Tag Archives: northern pike

New ‘Get Outdoors’ Fish-Hunt License, Corn Ponds, Salmon Hatcheries On WA Commission Agenda

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to take action on a new combination fishing and hunting license at its September meeting.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will meet Sept. 13-14 in Room Pasayten B at Sun Mountain Lodge, 604 Patterson Lake Road, Winthrop. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. both days.

A full agenda is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/meetings. The Sept. 13 meeting will be livestreamed on WDFW’s website at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019091003 and the Sept. 14 meeting will be available at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019091004.

Using statutory authority to create license packages, WDFW is proposing to create a new Get Outdoors license for state residents. The license would include:

  • An annual combination recreational freshwater, saltwater, and shellfish license;
  • Two-pole endorsement (allowing anglers to fish with two poles in allowed areas);
  • Puget Sound crab endorsement;
  • Annual combination hunting license for deer, elk, bear, and cougar;
  • Bear and cougar transport tags;
  • Small game license;
  • Migratory bird permit and migratory bird authorization; and
  • Two turkey tags.

If approved, the new license would cost $235.18 including fees, and would be available for purchase beginning Dec. 1 for the 2020 license year, which runs April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.

Department staff will also brief the commission on proposed regulations for aquatic invasive species. One proposal would reclassify northern pike – a highly invasive predator found in the Box Canyon Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River and Lake Roosevelt in northeastern Washington – as a Level 1 invasive species. The new classification will facilitate rapid response and emergency action by WDFW and partners if the species spreads downstream into the Columbia River.

The commission will also hear a briefing on the state’s policy on hunting for ducks on “corn ponds” or flooding standing crops and will receive an update on the department’s timeline for evaluating the state’s hatchery and fishery reform policy. The policy is intended to improve hatchery effectiveness, ensure compatibility between hatchery production and salmon recovery plans, and support sustainable fisheries.

28.2-pound Pike Caught In Roosevelt’s Sanpoil Arm

The largest pike yet was caught this month on Lake Roosevelt, a 28.2-pound egg-laden female, and it was a lot further down the 150-mile-long reservoir than nearly all other northerns captured so far.

The 43.3-inch nonnative invasive fish was netted in the Sanpoil River arm, the mouth of which is just 17 miles from Grand Coulee Dam.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAPTURED THIS 28.2-POUND NORTHERN PIKE IN LAKE ROOSEVELT’S SANPOIL ARM. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

Even as state and tribal fishery managers are working more and more intensively to keep pike from getting below that dam and Chief Joseph into the salmon and steelhead zone, that a huge one turned up in the arm worries the Colville Tribes too.

“The Sanpoil River hosts the largest wild redband trout run in Lake Roosevelt. We are very concerned about northern pike increasing in abundance in the part of the reservoir,” said Holly McClellan, the tribes’ principal fisheries biologist.

Last year a 6.2-pound pike was caught just 10 miles from the dam, but the fish have mostly been found in the impoundment’s upper arm, up around the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, though they have been moving downlake towards Hunters and beyond.

An intensive joint state-tribal-utility effort to suppress pike numbers ahead of the spring spawn just wrapped up in those waters.

The previous largest northerns were a 27.7-pounder caught at Signers Bay, at Kettle Falls, and a 27.5 in the Spokane Arm.

The implication of a 28.2-pounder showing up so relatively far downlake takes awhile to sink in.

A fish that large will have been capable of breeding for quite some time, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which first reported the catch, said the big female had gonads, where the eggs are stored, that weighed 4 pounds.

Various sources suggest that a near-30-pound pike could carry up to 300,000 eggs.

BEFORE BEING CAUGHT IN A NET, THIS 31-INCH-LONG, 10-POUND LAKE ROOSEVELT PIKE SWALLOWED A TROUT HALF ITS BODY LENGTH. THAT’S NOT MUCH BIGGER THAN THE ADULT SOCKEYE RETURNING TO THE BREWSTER POOL. (WDFW)

That the fish was found so relatively close to the dam underlines grim warnings in a recent presentation from a larger report on predator issues in Roosevelt and the Columbia that the council was given. On northerns it stated:

It is likely that pike will eventually invade the anadromous zone — even with the best efforts in public education, early detection, and control or eradication.

Suppression in Lake Roosevelt could reduce risks of downstream establishment by reducing the number and average body size of downstream dispersers.

Even though the invasion is almost assured to occur in time, there is value in delaying it.

It advises managers that early detection and rapid responses are essential for nipping new outbreaks, that they must come up with those plans now before those occur, and they should monitor areas where it’s likely illegal introductions by bucket biologists would occur.

And it suggests it’s likely that young Chinook would be the most vulnerable to pike, followed by chum salmon.

Subsequent to our posting this story, the Colvilles’ McClellan told the Spokesman Review that at the current pace down the upper Columbia, ” … we think they are maybe three years away from being down below Chief Joseph Dam.”

Major Northern Pike Gillnetting Effort Set To Begin On Lake Roosevelt

State and tribal fishery managers will begin one of their largest, most intensive efforts yet to suppress invasive northern pike in Lake Roosevelt by setting as many as 500 gillnets in early May during the species’ spawn.

“We need to put a dent in them,” says WDFW’s Chuck Lee. “They’ll be easier to control if we get a handle on this earlier. The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets.”

THIS NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN A GILLNET SET IN LAKE ROOSEVELT MAY HAVE BEEN ATTRACTED BY THE RAINBOW TROUT ALSO SNARED IN THE MESH. MANAGERS WANT FEWER OF THE NONNATIVE FISH AND MORE OF THE NATIVE ONES. (WDFW)

His agency along with the Colville, Kalispel and Spokane Tribes, Chelan and Grant Counties PUD, National Park Service and the Northwest Power Planning Council are all participating in the intensive four-day, May 6-9 effort that follows on several years of netting since the fish first turned up in the reservoir in 2011.

Ten crews will set nets on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and pull them on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The effort is being timed to water temperatures that spur northerns to get more active and start looking for habitat to broadcast their eggs and milt and thus become more susceptible to netting.

“We’re trying to catch mature adults before the spawn,” Lee says.

According to a notice from the Colville Tribes, nets will be set in waters 20 feet deep or less that attract staging pike and which “should also help reduce bycatch of non-target species.”

A COLVILLE TRIBES MAP BREAKS DOWN THE ZONES EACH AGENCY WILL WORK DURING THE MAY 6-9 EFFORT. (CCT F&W)

The generally cool water temps also means better survival rates for walleye and trout caught in the nets.

The latter species appears to be a favorite of the nonnative species that was flushed out of the Pend Oreille River system after being illegally introduced there, probably from Idaho’s Couer d’Alene watershed.

“We see a lot of hatchery trout in their guts, a lot of unknown trout too — wild redbands? hatchery trout?” says Lee.

BEFORE BEING CAUGHT IN A NET, THIS 31-INCH-LONG, 10-POUND PIKE SWALLOWED A TROUT HALF ITS BODY LENGTH. (WDFW)

Past years’ suppression efforts do appear to be paying off.

He says that where 5- and 6-year-old pike had been turning up in nets, they’re now primarily pulling in 1-, 2- and 3-year-old fish.

“If we can continue to keep on top of these females before they mature and spawn,” that will help keep the population under control, he says.

The Colvilles have also been paying anglers a bounty for pike heads.

The ultimate worry is that if northerns escape Roosevelt and get through Lake Rufus Woods below it, they’ll have a feast in the form of hatchery and wild ESA-listed salmon and steelhead smolts awaiting at the mouth of the Okanogan River — perhaps even returning adult sockeye.

Lee says that pike are slowly moving down Roosevelt. Where populations were focused around the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, fish are turning up at Hunters and outside the Spokane Arm where the impoundment swings west.

Along with the tribes whose reservations border Roosevelt, the Upper Columbia United Tribes will be on hand to observe the effort, Lee says.

“I’m kind of excited to see us get this group together to suppress pike,” he says of all the participants.

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

State, Tribal Fall FDR Pike Survey Turns Up More Bad News, But Slivers Of Good

More details are coming out about last week’s large-scale joint state-tribal survey on Lake Roosevelt, one that alarmingly turned up a 6-pound pike just 10 miles from Grand Coulee Dam and a 27.5-pound northern in the upper Spokane Arm, but may have also reduced bycatch over last fall’s effort.

Fishery managers say that it’s all about figuring out the best way to suppress pike populations to keep them from chewing up the reservoir’s more popular game fish species.

Asked about angler concerns over nontarget species also being netted, WDFW’s Chuck Lee defends, “If it doesn’t get done, those (hatchery trout) aren’t going to be around either.”

A WDFW NET SET ON UPPER LAKE ROOSEVELT CAPTURED A 31-INCH, 10-POUND NORTHERN PIKE THAT HAD EATEN A 16-INCH RAINBOW TROUT. (WDFW)

A 31-inch, 10-pound pike caught in one of the agency’s 50 net sets had a 16-inch rainbow in its stomach.

The other primary worry with pike is that the invasive nonnative species will get into the anadromous zone below Chief Joseph, the next dam below Grand Coulee, with its ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

“Adult sockeye aren’t too much bigger than that rainbow trout,” Lee points out.

Roosevelt also hosts white sturgeon, kokanee, burbot, lake whitefish — one that was 2 pounds heavier than the state record was sampled last week — walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch.

This is the second fall survey in a row and WDFW took the upper portion of Roosevelt while the Spokane Tribe worked the Spokane Arm and midsection with 50 net sets and the Colville Tribes hit from the dam to Hawk Creek with yet another 50.

If there’s good news, it’s that the Colvilles caught only that one pike in their 37-mile lower reservoir stretch.

“As alarming as it was, we’re glad it was only one fish,” Lee says.

But more and more are turning up midlake, he adds.

Overall, 152 were caught, with 112 by WDFW in their area of responsibility.

Lee notes that for this survey adjustments were made in where the agency set its nets.

“We figured we could eliminate 40 percent of the bycatch by moving them shallower,” he says.

Some deeper sets last year also came up empty.

Figures were still being crunched but Lee says less than 20 fish were caught per state soak.

The comanagers’ overall goal is to figure out how they can get the best bang for their buck with the effort.

“What we’re really trying to find out is, What’s the best way to monitor northern pike and measure suppression efforts — which is the best season for doing suppression?” Lee says.

While spring and the spawn is a good time, the weather is often poor and the reservoir is drawn down. But fall’s stable conditions may be more ideal.

Either season is good if you’re a species that managers and anglers want to save, thanks to cold to cooling water temperatures that make it more likely released fish will survive.

Lake whitefish and nets, however, aren’t a good combination, which most being killed.

A spring 2017 survey saw survival rates of 45 percent for walleye, 37 percent for hatchery rainbows, and greater than 50 percent overall for other species.

“We want to learn from suppression efforts to do it better,” Lee says, adding that funding is a bit of a problem.

Money has been coming from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

As for other results from this fall’s survey, that ginormous 27.5-pound pike caught by the Spokane Tribe was a relatively rare specimen as tribal suppression efforts — both netting and $10 rewards for fish heads — appear to be resulting in younger and younger pike, the number one goal, according to Lee.

SPOKANE TRIBE BIOLOGISTS, WHO CAUGHT THIS NEARLY 4-FOOT-LONG PIKE IN THE SPOKANE ARM LAST WEEK, PLANNED TO DISSECT THE FISH AND SEE WHAT IT’S BEEN EATING. (SPOKANE TRIBE)

Smaller pike have fewer eggs, but the species is one you can’t let your guard down on either.

Befitting their reputation as “nightmare fish,” Lee says northerns can hold off spawning till later in the year, when water temps are otherwise well above their optimal range of 40 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

“All they need is a little vegetation,” Lee says.

Correction, 11:15 a.m., Nov. 14, 2018: The initial version of this blog stated that WDFW had caught 152 pike in this fall’s survey, but that was actually the overall catch by the state and tribes. WDFW’s nets caught 112 pike.

Female Pike Caught 10 Miles Of Grand Coulee Dam

A 6.2-pound female northern pike that could have spawned next spring was instead fortuitously netted about 10 miles of Grand Coulee Dam in what’s believed to be the furthest downreservoir capture of the invasive nonnative predator fish so far on Lake Roosevelt.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES CAUGHT THIS 6.2-POUND, 30-INCH FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE NEAR GRAND COULEE DAM EARLIER THIS MONTH. (COLVILLE TRIBES)

It and a 27.5-pounder caught near the head of Roosevelt’s Spokane Arm mark temporary victories in the fight to keep the species out of the Columbia River’s anadromous zone.

The two pike were captured by the Colville and Spokane Tribes, respectively, during recent surveys throughout the reservoir and were first reported by KING 5 in a segment that aired last night.

The worry is that the fish will eventually get below Lake Rufus Woods and Chief Joseph Dam, which marks as far upstream as salmon and steelhead can travel on the Columbia, and wreak havoc on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead at the mouth of the Okanogan River and below.

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in recovering those stocks and others in the Inland Northwest.

Unfortunately, pike are moving that way as inexorably as water flows downhill.

They were likely moved illicitly by bucket biologists from Idaho’s Lake Couer d’Alene drainage into Washington’s Pend Oreille River, and from there were flushed downstream into the Columbia during high spring runoff.

The species established itself near the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers on Roosevelt, but has been dropping further and further downlake,

They may even already be in Rufus Woods, if anecdotal angler reports are any indication. State fishery biologists are worried about that possibility.

WDFW and the tribes have been working hard for several years to reduce pike numbers, eradicating as many as possible through gillnetting.

The Colvilles are also in the second year of a program that offers anglers $10 a head for any northerns they turn in.

While meant to help protect Lake Roosevelt’s rainbow trout, kokanee and other fish populations, a poster says that any pike caught downstream in Rufus Woods and even the Wells Pool can also be submitted for cash.

The program was the inspiration behind Northwest Sportsman‘s offer of $50 for any caught in Lake Washington, where two have shown up since January 2017.

Fight Against Bucket Biologists Going High Tech

Potential good news from the fight against bucket biologists.

Montana fishery biologists using something called “forensic geochemistry” have figured out the source and timeframe that walleye were moved into Swan Lake, in the state’s northwestern corner.

OTOLITHS, A BONE IN THE EAR OF FISH, CONTAINS CHEMICAL SIGNATURES THAT PROVIDES CLUES ABOUT WHERE THE ANIMAL CAME FROM. (OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY, FLICKR)

And genetic material from northern pike in Northeast Washington is pointing to a different source than the widely assumed one.

Whether or not the new tools help lead to arrests is a good question, but they will at least serve as a warning shot across the bow of those who would illicitly move fish around.

IN THE CASE OF THE WALLEYE, managers have concluded that at least two fish were driven over the continental divide on a 200-mile journey that occurred in the spring of 2015, according to a report in the Columbia Basin Bulletin last month.

“Our findings now allow investigators to look at fishing license sales, webcams, and boat registrations around the Lake Helena area for the time period when the walleye were illegally introduced,” Samuel Bourett, an FWP researcher, told the emailed newsletter.

The species is native to the Mississippi River and lower Missouri River basins, but as was common earlier last century walleye were moved westward for fishing opportunities.

Nowadays, the tide has turned against moving nonnative fish — or at least nonsterile ones — into new locations, though decades of population growth provide a ready reservoir for those who want to continue the practice.

But fishery officials are fighting back with increasingly sophisticated means.

In early 2016, several months after two walleye were gillnetted at Swan, Bourett’s agency and conservation groups offered a $30,000 reward for information on the illicit stocking of the lake, which provides critical habitat for Endangered Species Act-listed bull and cutthroat trout.

They also began examining the otoliths of the fish, looking for chemical signatures that could pinpoint where they came from.

In 2017 they built a database with fish from 13 popular Montana walleye waters.

Out of that they determined the origin of the Swan Lake release.

“Core to edge geochemical profiles of [two types of strontium] and (strontium/calcium) ratios in the walleye otoliths revealed that these fish had been introduced to Swan Lake within the past growing season, and their geochemical signature matched that of walleye sampled from Lake Helena, Montana, located 309 road kilometres away,” write Bourett and Niall Clancy in a paper recently published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

Illegally stocking fish in Montana is punishable with fines running from $2,000 to $10,000, the loss of all license privileges and cleanup costs.

WDFW BIOLOGIST DANNY GARRETT SCOWLS WHILE HOLDING THE 13.5-POUND GRAVID HEN WALLEYE HE NETTED OUT OF LAKE WASHINGTON IN 2015. (DANNY GARRETT, WDFW)

Well to the west, in 2012 the otoliths of walleye from Lakes Roosevelt and Moses and Potholes and Scooteny Reservoirs were compared with those from Lake Washington fish for a common chemical signature but no match was found, according to state fisheries biologist Danny Garrett, who himself netted half a dozen more in 2015.

“I think there is merit in doing more of this work,” he notes.

THEY’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES TRACING where invasive fish are coming from. Dr. Kellie Carim works for the U.S. Forest Service’s National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation out of Missoula, and she’s looking into pike.

Another Upper Midwest transplant, northerns are also popular with fishermen but present a nightmare threat for Northwest salmon and steelhead managers as the species has crept its way down the Pend Oreille River and into Lake Roosevelt and is now at the mouth of the Spokane River, according to a recent story. Anecdotal reports from anglers put them further down, in Lake Rufus Woods.

With funding from a USDA Tribal College Initiative Grant, Carim has come to a rather interesting conclusion about where many of those pike actually originated.

“The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” she says.

That is, from Noxon Reservoir, down the Clark Fork River into Idaho and through Lake Pend Oreille before arriving in Washington.

“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,” Carim says.

Rather than taking an aquatic highway, they most likely took a paved one, in a livewell up US 95 to I-90 to either Idaho 41 or US 2 to Washington 20 and the river.

From there, their population built and the theory has been that in high water years they were entrained out of the Pend Oreille into the Columbia River in British Columbia and then Lake Roosevelt.

DAVEY McKERN HOLDS ONE OF THE FIRST NORTHERN PIKE CAUGHT IN LAKE ROOSEVELT. THE SPECIES HAS BEEN LARGELY CONCENTRATED OFF THE MOUTHS OF THE KETTLE AND COLVILLE RIVERS, BUT SOME HAVE BEEN FOUND DOWNSTREAM AT THE MOUTH OF THE SPOKANE RIVER, ACCORDING TO A NORTHWEST POWER AND CONSERVATION COUNCIL REPORT. (DAVEY MCKERN)

Carim, whose work aims to identify where the pike are coming from to stop the flow into Eastern Washington, adds that DNA from other Upper Columbia and Pend Oreille fish aren’t in the database, meaning there are more potential sources out there too.

“We definitely need to collect more samples. Some fish are aren’t ‘assigning’ very well,” she says.

Next week, she will be presenting before the Northwest Power and Conservation Council on pike.

Meanwhile, state and tribal managers have been teaming up to take a hammer to the species.

According to a recent NWPCC article by John Harrison, 18,000 have been scooped out of the Pend Oreille River by the Kalispel Tribe and another 1,800 have been removed from Lake Roosevelt by the Colville and Spokane Tribes and WDFW. Anglers have also turned in more than 1,000 heads for cash through a Colville Tribes program. And hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to protect the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars put into salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin.

While bucket biologists will likely continue their illegal pike and walleye stockings, the odds are now increasing that someone will get caught.

2nd Northern Pike Caught In Lake Washington, But Unfortunately Released

If you catch a northern pike in Lake Washington — or any other Washington lake, for that matter — do me a personal favor and chop its head off.

Slash its gills, slit its belly, hack it in half, singe the carcass over high heat.

(MERCER ISLAND POLICE)

Ahem, I apologize for letting fly such murderous thoughts on a Wednesday morning.

But I’m still scratching my head about what a bass angler was thinking when they caught and released one of the nonnative predators just south of Mercer Island in recent weeks.

It was the second pike captured in the big metro lake since early 2017, both of which could have only arrived in Lake Washington via someone’s livewell or cooler, just like the infestation of walleye.

Hell, we don’t need a border wall, we need a pike wall to keep these illegal piscine immigrants from spreading further into the state from the northeast corner.

And we should task the Washington National Guard with chasing down the bucket biologists responsible for it!

It’s possible that this particular basser was just really confused about what to do with their unexpected catch.

With two growing boys, lord knows I’ve been known to offer the advice “Better safe than sorry.” Who wants a ticket from the gamies for violating some arcane rule?

But I’ll bet today the angler might choose differently — at least, I hope they would.

“Whoever illegally stocked walleye and northern pike into Lake Washington is no friend of warmwater anglers. They are even no friend to walleye anglers,” says Bruce Bolding, the state’s spinyray fisheries manager. “Warmwater detractors tend to put all nonnative species under the same umbrella, but comparing pike and bass is like comparing apples and oranges.”

Pike are an invasive aquatic species — the seventh most unwanted in the entire million square miles of the Western United States, according to a recent report.

They pose a huge threat to native species and the restoration of salmon in the Upper Columbia, as well as downstream should they get past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.

So let’s go over the rules for this Fish and Wildlife Commission-designated prohibited species.

Per WDFW’s fishing regulations, there is no minimum size on northern pike, there is no daily limit on northern pike, there is no possession limit on northern pike.

Perhaps the next iteration of the pamphlet should have another line reading something like:

All northern pike hooked and landed by anglers are required to be killed — and a wooden stake must be pushed through the fish’s heart.

I doubt WDFW will do that anytime soon, but I like what the Colville Tribes are doing. This year they’re again offering a $10 reward per pike caught on Lake Roosevelt and the Kettle River.

So in that spirit, I will pay $50 to anyone who brings me a northern pike AND CAN PROVE via video and pictures beyond a shadow of a doubt that it indeed was caught in Lake Washington.

(2018 limit: $150, or first three fish — hey, I’m not made of money and let’s not tell my wife about this, OK?)

We’re at 14240 Interurban Avenue South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168, less than 7 miles from the Gene Coulon Ramp, and open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bring me your dead.

Anglers Turn In Nearly 1,100 Pike Heads From Roosevelt In 2017

Anglers turned in the heads of nearly 1,100 northern pike caught at Lake Roosevelt for cash this year, part of a multipronged effort to keep the unwanted invasive species from getting further down the Columbia system.

The news was reported in the December quarterly newsletter of the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department, along with word that the reward program will begin again Jan. 1 and run throughout 2018.

THE COLVILLE TRIBES’ ROBERT THOMAS HOLDS UP A 20-POUND FEMALE NORTHERN PIKE CARRYING A COUPLE POUNDS OF EGGS BEFORE BEING GILLNETTED OUT OF LAKE ROOSEVELT EARLIER THIS YEAR. (BRYAN JONES, COLVILLE TRIBES)

According to the newsletter, Colville officials paid out more than $10,000 for the 1,095 heads dropped off in bags at two drop stations since May 1, mostly since mid-July when the catch stood at 216.

Six anglers received the maximum available per fisherman, $590.

The year’s tally didn’t surprise Bill Baker, the WDFW district fisheries biologist in Colville.

“At $10 a head, there’s some incentive there,” he noted.

WDFW’s position couldn’t be more clear: “Pike are a problem, not an opportunity,” reads a line in an October update on the situation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The state and Colville and Spokane Tribes are working together to try and keep the pike, which came down through the Columbia system from Canada, Idaho and Montana, from getting past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.

“We are concerned about the impacts pike are having on native fish in Lake Roosevelt, primarily redband trout, kokanee, white sturgeon and burbot,” Holly McLellan, a tribal fisheries bioloigst, stated in the newsletter. “If the northern pike are allowed to expand downstream into the mid and lower Columbia River, they have the potential to compromise recovery efforts for ESA listed salmon species.”

The furthest down Lake Roosevelt they’ve been discovered so far is the Hunters area.

State biologists also told the Fish and Wildlife Commission that suppression netting this year had removed another 1,083 northerns, largely at the mouths of the Kettle and Colville Rivers, and around the corner at Singers Bay.

Most were very young, but one weighed 26 pounds and went 44 inches long.

Editor’s note: The $10 reward is open to all licensed anglers, tribally and state-licensed alike. An earlier version of this misspoke by suggesting it was just available to tribal anglers. My apologies.

Lake Washington Walleye Outfitted With Acoustic Tags For Study

Fishery biologists with a Seattle-area tribe are capturing a new predator species in Lakes Washington and Sammamish to monitor their movements and whether they cross paths with salmon.

It’s unclear how many of the illegally introduced fish are actually in the system, but concern is building and the Muckleshoot Tribe reports they have “successfully tagged and released multiple walleye” already this year.

STATE FISHERIES BIOLOGIST DANNY GARRETT DISPLAYS A 13-PLUS-POUND WALLEYE HE UNEXPECTEDLY CAUGHT IN 2015 NEAR MERCER ISLAND ON LAKE WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

A request for comment from the tribe had not yet been returned as of this writing, but details of the operation come from the LOAF, or list of agreed-to fisheries that was signed by WDFW and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission earlier this month as the parties reached an agreement at North of Falcon, and which was posted last week by the state agency.

Besides outlining all the treaty, commercial and recreational salmon fisheries over the coming 12 months, the 105-page document includes the Muckleshoot’s aims and methods for their two-year warmwater species study in the Lake Washington basin.

It builds on the scant information we were able to report earlier this year, when it began.

The tribe says it wants to catch up to 15 walleye to “assess their overlap with migrating juvenile salmonids in addition to locating areas these invasive predators may be targeted in subsequent fisheries.”

Tribal fishers are targeting one of seven zones in Washington and Sammamish at a time, using up to eight 300-foot-long gillnets with 31/2- to 6-inch mesh. The nets fish during the work week and are closely monitored to reduce the possibility of snagging the few if any ESA-listed steelhead in the basin.

Walleye are being implanted with acoustic devices that can be read by receivers stationed around the lakes that are otherwise used to track tagged returning adult Chinook and sockeye and young outmigrating coho.

Overlapping walleye movements with the coho will help model their potential to cross paths with Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook smolts.

The Muckleshoots say their effort “will benefit salmonid management in the Lake Washington basin,” as well as inform researchers on walleye diets and distribution.

Of note, a “second consideration” is to figure out if catch rates on walleye and bass are “high enough to result in an economically viable fishery … Data collected will inform managers of areas and times that a tribal net fishery could be economically viable as well as areas to avoid/target minimizing bycatch and optimizing harvest.”

According to plans, gear, locations and effort may be shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with details on any steelhead or Chinook caught, with the test fishery being shut down after a third and fifth of each species is encountered.

The data will add to a 2004-05 Army Corps of Engineers study that looked at movements of acoustically tagged Chinook smolts, smallmouth bass and prickly sculpins.

Walleye first turned up in Lake Washington in 2005, a small male, caught by University of Washington researchers, with anglers catching one or two in following years.

But in 2015, state and tribal biologists caught a dozen, mostly in Lake Washington between Mercer Island and Bellevue, including a 13.5-pound hen that was dripping eggs.

As the species is native to waters east of the Rockies, the only way they could have arrived in the urban lakes is in livewells. The nearest source populations are about 120 miles east on I-90 in the Columbia Basin.

The Lake Washington system supports important tribal and recreational salmon fisheries, though sockeye, which reside in the lake a year before going to sea, have not produced directed seasons for over 10 years, despite a new hatchery. WDFW’s Issaquah Salmon Hatchery produces Chinook and coho.

So far, the Muckleshoots have caught at least one northern pike in Lake Washington, as well as a handful of walleye in Lake Sammamish.

The LOAF also describes a plan to electrofish in spring and fall and gillnet in spring in select areas of Lake Washington and the Ship Canal, the idea being to figure out if removing bass, walleye, perch and other salmon predators can be effective.

One thing’s for sure, if you’re a bass tournament angler fishing nationally ranked Lake Washington, you’d want a map of where those efforts are planned.