Tag Archives: northwest indian fisheries commission

With Orcas In Mind, WA Salmon Hatchery Reform Policy Under Review

Three principles dictating salmon hatchery operations in Washington have been suspended by the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a policy review, a move in part reflecting a “change in attitude” about production practices.

It comes as the state begins to respond in earnest to the plight of southern resident orcas — one of which was reported missing and presumed dead over the weekend, bringing Puget Sound’s population to its lowest point in 30 years.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO THE RACEWAYS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER CHINOOK, COHO AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I’m afraid that a lot of potential sites where there could be Chinook enhancement to increase the prey base for killer whales will be disqualified by our own policy,” said Commissioner Don McIsaac of Hockinson, in Clark County, during Friday’s meeting of the citizen panel.

In mid-March, Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing WDFW to increase hatchery production of king salmon, the primary feedstock for resident orcas and the lack of which could be leading to their low reproduction rates.

Vessel traffic and pollution have also been identified as problems.

Saying that after 10 years it was time for a review, McIsaac made the motion to suspend the first three tenets of the commission’s CR 3619, Hatchery and Fishery Reform Policy, including using guidance from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, and prioritizing broodstock from local watersheds.

He noted that genetic protections for wild Chinook would still be in place through Endangered Species Act restrictions.

“What I wouldn’t want to have anyone to believe is that this would be going back to what was characterized as the Johnny Appleseed days before of no hatchery constraints on operations,” McIsaac said. “We’re looking for good hatchery operations, and so what this is more about is just some slight differences here over the course of the next six months to allow for a good look at this and not to squelch any killer whale initiatives that are out there.”

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

He termed it “a change in attitude about our salmon hatchery policy” and indeed, his six- to 12-month review will look at results of those reforms, updating scientific knowledge and could include “changing language tone about the positive value of hatchery programs,” as well as consider adding mitigation facilities.

While Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane expressed some concern about suspending portions of the policy, Commissioners Jay Holzmiller of Anatone and Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon voiced their support of it.

“I don’t want to blame anybody here, but what we’re doing now, and I’m not just speaking to HSRG … across the board simply isn’t working. It’s not working for businesses, it’s not working for individuals, it’s not working for state government. The money’s drying up, the salmon are drying up,” said Carpenter.

In 1989, the state, tribes, feds and others released 71 million Chinook; in 2016, just 33 million were, due in part to WDFW budget cuts over the years.

Yet even with ESA listings,  hatchery reforms and millions upon millions spent on habitat work, wild king numbers are still poor, suggesting something different is at play — perhaps density of harbor seals, according to a just-released paper, not releases of clipped Chinook.

“I simply have a forecast in my view that if we don’t make a change in our programs and methodology, that we don’t have more than 10 years left to have a salmon fishery of any kind — of any kind — in this state,” said Carpenter. “Let’s figure something out and get going on it.”

“Of any kind” surely was a reference to tribal fishing, and in a June 14 letter to Inslee, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission lent their considerable weight to the issue.

NWIFC Executive Director Justin Parker wrote that his organization wanted to work with the governor’s office to “develop an appropriate and accountable co-manager scientific review process at the same time that the HSRG’s role is phased out of the State budget language and process.”

Certain elements in WDFW’s appropriations are tied to HSRG.

He suggested that it lacks accountability and process, doesn’t undergo enough peer review scrutiny, diminishing its “credibility,” and is scientifically stagnant.

Where the 1970s’ Boldt Decision split the two fleets for decades, more and more, tribal and recreational fishermen are finding common cause. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association supported the tribes and feds side against the state of Washington in the culvert case that came before the Supreme Court, and Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner recently had the extremely rare honor for a nontribal member — let alone a sport fisherman — of being invited to an NWIFC meeting.

“Over and over I was told, ‘It took some courage for you to come here today.’ It didn’t take courage,” said Garner during public comment last Friday afternoon on HSRG. “It took us running out of fish. We are running out of fish … We are so aligned on our problems it’s nuts. We understand them. It’s going to take us and the tribes to fix them.”

DON PITTWOOD SHOWS OFF A HATCHERY CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WHIDBEY ISLAND’S POSSESSION POINT DURING THE SUMMER MARK-SELECTIVE FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Despite being the newest member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, it’s the second major salmon-related shift McIsaac’s been involved with this year.

This past winter, with WDFW honchos folding to pressure from the National Marine Fisheries Service on Puget Sound Chinook management and which could have sharply curtailed already-reduced fisheries, he called for a conservation hatchery on a habitat-constrained river system, an example of thinking outside of the box rather than going along for the ride to ruin.

“Much more needs to be done outside of fishery restrictions,” he said at the time.

On Friday afternoon, in a voice vote on McIsaac’s salmon hatchery reform motion, no nays were heard. Afterwards, clapping from the audience could be.

Supreme Court Leaves Culvert Fix Order In Place

UPDATED 1:30 P.M., JUNE 11, 2018, WITH COMMENTS FROM GOV. JAY INSLEE AND NWIFC CHAIR LORRAINE LOOMIS

Washington must continue to fix fish passage as a divided Supreme Court this morning left a lower court ruling stand.

SKAGIT COUNTY’S GRANSTROM CREEK FLOWS THROUGH A BOX CULVERT THAT REPLACED A PERCHED CULVERT. AT RIGHT IS A HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT TO BENEFIT SALMON AND WILDLIFE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The 4-4 decision by the nation’s highest arbiters came after the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson had appealed a 9th Circuit Court ruling that Washington needs to make hundreds of culverts more passable to salmon and steelhead across Pugetropolis.

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court,” justices relayed in a brief opinion.

The “anti-climactic” Supreme Court action is being billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, and while it’s a essentially a continuation of 1974’s Boldt Decision, it saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen.

“Friend of the court” arguments from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and others urged the court to uphold the 9th’s 2016 ruling.

The culverts case was originally brought by the Suquamish Tribe, who were joined by other tribes in Western Washington, and the basic argument, per the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, is that “tribal treaty rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.”

Even as the state is already bringing culverts up to snuff, the overall cost of the fixes — estimated to be in the billions of dollars — and that some might not actually help fish led Ferguson to appeal the Ninth’s 2016 ruling “on behalf of the taxpayers.”

In a statement out this morning, Ferguson said it was “unfortunate” that Washington taxpayers would how have to bear the burden of “the federal government’s faulty culvert design” and said that state lawmakers now have “a big responsibility” to fund work bringing fish passage up to standards.

But he also said that other government agencies have their work cut out for them too.

“Salmon cannot reach many state culverts because they are blocked by culverts owned by others. For example, King County alone owns several thousand more culverts than are contained in the entire state highway system. The federal government owns even more than that in Washington state. These culverts will continue to block salmon from reaching the state’s culverts, regardless of the condition of the state’s culverts, unless those owners begin the work the state started in 1990 to replace barriers to fish,” Ferguson said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine also released a statement that reads in part:

“We must do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of our Chinook, kokanee, steelhead, and Coho for future generations. Under my direction, King County departments have already been developing a culvert strategy that inventories where county roads, trails, and other infrastructure block access to habitat, and we will work with tribal and state scientists to assess where fix them, beginning with those that bring the most benefit to salmon.”

Hilary Franz of the Department of Natural Resources was the first state leader to react to the Supreme Court, tweeting, “Today’s decision affirms that it is our collective responsibility to ensure the survival of Pacific salmon. This decision is fair under the letter of the law, but it is also just.”

By early afternoon Gov. Jay Inslee put out a statement on Facebook, saying that the justices’ action “offers the parties finality in this long-running case.”

“For some time now I’ve hoped that instead of litigation we could focus together on our ongoing work to restore salmon habitat. Ensuring adequate fish passage is crucial to our efforts to honor tribes’ rights to fish, sustain our orcas, and protect one of Washington’s most iconic species,” he said.

Inslee pointed out that Washington was working to fix 425 blockages by 2030.

According to Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chair Lorraine Loomis this is the eighth time the state has gone to the Supreme Court over treaties, and eighth loss.

“The salmon resource is priceless. Fixing culverts and doing the other work needed to save that resource will require significant investment, but will pay off for generations to come,” she said in a statement. “We are eager to continue our efforts with our co-managers and others to protect and restore the salmon resource for future generations.”

On Piscatorial Pursuits, a sportfishing forum, it was termed both  “another step backward” and a “huge step forward.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who served on the 9th Circuit Court and was involved in the case at an earlier stage, withdrew himself from hearing arguments from the state AGO, federal Department of Justice and Suquamish Tribe attorney this spring and today’s decision.

Details Emerging On Puget Sound 2017 Salmon Fishery Deal

State and tribal salmon managers have reached an agreement on 2017 Puget Sound fisheries, a season that will see closures to protect northern coho stocks but also increased Chinook opportunities out of the Seattle area.

The deal was struck last night between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Westside tribes on how to split the harvestable surplus of salmon as well as conserve troubled runs.

Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association initially termed it a “mixed bag” with “decent” fisheries in Areas 9 through 13, but “tough news” in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands.

A PAIR OF ANGLERS HOIST CHINOOK CAUGHT IN ELLIOTT BAY SEVERAL YEARS AGO NOW. THE SALTWATERS IMMEDIATELY OFF SEATTLE HAVEN’T BEEN OPEN FOR SUMMER KINGS IN MANY YEARS, BUT 2017 WILL SEE A BRIEF OPPORTUNITY THERE, AS WELL AS A MORE SUBSTANTIVE OPENER IN THE DUWAMISH RIVER AT ITS SOUTH END. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

An official press release from WDFW is expected soon, while the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission has posted theirs.

Following on 2016’s long, drawn-out negotiations that didn’t wrap up until late May, the agreement does provide surety of seasons much earlier in the year.

“Having seasons set on time in April is very important to the sport fishing community, including the businesses that are dependent on advanced planning,” said Pat Pattillo, who has been closely monitoring this year’s North of Falcon to brief the recreational angling community. “The staff at WDFW who work their tails off during this difficult season-setting process are true professionals and deserve a lot of credit for getting the job done. They made changes to improve the process this year that have paid off in outcomes.”

The retired WDFW salmon policy expert’s comments were echoed in part by the Northwest Sportfishing industry Association.

“We are pleased that the comanagers came to an agreement on time to avoid delays in our fisheries,” said executive director Liz Hamilton. “Sadly, protections for weak stocks dictated some really painful closures in certain areas. But with some of the outcomes for sports anglers improved over last year, we look forward to working with the agency to get the word out to help get anglers onto some good fishing opportunity.”

That said, the fisheries package delivers tough news, as extremely low returns of Skagit and Stillaguamish silvers will curtail late summer fisheries in the Straits, San Juans and Areas 8 and 9, where those stocks mix with healthier ones, as well as close the two rivers themselves and the Cascade.

That’s according to matrices produced yesterday and which represent broad views of seasons and closures more so than the nitty gritty details of actual fisheries. That sort of detail will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

About the only way for anglers to pick up coho from a stronger Snohomish River return will be during unique bank-only fisheries in Admiralty Inlet and Area 8-2 for marked coho in August and early September, and in the river system itself, which will be open for wild and hatchery silvers.

Further south, coho opportunities open up more, with Areas 10 and 13 open for fin-clipped silvers and Areas 11 and 12 open for hatchery and wild coho.

In freshwater, besides the Snohomish system, the Green-Duwamish, Puyallup, Nisqually and Quilcene will see any-coho fisheries, while those on the Dungeness, Nooksack and Samish will be hatchery only.

Overall on the coho front, it represents a big improvement over last year, when widespread closures were initially required due to low forecasts, though as more than expected actually returned, there were emergency openers in September and October.

On the Chinook side, there’s a brief mid-August nonselective opener in inner Elliott Bay, as well as a season in the Duwamish River.

Frank Urabeck was “very excited” both would be available after being closed for a number of years.

“I used to fish the bay every summer when it was open. In 1996 my wife and I played seven kings off Duwamish Head, taking home three – if memory serves me right,” the sportfishing advocate recalled.

We’ll also see the usual mid-July to mid-August window for Areas 9 and 10 hatchery kings.

According to Tom Nelson, host of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, quotas for those two saltwater fisheries are roughly 5,500 and 2,150, up from last year’s 3,000 and 1,400.

The Nooksack, Skykomish, Skagit-Cascade, Puyallup and Nisqually will see fisheries for hatchery springers or summer Chinook, while there will be an any-king fisheries in the Samish River and Tulalip Bubble.

Again, more specific details will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

Between last week’s WDFW meeting with sport anglers in Lynnwood to go over possible seasons and yesterday’s agreement reached in Sacramento with the tribes, there were a number of deletions from the matrices, including the loss of a month of coho fishing in late summer in the western Straits and a month and a half in the eastern Strait, restricting Area 9’s September bank fishery in Area 9 to only the first few days of the month and the loss of all coho retention in the San Juans and restriction of salmon fisheries in the islands to just July through September for Chinook.

That appears to have been a result of WDFW being stuck with pruning back sport impacts on Skagit and Stilly coho, where only 18,711 and 9,142 are expected — slivers of average.

Elsewhere, WDFW and the Skokomish Tribe do not appear to have reached a deal on nontribal fishing on the Skokomish River for the Chinook and coho headed back to the WDFW hatchery there. Supported by a federal solicitor’s opinion, the tribe contends the river is theirs from bank to bank in the lower end.

On a brighter note, a large forecasted return of Baker Lake sockeye will provide a month-long Skagit River fishery and at least six weeks in the reservoir.

The bonus bag on Puget Sound pink salmon will not be in effect this year, however, but Nelson believes that with the low forecast — around 1.3 million — the humpies that do make it back should have had less competition in the ocean, be fatter and put more eggs in the gravel for 2019’s fishery.

He believes that we’ve got one more “bitter pill” to swallow in 2018 due to the lingering effects of The Blob in 2014 and 2015, and he also issued a call to the recreational community to get over the bitter past and present with the comanagers.

“Here’s the thing: If we want better future seasons like what we saw in the recent past, the sportfishing community has to reach out and work with the tribes,” Nelson said.

That would include identifying chronically low stocks and the reasons behind them, a mix of habitat issues, but also other factors. Pointing to Lake Washington Chinook, Nelson asked if those fish really were an “ecologically significant unit” and noted the compromised character of its habitat in Seattle and suburbs.

“Let’s open the hatchery faucet in Lake Washington,” he said, something he felt the tribes would probably buy into.

That tone of working together with the tribes may not be widely shared among Puget Sound fishermen, especially coming out of last year, a sense that, increasingly, the tribes are the ones determining inside sport seasons, and calls for more transparency during the North of Falcon negotiations.

For their part, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission put out a press release saying that tribes’ three major types of fisheries would all be constrained as well.

The organization said that everyone’s fisheries wouldn’t need to be so restricted if the state put more effort into habitat. In a tweet, they pointed to levees in the Dungeness flats that have reduced access for young Chinook to the floodplain, and development in the Stillaguamish that has degraded habitat.

Long term problems, certainly, but for now, however, fishermen can begin planning their seasons in Puget Sound.