Tag Archives: noaa

NOAA Reports Latest Blob Shrinking Since Late August But Still One Of North Pacific’s Largest

THE FOLLOWING IS A NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE STORY

The vast marine heatwave that spread warm temperatures across the northeast Pacific Ocean late in the summer and fall of 2019 has declined in size and pulled back from the West Coast, possibly reducing its immediate impacts on coastal ecosystems.

N.O.A.A. REPORTS THAT THE LATEST BLOB, OR MARINE HEAT WAVE, THE GIANT POOL OF OCEAN WATER THAT IS ABOVE AVERAGE SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES, HAS SHRUNK SINCE LATE AUGUST, BUT STILL AMONG THE FIVE LARGEST ON RECORD. (NOAA)

It has declined to about half the size and intensity it displayed in August. However scientists caution that the heatwave designated MHW NEP19a remains two to three times the size of Alaska and still retains enormous amounts of heat in the upper layers of ocean. It remains one of the top four or five largest heatwaves on record in the North Pacific in the last 40 years.

“What we are seeing now is a smaller heatwave that is farther offshore, but there is still a very large span of the Pacific Ocean that is much warmer than usual,” said Andrew Leising, a research scientist at NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in La Jolla, California. Leising has developed criteria to detect and gauge the size and magnitude of marine heatwaves. “The question is, where does it go from here? That’s what we’re watching now.”

The edge of the heatwave is now about 1,500 kilometers (about 930 miles) from the West Coast, but still envelops much of the Gulf of Alaska. It no longer so closely resembles the enormous earlier marine heatwave known as “the Blob” that affected much of the West Coast through 2014 and 2015, causing reverberations through the food web.

Low salmon returns to many West Coast rivers in the last few years have been linked to the Blob, which reduced the availability of food when the salmon first entered the ocean as juveniles.

Both the Blob and the current heatwave were large and carried a great deal of heat. But this summer’s warming near the West Coast did not reach as deep into the ocean or last as long, said research scientist Michael Jacox of the SWFSC. “It will be very interesting to compare the two events and their impacts on marine life and fisheries given the different character and timeline,” he said.

Scientists will be watching for effects of the current heatwave on species such as salmon and albacore that are sensitive to ocean conditions, said Elliott Hazen of the SWFSC. “Is this going to be a similar ecological response to what we saw in 2014-2015, not much of a response given we are still recovering, or something quite different?” he asked.

Leising noted that as the Blob of 2014-2015 grew and evolved, it also experienced some weakening in 2013 before regaining strength and then expanding in size. That doesn’t mean the current heatwave will do the same. But it does underscore how much and how fast marine heatwaves can shift and change in response to climate and other factors.

“This marine heatwave is still with us in a big way,” he said. “While it’s not directly impacting the coast as much at this point, we still have a lot to learn about how these events grow and evolve.”

NOAA’s latest North American Multi-Model Ensemble forecasts through May 2020 predict a gradual weakening of the offshore warming. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s November 4 Diagnostic Discussion notes that tropical conditions this fall have been near normal, and this is projected through spring 2020.  If a tropical El Niño event develops this fall or winter instead, it would favor wind, weather, and ocean current patterns that could cause a return of the nearshore warming along the West Coast in winter or spring 2020.

Columbia-Snake Steelhead Run Again Downgraded; Treaty Salmon Fishery Set

Columbia fishery managers heard more grim news about this year’s steelhead run, now forecast to come in at 71,600, the third downgrade from the preseason forecast.

WILD UNCLIPPED A- AND B-RUN STEELHEAD ARE OUTPACING HATCHERY RETURNS SO FAR AT BONNEVILLE, SOMETHING THAT “HAS NOT BEEN OBSERVED” IN THE QUARTER CENTURY OF TALLYING THE DIFFERENCE AT THE DAM. (BRIAN LULL)

Weaker than expected hatchery A-run numbers continue to largely be to blame, but B-runs, which return later and haven’t been updated, are now also “tracking below expectations.”

The preseason forecast was 118,200 As and Bs, but was dropped to 86,000 on Aug. 28 and 74,000 on Sept. 3.

Unusually, more unclipped summers have been tallied at Bonneville than clipped fish, 29,658 to 26,856 since July 1, something that “has not been observed” at the dam since managers began counting the number of adult steelhead with and without adipose fins in 1994, according to today’s fact sheet.

The new forecast calls for 35,000 unclipped steelhead.

Also troubling — though not concrete — is that Dworshak Hatchery-bound fish are “almost absent, based on PIT tags,” WDFW’s Bill Tweit said during a state-tribal conference call this morning.

PIT tags are passive integrated transponders placed in smolts at the hatchery or in the wild and which record a fish’s passage to and from the ocean.

If the steelhead run comes in at this new low forecast, it would be the worst since at least 1984.

Already, state managers have shut down retention on large sections of the Columbia, extended it in some places and reduced upriver bag limits from three to one for when the fish arrive in Southeast Washington, Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho streams.

The main thrust of today’s call, however, was to hear about CRITFC plans to hold a two-and-a-half-day tribal commercial gillnetting opener in Zone 6, the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day Pools, from 6 a.m., Monday, Sept. 16 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 18.

According to the fact sheet, it and a “late fall platform” fishery are modeled to bring the tribal harvest in the fall management period to 28,448 Chinook, including 11,794 upriver brights and 2,152 steelhead, including 425 B-runs.

The fact sheet states that at current run forecasts, that would leave 24,834 URBs for tribal fisheries. It also says that based on typical run timing, the goal of getting at least 60,000 past McNary Dam will be met.

While URBs, which spawn in the Hanford Reach and Snake River and provide sportfisheries there and in the aforementioned pools, are “tracking similar to pre-season expectations,” there is more concern about Columbia Gorge hatchery tule returns meeting broodstock needs.

CRITFC’s Stuart Ellis acknowledged that it “seems likely we will be quite tight” in reaching goals at Spring Creek Hatchery, but that if necessary, Bonneville Hatchery fish could be substituted as they are the same strain.

When ODFW’s John North asked other tribes, WDFW, NOAA and the public for comment on the proposed tribal opener, none was given.

State managers did query Ellis about a preliminary estimated catch of “0” steelhead during last week’s tribal Chinook fishery, to which he explained that none had been sampled, leading to the zero for that week. He also said that actual steelhead catches had been less than were being modeled.

He added that managers need to keep an eye on the Dworshak situation.

ODFW’s Jeff Whistler, who chairs the Technical Advisory Committee, which puts out run updates, said that one for A- and B-run steelhead, URBs and tules was “quite likely” to come out next Monday.

In a weekly newsletter out last Friday evening, NSIA noted that TAC was also reviewing Chinook passage at Bonneville this past Monday and that managers “have committed to acting as quickly as possible to reopen chinook fishing from Warrior Rock to Bonneville if the passage numbers warrant.”

No sport fisheries were proposed today, but next week’s update might show whether any are possible.

Seattle Outdoor Radio Host Faces $2,500 Fine For Feeding Seal A Fish Fin

A Puget Sound pier angler who involuntary fed a harbor seal his Chinook this morning won’t face a fine.

But a local radio show host who flicked a dorsal fin to another lurking like “dogs at the dinner table” to illustrate the marine mammal’s overabundance and impact on ESA-listed salmon stocks in the inland sea faces a bill that’s grown to $2,500 for doing so.

TOM NELSON WITH A BRITISH COLUMBIA CHINOOK. (TOM NELSON)

Official advice to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement: Don’t hold your breath that a check from Tom Nelson will be in the mail anytime soon.

“I. Ain’t. Payin’.” is the text the host of The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN sent out last night to a fellow broadcaster.

Instead, Nelson says he’s “going to war” with the federal fishery overseers over the issue.

“NOAA has to become part of the solution to our problems and right now they are a big part of the problem!” he emailed Northwest Sportsman magazine this morning.

The same day last summer that KING 5 taped him throwing the inedible fin of a Chinook he caught to the seal at an Everett marina he got a voice mail from a federal game warden that he was on the hook for $500.

Nelson didn’t pay the fine and he recently received a registered letter from the feds upping the amount and stating that he was guilty of a “take,” according to an article on MyNorthwest.com that’s based on a 12-minute interview late this week on the Dori Monson Show.

He continues to contend that the plight of our southern resident killer whales is directly linked to too many harbor seals and sea lions eating too much of their key feedstock — Chinook.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A CHINOOK IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

Recent papers say that in the 45 years that led up to 2015, Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal harbor seals and sea lions “consumed double that of resident killer whales and six times greater than the combined commercial and recreational catches,” and that harbor seals “accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide (Chinook) smolt consumption in 2015” as their numbers mushroomed from more than 8,500 to nearly 78,000 over a 40-year period.

On Monson’s show, Nelson contrasted the speedy notice that he was initially facing a $500 fine with NOAA’s perceived foot-dragging in approving hatchery genetic management plans that lead to lawsuits by NGOs which lead to closed operations, as well as the delay of a fishery in California this year.

“NOAA can’t get their homework done for us to do fisheries, in time for the state to be insulated from litigation, and yet they can find the time to hook me for throwing a dorsal fin to a harbor seal,” Nelson said.

The two facets do represent different elements of NOAA’s large workload, one of which is enforcing the Congressionally approved Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Under it a “take” not only includes killing or trying to kill a seal or sea lion, but feeding or attempting to.

But here’s where it might get interesting: The full text on feeding states “in the wild.”

Nelson contends the harbor seal he flicked the fishy bit to was inside a manmade harbor, an “artificial” structure and “not a natural body of water.”

Furthermore, the seals there are “completely habituated to human presence,” he also told Monson.

A HARBOR SEAL LURKS OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE OFF KINGSTON LAST JULY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein said agency policy is “to not comment on law enforcement cases” and emailed me links to an FAQ on why not to feed marine mammals and a link to what take means.

Neither publication define the word “wild,” nor does the MMPA specifically — at least in a layman’s quick reading — though it could also be construed as not in captivity.

NOAA’s FAQs do state that feeding seals “can cause them to lose their natural wariness of humans or boats and condition them to beg for handouts instead of foraging for their normal prey.”

That’s what appears to have happened with one of the “water puppies” hanging out at Nelson’s marina begging for scraps and got him in hot water with the government.

But instead of being scared, he plans to use the issue to highlight the problem of too many pinnipeds eating too many Chinook, which along with reduced hatchery and wild salmon production, vessel disturbance and pollution are decreasing orcas’ ability to thrive.

“Before they get a nickel out of me, they can go and lock me up,” Nelson told Monson.

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Researchers Study How Far North Oregon Coast Dungeness Roam

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Dungeness crab is Oregon’s leading commercial seafood product, bringing in an estimated $75 million in 2018, yet little is known about how far crabs will venture in search of food.

RESEARCHER SARAH HENKEL PREPARES TO RELEASE A DUNGENESS CRAB WITH AN ACOUSTIC TRANSMITTER. (OSU)

Oregon State University marine ecologist Sarah Henkel is hoping to change that. Last year, she and a colleague from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration glued acoustic tags onto several legal-sized Dungeness crabs near the mouth of the Columbia River and off Cape Falcon, then deployed acoustic receivers north and south of the two locations to learn more about their movements.

Their goal was to learn how frequently and how far crabs move in sandy versus rocky habitat – data that will help inform decision-making on potential impacts of wave energy testing and marine reserves.

What they found out about the crabs surprised them. What they discovered about great white sharks in Oregon waters from listening for the signals emitted from the crab tags intrigued them even more.

First, about the crabs. The researchers deployed 10 tagged crabs in sandy habitat near the Columbia and they all fled the region within a week, taking with them the tags that cost $300 apiece. Crabbers usually target sandy areas for deploying pots because they are less likely to get tangled on the seafloor.

“It’s interesting because I’ve done a lot of sampling of benthic habitat and there just isn’t a lot of food down there,” said Henkel, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “There’s usually only very small worms and clams, yet there’s an enormous crab harvest each year and most of that is from sandy-bottomed regions.”

DUNGENESS CRABS OUTFITTED WITH ACOUSTIC TRANSMITTERS. (OSU)

So Henkel tagged an additional 20 crabs and dropped them into the water near Cape Falcon, which has rockier habitat and is about 10 miles south of Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. Only four of those crabs left the region right away, while the other 16 stayed an average of 25.5 days. One stayed for 117 days, she noted.

“Even though it’s a small sample size, it’s clear that habitat can influence crab movement,” Henkel said. “The crabs in the rocky areas had more to eat, but they often also have mossy bellies, which may not be as desirable commercially. Commercial crabbers like to target migrating crabs in sandy areas that tend to have smooth bellies.”

Henkel’s theory is that Dungeness crabs may travel far and wide in search of food, and when they find it, they’ll stay put.

“We heard from a fishermen who caught one of our tagged crabs in 70 meters of water near Astoria Canyon, who then let the crab go,” Henkel said. “A few days later, another crabber caught the same crab in Grays Harbor, Washington.”

Studies by Henkel and others have shown that Dungeness crabs will range an average of 11.5 miles, and some extend that range to more than 50 miles. Research has also shown that crabs don’t seem fazed by power lines or cables on the seafloor that may transmit wave energy or are used for telecommunications.

Now about those other signals: While listening for crabs, Henkel and her colleagues picked up some other signals from transmitters. When they contacted other researchers, they learned that 35 of the acoustic “pings” came from green sturgeon that had been tagged for other studies.

Seven additional “pings” came from great white sharks near Cape Falcon.

“The great white sharks were tagged in northern California and we detected them – up here in December and January,” Henkel said. “They were very close to shore, which is interesting. In the three years we had acoustic receivers at a site about seven miles off the coast near Newport, we never detected a single shark.”

Her study was supported by the Eder Family Dungeness Crab Research Fund through OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative.

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Where Barbed Hooks Are, Aren’t Now Allowed For Salmon, Steelhead On Washington’s Columbia System

Updated 3:10 p.m., May 31, 2019 with ODFW press release announcing Columbia hook rule change at bottom

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

Anglers on a large portion of the Columbia River and many of its tributaries will no longer be required to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon and steelhead beginning June 1.

In March, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission directed the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to make the use of barbless hooks voluntary for salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Due to Endangered Species Act permitting with NOAA, WDFW is unable to fully lift restrictions on barbed hooks in some areas at this time, including tributaries upstream of McNary Dam, including the Snake River.

Still, barbless hook requirements on salmon and steelhead fishing are being lifted across a broad swath of Washington waters, including the mainstem Columbia River from Buoy 10 to Chief Joseph Dam, and Columbia River tributaries from Buoy 10 to McNary Dam. Anglers fishing for sturgeon are still required to use barbless hooks.

The restriction on barbed hooks for salmon and steelhead will lift June 1 on the following waters:

A) Barbed hooks allowed for salmon and steelhead:

  1. Blue Creek (Lewis County), from the mouth to Spencer Road
  2. Cispus River (Lewis County)
  3. Columbia River, from a true north/south line through Buoy 10 to Chief Joseph Dam
  4. Coweeman River and tributaries (Cowlitz County)
  5. Cowlitz Falls Reservoir (Lake Scanewa) (Lewis County)
  6. Cowlitz River (Cowlitz County); Barbed hooks are also allowed for cutthroat trout in the Cowlitz River
  7. Drano Lake (Skamania County)
  8. Elochoman River (Wahkiakum County)
  9. Grays River (Wahkiakum County)
  10. Grays River, West Fork (Wahkiakum County)
  11. Kalama River (Cowlitz County)
  12. Klickitat River (Klickitat County)
  13. Lewis River (Clark County)
  14. Rock Creek (Skamania County)
  15. Tilton River (Lewis County)
  16. Toutle River (Cowlitz County)
  17. Toutle River, North Fork (Cowlitz County)
  18. Washougal River (Clark County)
  19. Washougal River, West (North) Fork (Clark/Skamania counties)
  20. White Salmon River (Klickitat/Skamania counties)

B) Selective gear rules still in effect; barbed hooks now allowed:

  1. Abernathy Creek and tributaries (Cowlitz County)
  2. Cedar Creek and tributaries (tributary of N.F. Lewis) (Clark County)
  3. Coal Creek (Cowlitz County)
  4. Delameter Creek (Cowlitz County)
  5. Germany Creek (Cowlitz County) and all tributaries.
  6. Grays River (Wahkiakum County)
  7. Grays River, East Fork (Wahkiakum County)
  8. Grays River, South Fork (Wahkiakum County)
  9. Grays River, West Fork tributaries (Wahkiakum County)
  10. Green River (Cowlitz County)
  11. Hamilton Creek (Skamania County)
  12. Kalama River (Cowlitz County): From 1,000 feet above fishway at upper salmon hatchery to Summers Creek and from the intersection of 6000 and 6420 roads to 6600 Road bridge immediately downstream of Jacks Creek.
  13. Lacamas Creek (Clark County): From mouth to footbridge at lower falls.
  14. Lacamas Creek, tributary of Cowlitz River (Lewis County)
  15. Lewis River, East Fork (Clark/Skamania counties): From mouth to 400 feet below Horseshoe Falls.
  16. Little Washougal River (Clark County)
  17. Mill Creek (Cowlitz County)
  18. Mill Creek (Lewis County): From the mouth to the hatchery road crossing culvert.
  19. Olequa Creek (Lewis/Cowlitz counties)
  20. Outlet Creek (Silver Lake) (Cowlitz County)
  21. Salmon Creek (Clark County): From the mouth to 182nd Avenue Bridge.
  22. Salmon Creek (Lewis County)
  23. Skamokawa Creek (Wahkiakum County)
  24. Stillwater Creek (Lewis County)
  25. Swift Reservoir (Skamania County): From the posted markers approximately 3/8 mile below Eagle Cliff Bridge to the bridge; from the Saturday before Memorial Day through July 15.
  26. Toutle River, North Fork (Cowlitz County):  From the mouth to the posted deadline below the fish collection facility.
  27. Wind River (Skamania County): from 100 feet above Shipherd Falls to Moore Bridge.
  28. White Salmon River (Klickitat/Skamania counties): From the county road bridge below the former location of the powerhouse upstream to Big Brother Falls (river mile 16).

C) Fly fishing only rules still in effect; barbed hooks now allowed:

  1. Kalama River (Cowlitz County): From Summers Creek to the intersection of 6000 and 6420 roads.

This rule will be reflected in the new Washington Sport Fishing Rules Pamphlet on July 1, 2019. Anglers are reminded to check the pamphlet for additional regulations and to learn more about selective gear and fly fishing rules. Anglers can also download the Fish Washington mobile app to see up-to-date regulations around the state. Visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/app to learn more.

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

ODFW today adopted temporary rules to allow anglers to use barbed hooks when fishing for salmon, steelhead and trout in the Columbia River beginning Saturday, June 1.

ODFW adopted the rule so Oregon’s fishing regulations will remain concurrent with Washington in the jointly-managed Columbia River. The temporary rule will remain in effect until further notice or until it expires in late November. For it to become a permanent rule, the Fish and Wildlife Commission will need to approve a rule change, which Commissioners are expected to consider at a future meeting.

Anglers have been required to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon, steelhead, and trout in the Columbia River since 2013. In March, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a recommendation to make the use of barbless hooks voluntary, and Washington Fish and Wildlife implemented the rule to begin June 1.

Rules requiring the use of single-point barbless hooks when fishing for sturgeon in the Columbia River remain in effect for anglers in both states. 

For the latest on Columbia River fishing regulations visit https://myodfw.com/recreation-report/fishing-report/columbia-zone

Here’s What NOAA Says About Why It Approved IDFG Steelhead Fishery

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RLEASE FROM THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINSTRATION’S FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries has determined that Idaho’s Fishery Management and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) for their recreational steelhead fishery provides necessary protections for salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  NOAA fisheries has approved Idaho’s plan under section 4(d) Rule.

AN ANGLER ADMIRES A WILD STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING A DERBY HELD OUT OF LEWISTON, IDAHO, SEVERAL YEARS AGO. (BRIAN LULL)

Under section 4(d), NOAA Fisheries can specify how an activity can be exempt from additional ESA regulations. This applies particularly to “take,” which can include any act that kills or injures fish, and may include habitat modification. The ESA prohibits any take of species listed as endangered, but some take of threatened species that does not interfere with survival and recovery may be allowed.

“Idaho has developed a plan that provides continuing recreational fishing opportunities while ensuring that ESA-listed salmon and steelhead have the protection they need to recover,” said Allyson Purcell, Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.

Idaho’s plan came together through collaboration with fishery managers across the Snake River Basin and includes a new basin-wide framework designed to limit total impacts on steelhead from all fisheries in the Snake River Basin.  Under Idaho’s plan, fishermen will continue to be required to release any wild steelhead they encounter.

The plan will also limit impacts of Idaho’s steelhead fishery on other ESA-listed species, such as Snake River sockeye and Snake River fall Chinook salmon. Furthermore, Idaho will be implementing new low-abundance thresholds that will trigger implementation of additional conservation measures when natural-origin steelhead abundance is projected to fall below threshold levels.

“The framework is responsive to changing conditions, and it will provide additional protections when the abundance of wild steelhead falls below critical abundance levels,” Purcell said. “We received over 1000 letters from fishing groups, environmental groups, government officials, and interested citizens during our public comment period on Idaho’s proposed plan.  This level of involvement demonstrates how important these fish are to the Pacific Northwest communities.”

More information:

Idaho Steelheading To Stay Open As Fish And Game Receives NOAA Permit

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game on March 15 received federal reauthorization for its steelhead fishing season, so fishing will continue uninterrupted, and the two areas currently closed will reopen immediately.

STEELHEADERS CAN CONTINUE  ANGLING THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER, WHERE KELLY COLLITON CAUGHT THIS BIG B-RUN, AND OTHER IDAHO RIVERS AS STATE MANAGERS RECEIVED A NEW FEDERAL PERMIT JUST IN TIME TO KEEP FISHERIES OPEN THROUGH THE END OF APRIL. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Steelhead fishing resumes in the following locations:

  • The Main Salmon River between Warren Creek and the Copper Mine Boat Ramp.
  • South Fork of Clearwater River upstream of the Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Per Fish and Game director’s order, bag limits for steelhead anglers will remain as follows:

  • One steelhead daily in the Mainstem Clearwater, North Fork Clearwater, Middle Fork Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Snake River from the Washington state line upstream to the Dug Bar Boat Ramp.
  • Two steelhead daily in the South Fork Clearwater River and Snake River from the Dug Bar Boat Ramp to Hells Canyon Dam.

The federal agency that authorizes Idaho’s steelhead fishing, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had up until the fall of 2018 allowed Fish and Game to hold fishing seasons for nearly a decade while a permit application was pending.

However, several groups threatened to sue NOAA over the lack of a permit, which prompted to the Fish and Game Commission to order a suspension of the season in December. But Fish and Game officials and the groups reached a settlement that allowed most steelhead fishing to continue while NOAA officials processed the permit.

“During this difficult period, we greatly appreciate the patience of anglers, outfitters and guides, and other businesses and communities that rely on steelhead fishing,” said Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief Jim Fredericks. “While it was NOAA’s inaction that created this situation, we appreciate NOAA staff working diligently to expedite this permit in a valid and legally defensible way and completing it when promised, despite a federal government shutdown that lasted more than a month.”

NOAA Sharpening Its Eye On West Coast Chinook Fisheries

Federal overseers could press for new Chinook fishing restrictions for select stocks at sea in the coming years to provide more salmon for orcas.

In a guidance letter earlier this week to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries off the West Coast, NOAA made known that it wants to reengage with the panel on season setting.

AN ANGLER SHOWS OFF A 28-POUND FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WESTPORT ABOARD THE CHARTER BOAT SLAMMER IN A RECENT SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The agency last did that in 2009 and found that the council’s commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington’s, Oregon’s and California’s ocean waters, didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales at the time, but the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined since then and last year an analysis identified important king stocks for the hungry marine mammals.

“Several of the high priority Chinook salmon stocks currently identified in the framework contribute substantially to Council fisheries, including lower Columbia River, Sacramento River, and Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon stocks [bolding in the original]. Identifying high priority Chinook salmon stocks for SRKW is an important step to assess impacts and prioritize management and recovery actions that will benefit the whales,” the March 6 letter from NOAA Regional Administrator Barry Thom to PFMC Chair Phil Anderson states.


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Lower Columbia stocks are key to Washington Coast salmon fisheries, while the other two runs are important off Oregon and California.

Puget Sound fall Chinook were found to be even more important to orcas, according to NOAA’s and WDFW’s joint review last year, but are not mentioned in the letter. Still, the state agency is developing seasons with an eye towards the species’ “dietary needs.”

The letter does say that the feds are developing a “risk assessment” for analyzing salmon fisheries past, present and future in terms of overlap with SRKWs, and how they impact orca prey availability.

“If adjustments are needed, this framework could guide fisheries actions to limit impacts to prey availability in specific areas and times that are believed to create the greatest benefit to the whales. We believe adaptive frameworks like this, or other equally protective tools, provide confidence that fisheries can respond to the highest risk conditions and help improve conditions for SRKW in the future,” the letter states.

While it says that the new tool won’t likely be available to apply to 2019 fisheries, NOAA still wants to get with PFMC about this year’s proposed seasons and their impacts on the aforementioned stocks.

Lurking in the background is the threat of a lawsuit against NOAA to look into fishery effects on orcas.

According to The Seattle Times, which broke the story yesterday afternoon, fishing interests involved in the process say fisheries aren’t to blame for the downfall of the “blackfish,” but seasons are an easy “knob” to try and turn, and that habitat issues in the spawning and rearing waters are the real problem for low Chinook numbers.

The letter goes on to say that efforts are also being made to reduce disturbance from boats in orca foraging areas.

A bill passed out of Washington’s House yesterday on a 78-20 vote expands the don’t-go distance around orcas from 200 to 300 yards, prohibits approaching closer than 400 yards from behind, and requires vessels to slow to 7 knots within a half-mile bubble around them. It now goes over the Senate.

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.