Tag Archives: NSIA

Nontribal Gill Net Phaseout Bill Introduced In Washington Legislature

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association is applauding a bill introduced today in Washington’s Senate that would phase out nontribal gill nets in state waters by 2023.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

Liz Hamilton, the organization’s executive director, called SB 5617 “a powerful affirmation of the Columbia River harvest reforms passed by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012” and said it would expand those to include Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and Puget Sound.

Most of the Columbia reforms — moving the nontribal commercial fleet to off-channel areas in the lower river; testing new net gear; and reallocating recreational spring, summer and fall Chinook catches — were being gradually implemented per an agreed-to plan between the states.

But Oregon interests have been balking since 2017, and funding the buyout of gillnetters has “languished” all along.

However, the struggles of the region’s starving southern resident killer whales and recent election in a Seattle suburb of a pro-fishing senator, ousting a longtime pro-commercial one, appear to have put fresh wind in the effort’s sails.

“At a time when Washington’s two most iconic creatures, orca and salmon, are at critically low levels, this bill represents an important part of the solution,” said Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline), the bill’s prime sponsor, in a press release. “Without legislation and funding, (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) was unable to implement this part of the plan, creating uncertainty about the reforms. SB 5617 removes any doubt about our state’s commitment to the conservation and economic benefits envisioned in the reforms.”

His bill would buy out and permanently retire gillnetting licenses but nontribal commercial fishermen could still use “mark selective harvest techniques that are capable of the unharmed release of wild and endangered salmon while selectively harvesting hatchery-reared salmon.”

It was cosponsored by a whopping 24 senators — nearly half of the upper chamber’s entire roster — with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle getting on board, 17 Democrats, seven Republicans.

Its route through the legislature would take it through the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, which is chaired by one of the sponsors, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege. The House side might be more of a challenge, however.

Still, Hamilton said NSIA was grateful to see the Columbia reforms rolling forward again.

“The lack of funding for implementation has created needless uncertainty, taking focus away from other important work our industry and region must accomplish for salmon and orca,” she said. “Governor Inslee has outlined a bold and ambitious recovery plan for orca, and Columbia River salmon are an essential food source.”

A state-federal analysis last year found that fall Chinook from Lower Columbia tribs such as the Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama, upriver brights from the Mid- and Upper Columbia and Snake, and springers from both the lower river and Idaho were among four of the 10 most important feedstocks for southern resident killer whales.

“We applaud Sen. Salomon and his 23 cosponsors for their leadership on this issue,” said Hamilton.

She was echoed by local representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association.

“The use of gill nets in state salmon fisheries has been controversial for decades and now is the time to remove them state-wide, before it is simply too late,” said iconic rodmaker and regional CCA founder Gary Loomis in a press release. “We applaud the senators who have signed onto the bill and urge all of our elected officials in the state of Washington to seize this moment to ensure our iconic salmon fisheries have the best opportunity to survive for future generations.”

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

Spill Test Set To Begin On Columbia, Snake; Could Validate Benefits For Outmigrating Smolts

Federal, state and tribal officials have 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.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

It’s already believed to, but the deal will allow for more flexible spring operations at eight dams to test the idea beginning next year through 2021, according to a report in the Lewiston Tribune.

“Collaboration is key to this new approach to Columbia River system management. Working together, the region’s states, tribes, and federal agencies have developed an approach that demonstrates environmental stewardship and affordable sustainable energy are not mutually exclusive,” reads a joint statement from “key supporters” of the agreement.

The parties include the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon, Washington, BPA, Army Corps and Bureau of Reclamation. The states of Idaho and Montana are also on board with it.

The trial will include the four Lower Snake dams in Washington and the four on the shared Columbia between Washington and Oregon.

Both states will need to “harmonize” how they measure total dissolved gas measured below the spillways, with Washington’s Department of Ecology needing to up its allowance by early April and consider boosting it to 125 percent for tests in 2020.

A 2017 report by the Fish Passage Center says that “increasing spill for fish passage within the safe limits of 125% total dissolved gas has a high probability of improving smolt to adult return rates.”

The more fish, the more for fishermen of all fleets to catch and orcas to eat as well as escaping to spawn in the wild.

“It’s incremental progress at time when Columbia River spring Chinook are projected to return at very low numbers,” said spill advocate Liz Hamilton at the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who added that it was “hardly the bold action we were seeking in (Governor Jay Inslee’s) Orca task force prey work group.”

She said NSIA will be watching closely, especially as dissolved gas levels are ramped up to the 125 percent benchmark.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” she said.

But concerns have been raised that spilling water will reduce electrical generation capacity in the hydropower system, and according to outdoor reporter Eric Barker’s piece in the Tribune, this week’s agreement was panned by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who also introduced a bill in the House this year against it.

In early 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who has been overseeing a long-running case over Columbia salmon and dam management, had ordered spill to occur.

 

U.S. House Passes Senate’s Sea Lion Bill; Next Stop: White House

The U.S. House today passed the Senate’s Columbia sea lion bill and it now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature, according to Northwest lawmakers.

A SEA LION LOAFS ON AN ASTORIA DOCK. (BENJAMIN STANDFORD, NOAA-FISHERIES)

The bipartisan Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which gives states and tribes more leeway to manage the predatory pinnipeds feasting on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead as well as other stocks in the river and its tributaries, was approved by unanimous consent, just as it was in the upper chamber last week.

“I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn’t necessary,” said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary. Tribal and state fisheries co-managers collaborated to explore and implement alternatives for over a decade and the imbalance shifted the greatest risks to the salmon and steelhead, and we remember how the story ended at Ballard Locks. I’m grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.”

S.3119, as the bill is known, was cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID).

“Today’s passage of our bill to control sea lions was a hard-fought victory – it’s a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3) in a joint press release with Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5). “I’m grateful for the partnership of my colleague Kurt Schrader, and for Senators Risch and Cantwell for shepherding this through the Senate. I’m so pleased we are able to give Northwest fish managers this critical tool to help save our salmon and steelhead runs.”

Herrera Beutler, a Republican, and Schrader, a Democrat, represent communities on either side of the Lower Columbia.

Schrader said it was a problem he’d worked on since first coming to Congress.

“Ratepayers and my constituents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered salmon. These sea lions, whose population has become totally inconsistent with their historic range, have been undoing all of that work by feasting on the endangered species. Our legislation will provide a great step forward in eliminating this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive once and for all,” he said in a press release.

In another quickly issued press release, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) applauded the “bipartisan effort to improve management of pinnipeds threatening salmon” in both chambers of Congress.

“We really appreciate our state’s Congressional delegation’s leadership and support to pass this legislation,” added Nate Pamplin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s policy director. “The sea lion population in the Lower Columbia River has increased dramatically in recent years, presenting a greater threat to wild salmon and steelhead runs than ever before.”

He said the bill, which had widespread support not just in the aisles of Congress but among stakeholders, would “provide us and co-managers with the tools needed to protect these vulnerable fish populations.”

Rodmaker Gary Loomis of Coastal Conservation Association said “CCA was proud to be part of this coalition effort and is thankful of the years of efforts by our members in support of this legislation.”

The news actually came as state salmon managers and sportfishing industry officials were meeting in Clackamas to review the 2019 Columbia spring Chinook forecast, which is roughly just one-half of the 10-year average.

That is due in part to very poor ocean conditions in recent years, but in 2014, the loss of 40 percent of the year’s first Columbia salmon run — an estimated 104,333 fish — was attributed to sea lion predation.

So when the bill came before federal lawmakers in Washington DC this afternoon, NSIA’s Liz Hamilton says that ODFW staffers paused the run forecast meeting to watch on the big screen.

“Applause all around,” she said of the room’s reaction to the House’s move, “combined with optimism for the future of Willamette wild winter steelhead and hope for other stocks deeply impacted by pinniped predation, including sturgeon.”

Earlier this fall federal overseers granted ODFW a permit to remove up to 93 sea lions around Willamette Falls after state officials estimated that there was a 90 percent chance one of the Oregon trib’s steelhead runs would go extinct if nothing was done.

The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008.

This bill, which amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years, extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

It allows for the lethal removal of sea lions in the Columbia from the dam down to River Mile 112 and upstream to McNary Dam, as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.

Columbia Sea Lion Bill Passed By US Senate

The U.S. Senate has passed a key bill that would make it easier for state and tribal managers to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the Lower Columbia from California sea lions.

AN AERIAL IMAGE FROM SHOWS CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS FEEDING IN THE LOWER COLUMBIA. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW, VIA NWFSC)

“What a day!” said an almost-speechless Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association this afternoon. “Maybe we’ll be able to stave off some extinctions.”

S.3119, known as the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Act, does need to be reconciled with a nearly identical version that was passed by the US House and be signed into law before the end of the year by President Trump, but it’s good news for fish and fishermen who’ve watched helplessly as sea lions have chowed down on Chinook, coho, steelhead and other stocks.

It amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years to allow for the lethal removal of California sea lions in the Columbia downstream of Bonneville Dam and upstream to McNary Dam,  as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.

“It’s such an important piece of legislation,” said Hamilton. “So little gets done, especially for fish.”

A Northwest Power and Conservation Council report from late last month said that NOAA researchers found sea lions ate from 11 to 43 percent of spring Chinook that entered the Columbia annually since 2010, with 2014’s run hit particularly hard — an estimated  104,333 ESA-listed Upper Columbia springers “were lost between Astoria and the dam to the unexplained mortality, which the chief researcher, Dr. Michelle Wargo-Rub, said can be attributed to sea lions.”

The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008. This bill extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Today’s move also follows on federal fishery overseers’ recent move to allow ODFW to remove sea lions at Willamette Falls, where if nothing had been done, the state estimated that at least one run of wild winter steelhead had a 90 percent chance of going extinct.

Earlier this year, NMFS found that California sea lions had reached their habitat’s carrying capacity. Almost all if not all that visit the Northwest to snack on salmonids are males.

Hamilton credited a “a coalition like no other” for the heavy lift.

In Congress, that came from a bipartisan group of Northwest lawmakers — Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) to get the bill through the upper chamber after Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-3) and Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-5) sponsored one in the House.

“We greatly appreciate the bipartisan efforts of Senators Cantwell and Risch to secure Senate passage of this critical legislation,” said Gary Loomis, founder of G-Loomis, Edge Rods, and Coastal Conservation Association in the Pacific Northwest, in a press release. “Current law is failing wild and endangered Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead populations, some of which face an imminent risk of extinction if nothing is done to address the unnatural levels of sea lion predation and restore balance to this unique Ecosystem. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – from Oregon, Washington, and Idaho voted for similar legislation this summer and the six U.S. Senators from these states came together to pass this critical legislation to protect our salmon.”

According to CCA’s Tyler Comeau, the bill was passed by “unanimous consent,” expediting its passage through the Senate for lack of objections. He said his organization believes it will become law.

Even as Hamilton shed “tears of joy,” she was quick to point out the efforts of staffers at state fish and wildlife agencies — Meagan West at WDFW and Dr. Shaun Clements at ODFW.

“It was the scientists, Dr. Shaun Clements, that kept the conservation front and center,” said Hamilton.

We have reached out to WDFW and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission for comment and will fold those in when they arrive, but for his part, Clements said ODFW was “very relieved to have achieved this major milestone thanks to the support of the Northwest Senate delegation.”

“Passing this legislation to amend the MMPA is critical to ensuring we don’t have another repeat of Ballard Locks, which saw the extirpation of a wild steelhead run as a result of predation by a  handful of sea lions,” Clements said, in reference to Herschel et al’s 1980s’ feeding frenzy on Lake Washington watershed-bound winter-runs.

“Removing sea lions is not something we take lightly,” he added, “but it is unfortunately necessary as we are seeing some salmon, steelhead, and potentially sturgeon populations in the Columbia being pushed to the point of no return. We very much appreciate the efforts of the entire delegation, and particularly Senators Risch and Cantwell for recognizing the urgency and passing a bill that will allow both fish and sea lions to thrive.”

Hamilton also noted the importance of the diversity of the conservation community that came together, members such as the Wild Salmon Center.

“I’m convinced it made a lot of difference,” she said.

Sea lions aren’t nearly the only problem impacting returns of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead, Hamilton acknowledged, but this is good news for the fish that live in or return to the region’s most important river.

But there’s also work to be done elsewhere in the region. WDFW staffers are expected to brief the Fish and Wildlife Commission late next week on the impact sea lions as well as harbor seals are having in other Washington waters. Frustrations are boiling over and Puget Sound where more than 10 sea lions have been illegally shot and killed this fall.

Fish Commissions Urged Not To Rollback Columbia Salmon Reforms

Ahead of a five-year review and public comment on Columbia salmon and steelhead reforms, fishing advocates are sending out red alerts the tide might be turning in the lower river.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER OREGON GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER, SEEN HERE IN A SCREEN GRAB, URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS. (GILLNETSKILL.COM)

“There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” says former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos posted this month on Keep Gillnets off the Columbia’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

He was instrumental in the 2012 compromise that prioritized developing new alternative nontribal commercial gear in the mainstem, moving netting to off-channel areas near the mouth, and increasing allocation for sportfishers, moves also aimed to help more wild salmon and steelhead — some of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act — get through to upstream spawning grounds.

The reforms have proven contentious, with a major disagreement early last year over ESA-listed Snake River fall Chinook impact allocations, with Washington wanting to move to the planned 80-20 nontribal sport-commercial split but Oregon sticking to 70-30.

In another video, Larry Cassidy, a longtime former Washington Game Commission member and respected conservationist, called the reforms a “smart move”, and said they’re working well and there’s “no reason” not to continue them.

The importance of Columbia Chinook was recently highlighted by a joint state-federal review that found springers, tules and upriver brights among key feedstocks for struggling southern resident killer whales.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, which said in a weekly newsletter last Friday that it’s grateful for Kitzhaber’s continued interest in the issue, is urging its members to check out Gillnetskill.com and asking them to contact Oregon’s and Washington’s governors, Kate Brown and Jay Inslee.

The issue will be before the eight current Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners during a Monday, Oct. 15, meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m.

Members will get a staff briefing on the reforms and view a presentation that includes color-coded report cards for how well it’s played out in terms of management purposes; recreational, commercial and tribal fisheries; allocations; new gear; and the economic results.

“The report is simply a tool to help commissioners evaluate whether the policy has been a success,” Bill Tweit, a WDFW special assistant, said in an agency press release out earlier this week.

Afterwards there will be an hour-long panel discussion and a chance for public comment.

A meeting agenda says that WDFW staffers will also “seek guidance and next steps.”

Later in the meeting, commissioners will hold their annual get-together with Inslee, and in early November the citizen panel appointed by the governor will meet with its Oregon counterparts on the issue.

Oregon Fish Commission To Decide On SW Wild Steelhead Retention Ban Proposal

A few years back I was shocked when a major player in the Northwest fishing world told me that wild steelhead should be open for harvest.

In a region where nates are venerated, where reverence for intact adipose fins is strong, and where some returns are troubled, it felt like sacrilege.

But the angler was also speaking to waters where wild runs are strong enough to sustain limited take.

WHETHER OR NOT TO CONTINUE THE LIMITED HARVEST OF WILD WINTER STEELHEAD ON EIGHT SOUTHERN OREGON RIVERS AND TWO CREEKS IS UP FOR A DECISION BY THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. CARSON AND MATT BREESE CAUGHT THIS HOOK-BENDING 39.5-INCHER EARLY IN THE 2016 SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

That appears to be the case on 10 Southern Oregon streams, where ODFW allows fishermen to keep one winter-run a day and three to five a season, but some anglers are petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Commission to end that practice.

“… Taking a precautionary approach to ensure wild steelhead thrive into the future, well before populations collapse, is needed,” write Harvey Young, Jim Dunlevy, Dustin Russell, Mark Gasich and Josh Terry.

They say releasing wild fish for others to catch increases opportunities and participation, that large steelhead anglers are more likely to keep are important contributors to the gene pool, the fishery is important to maintaining the local economy and the move would simplify the regulations.

Pointing to what they consider decreased monitoring as well as large-scale environmental disruptions in recent years — the blob, Chetco Bar Fire — they write, ” … It is in the best interest of the agency, anglers, local businesses, and Oregonians to limit the impacts to sensitive fish populations in the case of uncertainty and help ensure that the Southwest Zone wild steelhead populations sustain robust recreational fisheries now and in the future.”

A number of anglers, many from California, also support it.

Not everyone agrees, however.

A board member of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association says it’s a”self-serving draconian push by a handful of people seemingly dead set on running the average Joe off our river.”

That’s what Grants Pass native and tackle seller Dave Strahan wrote and NSIA shared on Facebook earlier today.

In addition to a number of counties, cities, a tourist board and 500 individuals signing onto a counter proposal to continue wild harvest, Wild Rivers Fishing owner-operator Andy Martin (who, full disclosure, occasionally advertises in this magazine) opposes the petition.

“I admire and respect petitioner Harvey Young and his desire to protect winter steelhead on the Chetco and other Oregon rivers, but feel a change to the fishing regulations is unwarranted and has no scientific basis,” Martin wrote to the commission. “ODFW staff has not made any finding that wild winter steelhead in Southwestern Oregon are in need of increased harvest restrictions to maintain sustainable populations.”

For their part, state biologists say, “All indications show that there is not a conservation concern.”

In recommending the petition be denied, they say that spawning ground and juvenile fish numbers suggest a stable steelhead population, and that numbers are only limited by habitat issues.

Concerns about wild steelhead can be addressed in an upcoming conservation plan for several fish species, ODFW says.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will make the final call when it meets later this week in Bandon.

Time To Sign Up For Mid-August’s Buoy 10 Salmon Challenge

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association invites anglers from all over the Pacific Northwest to join them for a day of friendly competitive fishing at the Buoy 10 Salmon Challenge in Astoria, OR on August 16 & 17th, 2018. Registration is still open with a cost per angler at $110. Runs have picked up significantly in the last couple weeks, with people catching their quota shortly after hitting the water! We have high expectations that this is indicative of good things to come this August.

FORMER NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN AD SALES MANAGER BRIAN LULL SHOWS OFF A FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT ON A HERRING AND FISH FLASH WHILE FISHING NSIA’S 2012 SALMON CHALLENGE. (BRIAN LULL)

Participants can join NSIA on August 16th at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds for the pre-tournament Team Reception from 5 – 7pm. The Reception is an opportunity to review the rules and participate in a Tule ID training. The derby takes place on August 17th, with weigh-in between 3-5pm and a delicious awards dinner at 6pm.

(NSIA)

Lucky anglers will compete for thousands in cash and gear prizes, including a $1000 cash prize for Biggest Fish donated by North River Boats, as well as a $1100 Mystery Fish Prize donated by Weldcraft/Duckworth.

AN ANGLER FIGHTS A SALMON DURING A PAST AUGUST’S BUOY 10 SALMON CHALLENGE. (BRIAN LULL)

As always, NSIA will be promoting catch and release of Lower Columbia River Wild Chinook, known as Tule Chinook, to increase survivability of the threatened stock. NSIA will not weigh wild Tules during this tournament. All ODFW and WDFW rules and regulations apply.

(NSIA)

Proceeds from the event go to support NSIA’s work preserving, restoring and enhancing sportfisheries and the businesses dependent on them. To register contact NSIA at 503.631.8859 or email events@nsiafishing.org.

Lower Columbia Springer Anglers Get Another Day Of Fishing

Spring Chinook anglers can chase their quarry again this Saturday, April 14, on the Columbia below Bonneville Dam.

State salmon managers made the decision to reopen the fishery yesterday afternoon after a very long conference call. Official rule-change notices haven’t been posted at this point, but here’s where to find ODFW’s and WDFW’s.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They had initially proposed two days, the second being Wednesday, April 18, but there was quite a bit of pushback from upstream recreational and tribal fishing interests as well as from a higher-up at WDFW, according to Bill Monroe reporting in The Oregonian.

A fact sheet that came out before the meeting said that through April 7, anglers had accounted for 3,680 of the 7,157 available upriver mortalities, leaving 51 percent of the catch allocation at the 30 percent buffered runsize still available.

The forecast calls for 166,700 springers bound for tribs beyond Bonneville.

But this year’s return is coming in very sluggishly, with the tally breaking the triple-digit mark 20 days later than the 10-year average and the overall count of 125 through April 11 still the lowest on record for this same point of the run.

The Columbia has been running “slightly lower, colder, and clearer than recent 5-year averages for the first half of April,” managers reported.

Still, those are highly fishable conditions — at least if you’re not a plunker. Boaters have accounted for most of the catch.

“Given an available balance on the pre-season, buffered allocation of upriver spring Chinook(3,477 fish balance), there is potential for additional angling opportunity,” the fact sheet stated.

WDFW honchos have essentially been reacting to last year when a slow-developing run led to early closures in Eastern Washington.

It’s unclear how the rest of the 2018 springer run will proceed, but two things are for certain:

“Enjoy Saturday fishing, and in the meantime we will work hard to have a hearing to review the impacts as soon as is reasonable after the one day reopener,” read an email blast from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association out last night.

 

Angling For A Good Cause: Sign Up For 26th NSIA Spring Fishing Classic

By the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association

As the springers roll up the Columbia it is good to remember the hard work, advocacy and litigation it has taken to ensure anglers have access to these fish.

JIM MARTIN AND JOHN SHLIMENKO SHOW OFF A NICE SPRING CHINOOK. (NSIA)

For instance, many salmon and sportfishing advocacy groups have weighed in on the long-running case before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon to protect and restore beleaguered Columbia River salmon stocks.

Last April, Judge Simon rewarded those efforts by ordering that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work with state, federal and tribal biologists to develop a joint plan to provide more voluntary spill to provide better protections for outmigrating juvenile spring Chinook salmon, steelhead and sockeye.

The increased spill will be timed earlier in April, to help outmigrating spring Chinook smolts and should result in better returns in years to come.

“Sending water over the tops of dams for fish works,” says Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “In 2006, NSIA and our allies secured an injunction in Judge Redden’s court to increase the use of spill to protect out-migrating juvenile fall Chinook. Within eight years — two generations of fall Chinook — we saw sharply increased runs of fall Chinook. We are confident spill will have a similar positive result for spring Chinook in the Columbia.”

Spill does not increase river flows, it only changes the route the water — and the fish — take past the dams.

According to Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait, it’s the change in how the water gets past the dams – by spill or through the turbines – that is important for salmon.

“Salmon do not swim down to the sea,” said Ramsey. “Instead, the fish point their nose into the current and let the flow push them downstream. The fish go where the water goes.”

He explains that if the water only passes through the turbines, that is where all the fish will end up and each dam will take its toll.

The Columbia River spring Chinook fishery is extremely popular and is a huge driver of fishing license sales for the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. NSIA hosts a popular annual fishing derby in the river called the Spring Fishing Classic.

This year’s event will be held Saturday, April 7, and is cohosted by Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor and supported by many top names in the sportfishing industry, including Willie Boats, Scotty, Berkley and Stevens Marine.

Participation offers anglers a chance to have fun and engage in a little friendly competition, while supporting advocacy work for better fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

A brand-new 17-foot Willie drift boat, trailer and seats will be raffled off, while $500 will also go to whomever weighs in the largest fish. Team prizes are also awarded.

Tickets are $255 for a team of three, $425 for a team of four and $510 for a team of six.

To register for the derby, call NSIA at (503) 631-8859 or go to nsiafishing.org, where you can also learn more about the organization and its efforts to help the fish and sportfishing.