year’s 90,000 Skamania smolts let go for return in 2021.

With an HGMP covering the stock, production could resume, but again, that seems unlikely with NMFS’ directive.

As the two parties moved towards a deal, members of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington were warned they’d need to “really work hard” to save the Stilly program, which produces fish for one of the Westside’s rare fly fishing-only opportunities for hatchery summer-runs.

It wasn’t immediately clear if WDFW has any plans to develop a local broodstock on the Stillaguamish like it does on the Skykomish, but Director Susewind said he wanted to work with tribal comanagers to “explore alternative fishing opportunities.”

“While we never want to lose a fishery like the Stilly summer-runs, saving the Sky was the highest priority,” noted Spada.

CHRIS LAPOINTE FISHES FOR SUMMER STEELHEAD ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER NEAR REITER PONDS DURING THE 2016 FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Last February, when WFC announced it planned to sue the state within 60 days, the organization claimed that continued releases of Skamanias into Puget Sound streams represented a threat to ESA-listed steelhead, but the real strength of their argument was that WDFW didn’t have an HGMP to operate the programs.

That has been a problem for several years as NMFS’s collective desk has been buried with hatchery and fishery plans to approve, biops to write, sea lion removals on the Willamette to OK, etc.

That WDFW has settled yet again with WFC will deeply piss anglers off, but without that federal permit, the agency is highly vulnerable to the organization’s low-hanging-fruit lawsuit racket.

The settlement also includes a $23,000 check from WDFW to pay WFC’s legal fees and orders the state to perform five years’ worth of snorkel surveys in the North Fork Skykomish and South Fork Tolt to count fish.

That effort is estimated to cost a total of $400,000, a not insignificant amount considering the agency’s $7 million budget shortfall in the coming two years.

A PREVIOUS WILD FISH CONSERVANCY LAWSUIT TARGETED WDFW’S EARLY-TIMED HATCHERY WINTER STEELHEAD ON THE SKYKOMISH.  (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

This is the second time in the past half decade that WFC has targeted WDFW hatchery steelhead operations on the Sky and elsewhere in Puget Sound.

In 2014, it was over early-returning Chambers Creek winter-runs, a Tacoma-area stock that has been used for decades.

That lawsuit resulted in continued releases into the Sky, but a pause elsewhere until WDFW had an HGMP in hand, the end of stocking in the Skagit for 12 years, and a $45,000 settlement check.

Prevented from releasing their fish, hatchery workers at Kendall Creek on the North Fork Nooksack and Whitehorse on the Stilly had to get creative to save the programs until federal ESA coverage came through, rearing their steelhead to adulthood at the facilities and spawning them there, as well as reconditioning kelts at the former.

This latest WFC lawsuit focuses on a 1950s mixture of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead that came from the hatchery on the latter stream and nicknamed Skamanias for the region of their origin.

They were once planted in numerous Puget Sound rivers, providing decades of good fishing on the Dungeness, Green, Skagit, Cascade, South Fork of the Stillaguamish, Canyon Creek, Sultan, North and South Forks of the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Raging and Tolt.

But they also have a propensity for interbreeding with native fish and between that and the 2007 ESA listing of the region’s steelhead, they have been largely discontinued, leading to shrinking fishing opportunities and releases — from 190,000 into the Sky in 2015 to 116,000 in 2017.

That 2017 letter from NMFS’ Thom states that a WDFW researcher concluded “that genetic impacts to the two native summer steelhead populations in the Snohomish Basin have been so large that they are now considered feral populations of Skamania-stock fish.”

Now they may help keep steelheading going on the Skykomish if the feds approve the state and tribes’ plan.

“The potential risks of this hatchery program are minimal compared to the risks of failed steelhead habitat protection and restoration measures or adequately anticipating and addressing the effects of climate change,” the proposed HGMP states.

THE SKYKOMISH NEAR PROCTOR CREEK DURING SUMMER 2015’S EXTREMELY LOW FLOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

NMFS Shares Salmon Habitat Gains, Flood-threat Reduction From Tillamook Estuary Work

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

NOAA’s work with community partners restoring estuary habitat in Tillamook Bay, Oregon is revitalizing tidal wetlands for threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon, and helping reduce flooding in the surrounding communities and farmlands.

The project’s benefits to fish were realized immediately—443 acres of different estuary habitats critical to juvenile salmon are now available, including mud flats, open water with vegetation, marsh and others. Often called “nurseries of the sea,” estuaries offer unique conditions, like slow moving water and tides that bring in nutrients, which keep fish safe and allow them to grow.

BEFORE AND AFTER IMAGES FROM THE TILLAMOOK ESTUARY PARTNERSHIP SHOW THE EFFECT OF REMOVING LEVEES AND TIDE GATES NEAR THE MOUTH OF THE TRASK RIVER. (TILLAMOOK ESTUARY PARTNERSIHP VIA NMFS)

A recently published report also confirms the project’s flood reduction goals were achieved. Shortly after project completion, in October 2017, a flood occurred at the site. Our restoration work resulted in widespread reduction in flood levels and duration including along Highway 101, a key commercial and transportation corridor. In total, about 4,800 acres around the project site showed reductions in flood levels.

This project, like many others we work on, shows how restoring habitat back to its natural functions can help coastal communities be more resilient against severe weather. Nature-based approaches are being shown to provide these, and many other economic benefits, along both the the east and west coasts of the United States.

Almost 90 percent of the Tillamook Estuary’s historic tidal wetlands have been lost to development and agriculture. Like many other species relying on estuary and wetland habitats, loss of these areas is a primary contributor to the decline of Oregon Coast coho salmon.

Additionally, Oregon’s winters bring storm surges, heavy rainfall, and snow melt. Combined with high tides, this often causes flooding in the area. Flood losses in Tillamook County exceeded $60 million from 1996 – 2000.

ESTUARIES ARE IMPORTANT HABITAT FOR COHO SMOLTS ALONG WITH THE YOUNG OF OTHER SALMON SPECIES. (ROGER TABOR, USFWS)

To achieve the mutually beneficial project goals, old levees, fill, and tide gates were removed to create tidal estuary habitat. This functions as a “flow corridor,” allowing flood waters to move freely and quickly away from the town of Tillamook. Now, nearby properties and more than 500 structures are protected from flooding. It’s estimated that $9.2 million in economic benefits will accrue from avoided flood damages over the next 50 years.

The project reconnected hundreds of acres of marsh habitat and restored 13 miles of new tidal channels. This will significantly benefit Endangered Species Act-listed Oregon Coast coho salmon. Historically, more than 200,000 of these salmon would return to Tillamook Bay each year. That number was down to just 2,000 in 2012. This habitat is critical for juvenile salmon to feed and grow, and will help with the broader goal of species recovery along Oregon’s entire coast.

The Southern Flow Corridor Project is the result of tremendous community support and collaboration. NOAA Fisheries’ Restoration Center, within the Office of Habitat Conservation, and the West Coast Regional Office, worked with more than a dozen local, state, federal, tribal and private partners on this effort.

BRYCE MOLENKAMP PREPARES TO NET A SALMON ON TILLAMOOK BAY. (MARK VEARY)

Key partners include the Port of Tillamook Bay, Tillamook Bay Habitat and Estuary Improvement District, Tillamook County, the State of Oregon, FEMA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Institute for Applied Ecology, and the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership. We provided funding for the project through the Community-based Restoration Program and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, and on-the-ground technical assistance.

Makah Bid For Limited Gray Whale Hunt Gets Boost As NMFS Proposes Waiving MMPA Take Moratorium On Recovered Pods

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

The Makah Tribe of Washington could hunt and land up to two gray whales on average per year over a 10-year period for ceremonial and subsistence purposes under a proposal that NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region announced today.

A MAKAH BASKET DEPICTS WHALING. (SMITHSONIAN)

The proposal does not yet allow the Makah Tribe to begin hunting whales, but moves the Tribe closer to that longstanding goal. An administrative law judge must first conduct a hearing, currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 12, 2019, to review the NOAA Fisheries proposal and make a recommendation to Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. Interested parties may request to participate in that hearing. Oliver would then make a final decision on whether to authorize the Makah Tribe to hunt gray whales.

If the Tribe is authorized to hunt gray whales, the Tribe would then need to apply for a permit, which would be subject to public notice and comment.

“We are moving forward carefully, and deliberately, to support the Tribe’s treaty rights while we also fully consider the potential impacts on the whales and protect their populations,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.

Through the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the Makah Tribe and the U.S. government, the Tribe reserved “the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.” The Tribe has sought since the 1990s to exercise that right, long a centerpiece of tribal culture. A federal court determined in 2002 that the Tribe must first apply for a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s (MMPA) take moratorium, which prohibits killing whales and other marine mammals.

In 2005 the Tribe sought a waiver of the MMPA, as the courts required. NOAA Fisheries has since evaluated the request through a 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which attracted hundreds of public comments on all sides.

NOAA Fisheries’ action today proposes to waive the MMPA take moratorium to allow the Makah to hunt gray whales from the healthy and fully recovered Eastern North Pacific (ENP) population of gray whales, which today numbers about 27,000. The most recent stock assessment for ENP gray whales found in 2014 that up to 624 gray whales could be removed from the population each year without affecting its long-term sustainability.

The proposal would allow the Tribe to land up to three ENP gray whales in even-numbered years and one whale in odd-numbered years – less than the four whales per year on average that the Makah Tribe sought. The limits and other restrictions reduce the already remote possibility of Makah hunters encountering gray whales from the endangered Western North Pacific population that feed near Russia and occasionally migrate to the ENP. The limits also help protect a group of ENP gray whales that feed in and around the Makah Tribe’s hunting and fishing grounds in summer and return to the area on a regular basis.

“We have examined this proposal from every angle and have developed hunting regulations that provide for public safety, protect the gray whale populations, and respect the Makah Tribe’s treaty rights and culture,” Yates said.

Environmental Groups Sue NMFS Over Orcas

Two environmental groups are suing federal overseers on the West Coast over orcas, saying salmon fisheries off Washington, Oregon and California need to be assessed and reduced to provide the struggling marine mammals more forage.

(WIKIMEDIA)

“West Coast orcas can’t afford another year without bold federal action based on sound science to reverse their decline,” said Julie Teel Simmonds of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity in a press release out today.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, follows on a midwinter threat from CBD and Wild Fish Conservancy to sue over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

It comes as state and tribal managers are actually nearing the end of the annual salmon season-setting process known as North of Falcon — orcas and Chinook were actually part of the discussions today at a WDFW meeting with anglers and others in Lynnwood that is also being livestreamed.

Last month as NOF cranked up, a guidance letter from NMFS regional director Barry Thom told the overarching Pacific Fishery Management Council that his agency wanted to reengage with the panel about this year’s salmon opportunities.

NMFS last did that in 2009 and found that the commercial and recreational fisheries the council authorized WDFW, ODFW and CDFW to hold didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales.

But since then the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined to a little more than six dozen, with lack of enough Chinook to eat, vessel disturbance, and pollution identified as the key reasons.

Thom said that for the coming years NMFS was also developing a “risk assessment” tool to possibly guide seasons based on their impacts on orcas.

But that apparently isn’t fast enough for CBD and WFC.

WFC’s Kurt Beardslee took up where he left off in his winter attack on fisheries, stating in the press release that NMFS needs to “acknowledge that starving killer whales and smaller and less abundant Chinook are merely symptoms of the problems created by harvest management that is fundamentally broken.”

But the problem isn’t that harvest management is broken.

The plight of orcas is because the habitat of Chinook — comprising 80-plus percent of their diet — in both freshwater and salt- has been inextricably altered over the past 175 years of settlement and development, and to expect prey specialists like SRKWs to cope with that is a pipe dream, especially when you’re also virulently against the only legitimate short- and medium-term bridge for the whales, sharply increased hatchery production, and wild king recovery is literally decades, even a century away at best.

In a time when cooperation is a far more productive path for endangered icons like our orcas, somebody needs to take these two outfits to task for their idiotic, recidivistic bomb-throwing tactics.

 

North Of Falcon Salmon Season Setting Begins Feb. 27; Meetings Scheduled

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

State fishery managers have scheduled a variety of opportunities for the public to participate in setting salmon fishing seasons for 2019, starting with the annual statewide salmon forecast meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE 2018’S POTENTIAL SALMON FISHERIES TO THE PUBLIC AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will present initial forecasts compiled by state and tribal biologists of the 2019 salmon returns at the meeting scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., Olympia.

That meeting is one of more than a dozen sessions scheduled at various locations around the state as part of this year’s salmon season-setting process. A list of the scheduled meetings can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

State fishery managers rely on input from anglers, commercial fishers, and others interested in salmon as they work to develop this year’s fisheries, said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

“It’s important for us to hear what the public has to say about salmon fisheries,” Warren said. “We’re trying to make that easier this year by making video of some of the major public meetings available online. And we’ll again take public input electronically on our fishery proposals.”

Additionally at the upcoming meetings, fishery managers will discuss steps to protect southern resident orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic and ways to consider the whales’ dietary needs in the fishing season-setting process.


Concerned about closures in your area? Book the world’s best salmon and halibut fishing in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), Canada. Click HERE to learn more.

The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” Warren said. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

In addition to attending meetings, other ways the public can participate include:

  • Plenary session: State and tribal co-managers plan to hold an informal discussion during the public meeting, Wednesday, April 3, in Lynnwood. Details will be available on the webpage listed above. 
  • Meetings on video: The department intends to provide video of several public meetings. More information will be available online soon.

The annual process of setting salmon fishing seasons is called “North of Falcon” and is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The council is responsible for establishing fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2019 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is also expected to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Shutdown Affecting Steelhead Season Planning, Sea Lion Management — Even A Clam Dig

Add Northwest steelheading, sea lion management and a three-day razor clam dig at a national park to the list of things being impacted by the partial US government shutdown, now in its record 26th day.

A NOAA technical consultation on Washington’s Skagit-Sauk spring season and the federal agency’s work approving Idaho’s fisheries permit are on pause, while any new pinnipeds showing up at Willamette Falls get a free pass to chow down, and the Jan. 19-21 Kalaloch Beach clam opener has been rescinded.

Let’s break things down by state.

OREGON

While ODFW can still remove previously identified California sea lions that gather at the falls and in the lower Clackamas to eat increasingly imperiled wild steelhead, new ones must first be reported to a federal administrator who has been furloughed since before Christmas due to the shutdown, according to a Courthouse News Service story.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION THROWS A SALMONID IN SPRING 2016 AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

And as native returns begin to build, a newly arrived CSL there won’t face the consequences — at least until the shutdown over the border wall is ended.

“If it carries on it will be a bigger impact on the spring Chinook run,” ODFW’s Shaun Clements told Courthouse News. “Relative to the winter steelhead, they’re in a much better place, but extinction risk for spring Chinook is still pretty high.”

So far four CSLs have been taken out since the state agency got the go-ahead in November to remove up to 93 a year. ODFW had anticipated killing 40 in the first four months of 2019.

IDAHO

Over in Idaho, what seemed like plenty of time early last month for NOAA to (finally) review and approve the Gem State’s steelhead fishing plan before mid-March is shrinking.

STEELHEAD ANGLERS FISH IDAHO’S CLEARWATER RIVER AT LEWISTON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

“There is about a month of cushion between the expiration of the agreement and when we first expected the permit (to be completed),” IDFG’s Ed Schriever told Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune. “We know the longer (the shutdown) goes on, the narrower the window becomes on the cushion that existed prior to the shutdown. We can only hope resolution comes quickly and those folks get back to work on our permit.”

The work was made necessary by environmental groups’ lawsuit threat that resulted in an agreement between the state, a community-angler group and the litigants that provided cover to continue fishing season through either when NOAA finished processing the plan or March 15.

Schriever told Barker that if the shutdown continues, he would probably ask the parties to the agreement for an extension.

WASHINGTON

And in Washington, there’s now an agonizing amount of uncertainty for what seemed like would be a slam-dunk steelhead fishery.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL 2018’S FIRST-IN-NINE-SPRINGS FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Last month, WDFW along with tribal comanagers sent a plan for a three-month-long catch-and-release season for wild winter-runs on the North Sound’s Skagit and Sauk Rivers under the same constraints as last April’s NOAA-approved 12-day fishery.

Before the shutdown, NOAA had some “relatively minor matters” to clear up, so a meeting was scheduled for last week “to resolve the technical questions,” according to a Doug Huddle column for our February issue.

“We have approval to conduct the fishery. We have a set of conditions we have to fulfill as part of that approval. We think we have provided everything asked,” said district biologist Brett Barkdull.

But with NOAA out of the office it will come down to an upcoming policy call “one way or the other” by higher-ups at WDFW based on a risk assessment.

Out on Washington’s outer coast, WDFW is scrubbing three days of razor clam digging at Kalaloch Beach over the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

With federal techs and park rangers furloughed, WDFW had planned on having its staff on the beach to monitor clammers as well as station game wardens on Highway 101, where they do have enforcement authority, if need be.

“We are closing Kalaloch beach to razor clam digging in response to a request by Olympic National Park,” said Dan Ayres, agency coastal shellfish manager, in a press release. “Olympic National Park staff are not available to help ensure a safe and orderly opening in the area.”

Digs will go on as planned this Thursday-Monday during the various openers at Twin Harbors, Mocrocks and Copalis Beaches.

Ayres said that WFDW and the park will consider other openers at Kalaloch to make up for the lost harvest opportunity.

Elsewhere, while Pacific Fishery Management Council staffers are in their offices, that’s not the case for federal participants in the 2019 North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process.

US contributions to an international report on commercial West Coast hake fishing as well as other work handled by researchers at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle is on hold.

A meeting on highly migratory species and another with members of a statistical review committee have been cancelled, though at the moment a third reviewing 2018 salmon fisheries and which is part of the annual North of Falcon season-setting process is still a go.

And NOAA survey ships have reportedly also been tied up to the dock.

ODFW Begins Culling ESA-steelhead-eating Sea Lions At Willamette Falls

Three Willamette Falls sea lions have been killed so far by state managers under a recently issued federal permit, an action being taken to help the watershed’s threatened wild steelhead.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION CAPTURES A SALMONID BELOW WILLAMETTE FALLS. (BRYAN WRIGHT, ODFW)

ODFW plans to lethally remove as many as 40 California sea lions in the first four months of the year, and are allowed to take out up to 93 a year.

The news, first reported yesterday by OPB and followed up by the Associated Press this morning, comes as at least 145 wild winter steelhead have been able to navigate past pinnipeds feasting below the falls as of the end of last month.

In 2015, they ate 25 percent of a very weak return, according to ODFW, which in 2017 estimated that there was a 90 percent chance that one of the Willamette’s ESA-listed runs would go extinct if nothing was done to counter predation by sea lions.

Attempts to capture and move them to the Oregon Coast were unsuccessful as the male marine mammals tended to just swim right back.

“The only fish in the river right now are the winter steelhead,” ODFW’s Bryan Wright told OPB. “If we can remove all these sea lions right now that will be a huge benefit to them.”

In mid-November, his agency was authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to begin killing CSLs seen at the falls and in the lower Clackamas River for at least two days or observed eating steelhead or salmon.

Last month, Northwest states and tribes were also authorized to lethally remove as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries such as the Willamette to help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.

NMFS Touts Economic Boost, Expected Catches From Rebuilding West Coast Groundfish Stocks

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

The successful rebuilding of several West Coast groundfish stocks that declined precipitously nearly three decades ago is now opening the way for increasing recreational and commercial fishing opportunities for many of the West Coast’s most delicious and nutritious fish species.

FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS SAY THAT MANAGEMENT AND COLLABORATION HAS LED WEST COAST GROUNDFISH STOCKS TO REBUILD FASTER THAN EXPECTED, LEADING TO INCREASED ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES. (NMFS)

NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region published a new rule this week that increases catch limits and eases fishing restrictions for many West Coast groundfish, including rockfish, such as Pacific Ocean perch; flatfish, such as petrale sole; and roundfish, such as Pacific cod and sablefish. Groundfish represent one of the West Coast’s most important recreational and commercial fisheries, earning some $140 million annually for commercial fishermen who catch them with a variety of gear, including trawls, longlines, pots (traps), and baited hooks.

West Coast communities will see an increase of about 900 jobs and $60 million in income in 2019, according to an economic analysis of the new harvest rule. Recreational anglers will take about 219,000 more fishing trips, most of them in southern California with some in Oregon and Washington.

The collapse of several West Coast groundfish in the late 1990s led to severe fishing cutbacks so these stocks could rebuild, greatly curtailing a mainstay of the coastal economy. The groundfish fleet had to limit fishing even for the other more abundant groundfish stocks to avoid unintentional catch of the overfished stocks.

Through careful science-based management and collaboration among fishermen, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, tribes, West Coast states, and NOAA Fisheries, many stocks, including canary rockfish, bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, and Pacific Ocean perch, rebounded faster than expected and are now fully rebuilt. Research and stock assessments by NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers documented the resurgence, opening the way for more harvest opportunities. Others, such as cowcod and yelloweye rockfish, have been found to be rebuilding much faster than anticipated.

AN ODFW DIVER FILMS A CANARY ROCKFISH OFF OREGON. (ODFW)

Those continued collaborative and scientific efforts made higher annual catch limits possible for many groundfish species for 2019 and 2020. This will increase recreational and commercial fishing for bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, Pacific Ocean perch, lingcod north of the California/Oregon border, and California scorpionfish. The new rule also reduces depth restrictions for recreational fishing and increases trip limits for fixed-gear fishermen.

The changes are expected to boost commercial and recreational fishing revenues, with sport anglers expected to take thousands more fishing trips off the West Coast as a result. Their spending on motels, meals, charter trips, and more is expected to boost recreational fishing income coast-wide by about $55 million, with the largest increases in California.

The harvest rule changes also promote quota trading among fishermen in the Shore-based Individual Fishing Quota Program, also known as the Groundfish Catch Share Program, which will help them make the most of the new fishing opportunities. The changes will also allow increased catches of underutilized species, such as yellowtail rockfish, lingcod, chilipepper rockfish, and Pacific cod.

Although the bycatch of Chinook salmon in the groundfish fishery is low and is expected to remain low, this new rule adds tools for NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council to respond quickly to address any unexpected changes in the amount of bycatch.

All of this good news for fishermen is also good news for fans of healthy and delicious fish. Groundfish provide lean protein and are a good source of omega-3s. West Coast groundfish, including Dover sole, sablefish, and lingcod are versatile fish available year-round that lend themselves well to a variety of preparations.