Tag Archives: noaa

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showing up at Willamette Falls get a free pass to chow down, and the Jan. 19-21 Kalaloch Beach clam opener has been rescinded.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.

Chinook Fry From WDFW, Tribal, Tech College Hatcheries Would Help Replace Half Lost At Minter

Washington fishery managers are adding more details on their Christmas Eve press release about where they hope to get fall Chinook fry to replace nearly half of those lost during a power outage and backup generator failure.

YOUNG SALMONIDS AT ANOTHER WDFW HATCHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The young fish would be transferred from a mix of state, tribal and college hatcheries located everywhere from the North Sound to Hood Canal to Deep South Sound.

They include WDFW’s Samish, Hoodsport and George Adams Hatcheries, the Nisqually Tribe’s Clear Creek Hatchery, the Suquamish Tribe’s Grovers Creek Hatchery and Bellingham Technical College’s Whatcom Creek Hatchery.

It wasn’t clear how many would come from each, but according to WDFW a total of 2.75 million replacement fish have been identified to partially make up for the loss of 5.7 million fall kings at Minter Creek following the December 14 windstorm.

The available “excess” fry, as they were called in the press release, are more of a “byproduct” during rearing than an insurance policy against catastrophic loss, according to WDFW spokesman Craig Bartlett.

“NOAA sets the parameters for smolt releases and hatchery managers want to make sure they raise enough fry to meet those targets. Since raising the exact number of fry needed isn’t possible, they’d rather raise a few too many than come up short,” he explained.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries branch gave WDFW tentative approval to move the fish on the condition that the agency get nine treaty tribes to agree to it.

Bartlett said that as of earlier this week, four tribes had already and he hoped another five would after the holidays, when more state and tribal staffers are back in their offices.

A spokesman for NMFS’ West Coast region couldn’t be reached for comment on the caveat due to the partial government shutdown, but Eric Kinne, WDFW’s hatchery manager, typified it as “just part of co-management.”

The fry would be reared at Minter and released next spring in the creek there and at Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River near Olympia.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind called losing the fall fry along with half a million spring kings set for release in the White River “a painful setback for state and tribal fishers, for the communities that depend on fishing, and for southern resident orcas that feed on Chinook.”

A root cause analysis will be performed to figure out why the backup generator couldn’t be started for nearly three hours, cutting water flow to hundreds of trays holding thousands of Chinook each, depriving them of oxygen.

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.

Plan To Boost Duwamish Fall Chinook Production By 2 Million Going Out For Comment

Federal fishery overseers are laying out how much orcas and fishermen would benefit under a proposal to boost hatchery Chinook production in the Green-Duwamish River by 2 million smolts.

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

According to a NOAA draft supplemental environmental statement that will soon go out for public comment, the increase would provide an additional 8,750 adult salmon for the starving Washington whales to snack on, recreational and tribal fishermen to catch, and for broodstock purposes.

That and other hatchery salmon and steelhead programs already approved for the King County river system “would have a moderate positive effect on the diet, survival, distribution, and listing status of Southern Resident killer whales,” the DEIS states.

It’s the second time this particular set of Chinook, coho, chum and winter- and summer-run steelhead programs is being scrutinized in recent years.

Earlier, four alternatives proposed by WDFW and two local tribes were analyzed, but with this year’s major focus on ailing orcas, it was resubmitted with an “Alternative 5.”

Green-Duwamish Chinook were identified as among the most important current feedstocks for orcas.

NOAA’s new DEIS says the additional smolts would yield nearly 3,300 more sport fishing trips and around $580,000 in expenditures, mostly in the region the agency is calling the South Puget Sound subregion, but also in the North Sound and Straits.

And it would yield around 2,300 more Chinook for mostly local tribal fishermen.

The extra salmon would be reared at WDFW’s Soos Creek Hatchery and released upstream at Palmer Ponds.

“Alternative 5 would not affect the overall trend in cumulative effects on salmon and steelhead, although it may increase the adverse cumulative effect on the genetics of natural-origin fall-run Chinook salmon. However, this cumulative impact would not substantially add to the cumulative impacts compared to the other alternatives because the increase in production would represent a small component of the total abundance of fall-run Chinook salmon in the cumulative effects analysis area,” the DEIS states.

Overall hatchery Chinook production  in the watershed would be 6.2 million smolts.

The comment period begins Dec. 7 and runs for 45 days through Jan. 22. You can send your thoughts three ways:

Email:
GreenHatcheriesEIS.wcr@noaa.gov

Mail:
Allyson Purcell, Comment Coordinator
NMFS, West Coast Region
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1201 Northeast Lloyd Boulevard, Suite 1100
Portland, OR 97232

Fax:
(503) 231-6893

New Website Will Help Track Where Coho Are Dying Early In Puget Sound Streams

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Salmon exposed to toxic stormwater runoff can die in a matter of hours, and scientists are asking for Puget Sound area residents’ help in identifying affected streams to study the phenomenon.

COHO EXPOSED TO STREET RUNOFF ARE DYING AND RESEARCHERS ARE TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY. (K. KING, USFWS)

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) and Washington State University (WSU), collectively called the Puget Sound Stormwater Science Team (PSSST), have been studying the effects of stormwater runoff on Pacific salmon species for almost two decades. Working to narrow down the toxic chemicals that are likely responsible, the team is unveiling a new interactive website that lets citizen volunteers help map salmon deaths.

As urban growth and development continues in the Puget Sound region, scientists anticipate that the coho mortality syndrome will expand, and will have significant impacts on wild coho populations. This is where area residents come in- helping scientists identify the extent of the phenomenon, and continue to refine scientists’ understanding at the toxic chemicals at play in affected areas.

“Media coverage of our work last year inspired some members of the public to report observations of coho suffering from the syndrome,” said Jay Davis, environmental toxicologist with the USFWS. “We realized that residents of the Puget Sound region can provide important data to help us document affected watersheds. There are potentially thousands of toxic chemicals in stormwater runoff, and refining our understanding of where and when this phenomenon is occurring can help us narrow our focus and provide an important part to this puzzle.”

The PSSST-developed website includes interactive tools that allow users to view the Puget Sound basin and affected watersheds, and train them to identify coho salmon and report suspected coho mortality as citizen scientists. Although studies with other species are ongoing, initial evidence suggests that coho are particularly vulnerable to the syndrome.

A MAP SHOWS PREDICTIONS FOR WATERSHEDS WHERE COHO WILL LIKELY FAIR BEST AND WORST AS THEY MAKE THEIR FALL SPAWNING RUNS. (USFWS)

Clearer picture of mortality

Coho returning to Puget Sound every autumn are an important food source for many animals, including endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

In a recently released draft report, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force created by Washington Governor Inslee recognized the importance of stormwater as a source of pollution in Puget Sound, as well as the need to better understand the impacts of toxics on orcas and their salmon prey.

WSU researchers, led by Jen McIntyre, assistant professor at the WSU-run Washington Stormwater Center in Puyallup, have found that coho get sick and die within just a few hours of exposure to polluted stormwater.

AS FALL’S RAINS RETURN, RUNOFF FROM OUR STREETS AND HIGHWAYS OFTEN GETS FUNNELED INTO WATERS COHO ARE MIGRATING THROUGH, LEADING TO THEIR EARLY DEMISE IN SOME CASES. (K. KING, USFWS)

“Urban runoff contains a soup of heavy metals and hydrocarbons that are highly toxic to fish,” said McIntyre. “Every coho that dies in our polluted urban watersheds before it gets a chance to spawn means less eggs, fewer fry, and fewer returning fish to feed hungry orcas.”

“With this new, interactive story map, citizens along the Puget Sound can help scientists confirm their latest predictions of where coho are in the most trouble,” said Nat Scholz, an ecotoxicologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “This will help us understand where green stormwater infrastructure and similar strategies to promote clean water and healthy habitats are most needed.”

While the new story map is aimed at coho, efforts to reduce toxic runoff to Puget Sound lakes, rivers, and marine waters will benefit other species as well.

Coho salmon are an important part of the culture, history, and economy of the Pacific Northwest. This iconic species is widely distributed in lowland watersheds that are vulnerable to ongoing and future development. The role of water pollution in the continued decline of coho populations remains poorly understood.

To learn more about how you can help, including identifying and reporting coho mortality, visit: https://arcg.is/0SivbL

NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN EDITOR ANDY WALGAMOTT AND HIS FAMILY HAD A RAIN GARDEN INSTALLED TO CATCH STREET RUNOFF THAT OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE GONE INTO LAKE WASHINGTON’S THORNTON CREEK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With 4 Orcas In Sensitive Condition, NOAA Asking Boaters To Give ‘Extra’ Space

With another killer whale losing weight but at least three others recently discovered to be pregnant, federal officials are asking boaters to give the pods an even wider berth.

NOAA reports that a late-20s male appears thinner since losing its mother last year, which could be making foraging more difficult.

IMAGES FROM NOAA SHOW A “NOTICEABLY THINNER” ORCA KNOWN AS J25. (NOAA)

“While the decline in K25’s body condition is not as severe as we saw with J50 this summer, it is a warning signal,” said Lynn Barre, the recovery coordinator for resident orcas.

J50 was a three-year-old southern resident that is now believed to have died.

The agency says it will track the animal’s condition, collect poop samples if it can and otherwise try to minimize disturbing it.

The average life span of a bull orca is 30 years.

Meanwhile, NOAA says that at least one female in J, K and L Pods is pregnant, “vital news.”

(NOAA)

“We ask that vessels minimize disturbance of these pregnant whales, in addition to K25, to maximize the chances of successful pregnancies,” said Scott Rumsey, the deputy West Coast region administrator.

The news comes as salmon fishing is just about wrapped up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juans, where this coming Sunday, Sept. 30, is the final day of coho season.  That’s also when crabbing closes in the islands.

And it follows yesterday’s release for public comment of potential recommendations on what to do to increase prey availability, operate vessels and clean up contaminants that could be affecting killer whale survival in Puget Sound.

Federal regs require boaters to stay 200 yards from whales, and earlier this year WDFW created a voluntary no-go zone on the west side of San Juan Island, and

Coho Anglers Get Two More Days Of Fishing On Central Oregon Coast

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

Ocean waters from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mt. will be open for more coho salmon fishing this Friday and Saturday (Sept. 14-15). This is the second open period for the 2018 non selective coho season.  During the first two-day period anglers averaged more than one fish for every two anglers with a total estimated catch of 2,700 coho.

LORELEI PENNINGTON SHOWS OFF A WILD COHO CAUGHT DURING LAST SEPTEMBER’S SEASON. OREGON OFFICIALS, IN CONJUNCTION WITH FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS, WERE ABLE TO PUT BEAVER STATE FISHERMEN BACK ON THE WATER FOR UNCLIPPED AND CLIPPED COHO ALIKE THIS WEEKEND. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

With an initial quota of 3,500 coho, that left only 800 coho available for harvest – not enough for another opener, according Eric Schindler, ODFW ocean salmon manager.

“However, with coordination and cooperation from NOAA Fisheries and flexibility in salmon management we were able to “roll-over” quota from the summer hatchery coho season to September,” Schindler said. “That bumped the quota up to 7,600 coho, and will give everyone at least two more days of fishing.”

Managers will review catches next week and decide on Wednesday if there is enough quota left for any additional fishing days.

Fishing for Chinook salmon remains open seven days a week through October, but Chinook catches have been slow most of the season. Anglers are reminded that when fishing for salmon in the ocean no more than two single point barbless hooks are allowed.  The hook rules also apply when fishing for any other species if a salmon has been retained.

Study Shows Importance Of Puget Sound Chinook Production To Starving Orcas

A new analysis is showing the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas.

Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs.

A JOINT STATE-FEDERAL ANALYSIS IDENTIFIED THE SNOHOMISH RIVER BASIN AS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCERS OF CHINOOK FOR LOCAL ORCAS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

For the analysis, NOAA and WDFW sampled orca doots to “assist in prioritizing actions to increase critical prey for the whales.”

Nutritional stress has been identified as among the chief causes of their declining numbers, and the news comes as officials report a newborn calf died off Victoria yesterday. Just half of the 28 reproductive-age “blackfish” have produced calves in the last 10 years, another report said.

“Ramp up the hatchery production. Do it now. It’s the only way,” says Tom Nelson, co-host of Seattle outdoors radio show The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN.

He was reacting this morning while fishing for coho at Possession Bar to a Seattle Times scoop on the findings.

Reporter Lynda V. Mapes writes that from the standpoint of federal overseers, “In some instances, it might make more sense to focus on habitat restoration rather than increasing hatchery releases, [NOAA’s Lynn] Barre said. “It has to be evaluated on a watershed level … It’s not just ‘let’s make more fish to feed the whales,’ hold on, there are a few things to consider.’”

A MATRIX FROM THE NOAA-WDFW RANKS THE MOST IMPORTANT CHINOOK STOCKS FOR SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES BY BASIN.

Nelson, who has a degree in fisheries biology, acknowledges that the problems salmon and orcas face are highly complex, with few if any single-faceted answers, but with J, K and L pods down to just 75 animals, action is needed right now, and not just restricting already restricted salmon seasons.

“A significant increase in hatchery releases has to happen. Anything else is a long-term fix. The killer whales don’t have time,” Nelson says.

With nine out of every 10 adult Puget Sound Chinook born at, reared in and released from hatcheries, the state is planning on bolstering prroduction, with the Fish and Wildlife Commission making moves towards that, along with adding  protections for orcas from vessels, another key factor in their struggles. Pollutants also play a role.

Both the salmon stock and marine mammals are listed under the Endangered Species Act, which NOAA is charged with enforcing.

But to achieve a meaningful increase in wild Chinook numbers, you have to have better habitat, Nelson says, and that’s unlikely to occur any time soon in our densely populated region.

“If you think you’re going to get everyone to move out of the Central Sound and get it back to presettlement days, you’re dreaming,” Nelson says.

A lot of habitat work is occurring in estuaries, side channels and elsewhere, but results are painfully slow, and that pace could impact the region’s interest in continuing with the much-needed work.

Meanwhile, 89 percent of this year’s forecast of 255,219 fall kings expected to return to Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and Hood Canal rivers are hatchery fish.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO AN UNUSED RACEWAY AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER KINGS. CHINOOK PRODUCTION IN WESTERN WASHINGTON IS HALF OF WHAT IT WAS IN 1989 AS HATCHERY PRACTICES HAVE BEEN REFORMED TO HELP WILD STOCKS RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The importance of Puget Sound Chinook — both wild and adipose-fin-clipped hatchery ones — to SRKWs is otherwise obvious because of where they hang out, off the Washington Coast, in the Straits and in the San Juans, where those salmon stocks return through on the way to their home rivers.

Upper and Middle Columbia and Snake upriver brights, and Fraser, Lower Columbia trib and Fraser springers were also highly important stocks, the analysis found.

But they also fed to a degree on Chinook from as far away as the Sacramento and Southeast Alaska.

“We can use this information as a guide, based on the best science, to help inform decisions about how we spend recovery dollars for both salmon and Southern Resident killer whales,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, in a NOAA news story on the analysis. “We remain committed to recovery of all West Coast salmon stocks, and this helps us understand where we can maximize our resources and partnerships to help killer whales too.”

In the words of one close observer of the salmon world, the whales don’t care if kings have an extra fin or not, yet hatchery production has and probably will face more legal challenges.

With harbor seals and sea lions identified as eating large numbers of Puget Sound Chinook before they can mature into orca fodder, Nelson also called for reducing pinniped numbers, which he says could show results in as few as three years in terms of salmon prey availability for killer whales.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A SAN JUANS CHINOOK LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

That and hatchery production would also yield more fish for anglers and help WDFW sell more licenses, easing its budget issues.

NOAA Testing How Well Drone Sailboats Can Gather West Coast Fish Data

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS RELEASE FROM NOAA FISHERIES

NOAA Fisheries’ two West Coast Science laboratories are joining forces with the Alameda, Calif., company Saildrone Inc. to test the first use of autonomous, wind and solar-powered vehicles to gather essential data on West Coast fish populations, including commercially valuable species such as hake, sardine, and anchovy.

A SAILDRONE OPERATES IN THE BERING SEA. (SAILDRONE)

Two saildrones will launch from Neah Bay, Wash., and three will launch from Saildrone’s home base in Alameda in late June. The drones will undertake different missions, all related to improving the efficiency and accuracy of fisheries stock assessments off the West Coast. Stock assessments make estimates of fish populations, which the Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries use in setting fishing rules and limits for the commercial fishing industry.

Four of the saildrones will duplicate the path of the NOAA Fisheries ship Reuben Lasker as it collects data on populations of sardine, anchovy and other small fishes, to also survey hake, a deep-water species that is one of the West Coast’s most valuable commercial fisheries. Two of these drones will launch from Neah Bay and two from Alameda. Scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) in Seattle and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will work with Saildrone to manage the research. Scientists can adjust the drones’ assignments in real time.

A PAIR OF SAILDRONES OFF CALIFORNIA. (SAILDRONE)

“This a real opportunity for us to test new and likely better ways of collecting data that informs some of our most important decisions on fisheries management,” said Larry Hufnagle, a NWFSC research scientist who will help direct the mission.

A fifth saildrone will explore different approaches to improving the accuracies and efficiencies of future stock assessments. Scientists from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in La Jolla, Calif., will help manage the mission with Saildrone. These experiments have four objectives.

• Collect data closer to shore than NOAA ships can safely navigate, to estimate fish in shallow water.
• Survey ahead of the ship, to enable the ship focus on the most productive waters.
• Study the same area on multiple days, to study the vertical-migration and schooling behaviors of various fish species.
• Survey fish stocks as they migrate past a repeated saildrone transect, to improve the efficiency of ecosystem assessments.

The SWFSC conducts stock assessments of small pelagic fishes such as sardines, mackerels, and anchovies.

The saildrones can transmit some data each day, but full details will be downloaded from the vehicles at the end of the mission. The saildrones are designed to remain independently in the field for up to a year, although the four-saildrone mission will run up to 100 days, and the fifth saildrone may be deployed for up to six months. A saildrone typically travels at less than two knots, or a couple miles per hour, while the ship travels at 10 knots, leading to the use of multiple autonomous vehicles to cover the ship’s survey course.

THREE SAILDRONES AWAIT DEPLOYMENT IN ALASKA. (SAILDRONE)

The efforts will answer questions of whether autonomous data collection can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of fisheries management on the West Coast. If the saildrones can add more complete data or make better use of the data collected by ships, they have potential to increase the precision and accuracy of NOAA Fisheries and DFO stock estimates.

Scientists noted, however, that there are tradeoffs between the use of ships and autonomous vehicles in terms of time, and the suite of data that can be collected by each platform.

“We’re fortunate that Saildrone has been flexible enough to figure out ways to test these different ideas about how they might add value to what we do,” said Toby Garfield, Acting Deputy Director of the SWFSC, who is helping direct the mission of the fifth saildrone. “We’re responsible for managing and conserving marine resources, and this all adds to the long-term data that helps us do that effectively.”

NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center has been testing Saildrone technology, along with NOAA Research’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Alaska for the past three years to gather oceanographic data, acoustic data on endangered North Pacific right whales, information on walleye pollock, and for prey surveys within the foraging range of a declining population of northern fur seals. This year, the focus in Alaska will be on studying abundance and distribution of Arctic cod in the Chukchi Sea.

The launch of Saildrones along the West Coast demonstrates NOAA Fisheries’ continued commitment to embrace new technologies to maximize efficiencies and advance its mission.

Survey Finds Good Krill Numbers Again Off Oregon, But Even More Pyrosomes

An annual spring survey off the Northwest Coast came up with some good and bad news for key stocks.

Krill — hugely important near the base of the ocean food web — and young Dungeness crab numbers were as high as they’ve been in some time, but there are even more pyrosomes off Oregon’s Central Coast and to the south than last year.

RESEARCHERS CALLED THE RETURN OF KRILL TO THEIR SAMPLING NETS “A WELCOME SIGHT SINCE THESE IMPORTANT FORAGE HAVE LARGELY BEEN ABSENT OVER THE PAST COUPLE YEARS SINCE THE ANOMALOUS WARMING” FROM THE BLOB. (NWFSC)

Jennifer Fisher, fresh off a 10-day survey between San Francisco Bay and Newport, reported the findings on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center blog.

“These are the most Dungeness larvae and juveniles we’ve collected in a long time, and we have not seen krill numbers like this since before 2015,” Fisher followed up via email.

That year, 2015, was the height of The Blob — the huge pool of warmer than usual water in the Northeast Pacific that messed things up at sea and on land — and it was also a year after pyrosomes first began to be found in our coastal waters.

By last year, the tropical gelatinous, sea-pickle thingies that are actually colonies of organisms were clogging fishing gear off our coast and even turned up as far north as the rim of the Gulf of Alaska, also a first.

While rockfish were observed feeding on pyrosomes, it’s not clear how their numbers will affect the food web. Another NOAA blog from last October states, “At this point, there are more questions than answers.”

But the May survey answered the question whether they’re still out there.

“The pyrosome catches appear slightly larger and the colonies are larger compared to last year,” reports Fisher.

They can be found starting about 10 miles off the coast, living on the bottom during the day and rising to the surface at night.

PYROSOMES FILL A COOLER ABOARD THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION’S VESSEL, THE BELL M. SHIMADA. (NWFSC)

The Science Center will soon conduct another closely watched spring survey, collecting information on young Chinook and coho off Oregon.

Last year’s produced very low catches while one a couple years ago found very small fish. But the resurgence of krill is a hopeful sign that the food web could be rebuilding coming out of the hangover from the Blob.

Fisher also reported on Science Center’s blog that copepods are in a state of flux between winter warm-water communities and summer, cold-water ones that come with the upwelling.

So what does it all mean?

“The krill is a good sign, but the pyrosomes are not, since they are indicative of warm water,” she says. “And the transitional copepod community is also not a great sign for salmon. But it’s still early in the summer upwelling season, so things can certainly change.”