Tag Archives: nwifc

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

Sport, Tribal Fishermen Speak As One On Salmon Habitat, Recovery Issues

Yesterday was a “historic” and “unprecedented” day at North of Falcon in the words of two longtime recreational angling observers of the annual salmon season-setting negotiations.

In a Lynnwood hotel conference room packed nearly to the gills, tribal and state fishermen spoke out on the importance of habitat and working together on key issues affecting Washington Chinook, coho and other stocks.

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS ADDRESS A CROWD OF ABOUT 100 DURING YESTERDAY’S STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION,  A NEW CONFAB ADDED TO THIS YEAR’S EDITION OF THE ANNUAL NORTH OF FALCON SALMON SEASON NEGOTIATIONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, one of if not the state’s most important salmon fishing organizations, said that if all fishermen worked cohesively, we could “move mountains.”

All in all, it was not what you might have expected when these historically at-odds groups get together, and one of the final speakers referenced that history of animosity.

“It’s a bit weird,” the Lummi Nation’s G.I. James said. “It’s the first time I’ve been with a bunch of (sport) fishermen and haven’t heard, ‘Why are the nets all the way across the river?'”

Indeed, many outstanding issues remain unresolved — the Skokomish and the state-reared hatchery salmon we can’t access in the river because of the boundary claim of the tribe there; the hold-up on the Point No Point ramp; the state’s challenge of the culvert case.

But with the ESA listings, the runs’ continued struggles, pinniped predation on salmon and steelhead a real problem not only for the fish and fishermen of all fleets but also starving southern resident killer whales, and the human footprint on the region only growing over the coming decades, Tuesday afternoon marked what might one day go down as a watershed moment.

“The time for fighting over allocation is over. It’s time to focus on habitat. It’s time to fight the people and the animals that are killing more fish than we are,” said Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, afterwards.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE POTENTIAL 2018-19 SALMON FISHERIES EARLIER IN THE DAY AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

HE WAS AMONG THE AUDIENCE TUESDAY AFTERNOON AS tribal fishermen and others filed into the room where state salmon managers had been discussing potential fisheries with recreational anglers earlier in the day.

Billed as a “plenary session,” it came out of calls by some in the sportfishing world to open the closed-door state-tribal negotiations over the harvestable surplus of fish, but in fact ended up allowing both sides to hear the other.

After a brief introduction, Ron Warren, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Fish Program manager, handed the microphone over to Lorraine Loomis, who heads up the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission as well as the Swinomish Tribe’s Fisheries Department.

Loomis reflected on her long involvement in North of Falcon, which essentially arose out of the Fish Wars and Boldt Decision of the early 1970s.

At one time splitting the fillets was easier, at least relatively, but with the Blob and allocation issues of the past three years, things have become increasingly heated.

“Right now, we’re fighting over the last fish and that’s not going to work,” Loomis said, adding that more salmon habitat is being lost than recovered.

NWIFC’S CRAIG BOWHAY AND LORRAINE LOOMIS LISTEN AS FORMER WDFW BIOLOGIST AND SPORTFISHING AND HABITAT ADVOCATE CURT KRAMER MAKES A POINT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Loomis left it to NWIFC fisheries director Craig Bowhay to answer questions from the public, the first of which came from a face that would be familiar to him, Pat Patillo, the retired WDFW salmon policy advisor and current sportfishing advocate.

Patillo wanted to know how the tribes felt about increasing hatchery production and how could NWIFC and the state work together towards that end?

Bowhay pointed back to budget cuts at Patillo’s old agency (Warren noted that the 1999 Endangered Species Act listing also played a role in the reduction of state releases from the 73 million range of the 1980s to today’s 38 million in the Sound and coast; the tribes report releasing 34 million last year), and while he said “We’d like to reverse” that trend, noted the challenges of tailoring production to harvest and realistically addressing salmon populations that can and can’t be rebuilt.

But he said that with the plight of orcas, there’s “more acceptance” from the feds of increased releases.

In fact, Governor Jay Inslee recently requested WDFW begin working on that, and it sounds like extra coho eggs were taken last year as a bridge stock for fisheries as more Chinook and areas may be allocated to the whales.

Curt Kramer, the retired North Sound state fisheries biologist and regional manager, stood and called for a “drastic change” in how recovering habitat is talked about. It’s primarily spoken of in terms of relation to salmon and steelhead, but he proposed couching it as “recovering rivers.”

“The Stilly is unraveling from the headwaters down. We need to figure out how to talk with a very loud voice,” Kramer said, drawing applause.

Much is made of tribal connections to the land and salmon but Kramer pointed out that we fishermen have those too, and we should all take advantage of that.

PSA’s Garner said his organization had the same outlook.

“I want to see no more fighting between us,” he said.

Garner pointed to issues all fishermen can work together on, namely seals’, sea lions’ and cormorants’ insatiable appetites for salmonid smolts.

A bit later Bowhay addressed that, saying NWIFC was trying to get more funding to build on the science that’s really beginning to show how much of a predation problem we face.

“Our collective harvest is less than what the marine mammals are taking,” he said, leaving “orcas last in line.”

Bowhay and others made several calls for fishermen to talk to their Congressional representatives, but he also acknowledged that the public at large “is in love with that brown-eyed seal.”

“There’s a lot of education (that needs to be done) to get over that,” he said.

Prompted by Kramer’s comments on the scale of lost habitat in the Central and North Sound over just the past dozen years and whether a better success metric was needed, Bowhay added that more land managers — counties, cities, the agriculture industry, state Departments of Transportation, Natural Resources and Ecology — should include salmon recovery in their core missions.

KING COUNTY LAKE WASHINGTON WATERSHED SALMON RECOVERY MANAGER JASON MULVIHILL-KUNTZ SPEAKS AS WDFW’S WARREN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

As it turned out, there was an actual land manager in the room, Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, who works on salmon recovery in the Lake Washington watershed for King County. He said he appreciated the focus on habitat and essentially wanted more tools for implementing actions. Warren promised to get in contact with him.

THEN A QUARTET OF TRIBAL FISHERY MANAGERS IN the audience rose to speak, led off by Sean Yannity of the Stillaguamish Tribe, who recalled how his uncle had closed Chinook fishing on the system 30 years ago.

“He saw the disaster coming,” Yannity said.

He decried that Stillaguamish River kings were still being caught in the saltwater and likened telling his five last tribal fishermen they couldn’t catch any in the 14 miles of the Stilly they can fish for a funeral to “telling a Catholic they can’t take communion.”

Yannity said that the tribes had been “mocked” by the public for their insistence that lost habitat was a big problem and that the Stillaguamish were considered “evil ones” for acquiring 1,000 acres in the watershed for restoration.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SAYS “EXTINCTION IS NOT AN OPTION FOR US.” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Saying that “extinction is not an option for us” and that “We have a lot more in common than differences,” Yannity added, “I hope you in Washington state don’t end up like the Stillaguamish Tribe.”

With Russ Svec of the Makah Nation and the Lummi Nation’s James standing by his side, Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Indian Nation said the plenary session was a “first.”

“This is the start if you wish to build a coalition,” Johnstone said, and that dancing around the issues wasn’t going to get us anywhere.

Speaking to the culvert case between the state of Washington and the tribes and which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court later this spring, he asked, “Who is against us? Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association … there’s like ten.”

While Johnstone said numerous other states have also joined with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and other angling groups earlier this week filed a SCOTUS brief supporting the tribes’ side.

Svec said he hadn’t seen tribes, recreational and commercial fishermen coming together like this before.

“Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice,” he said.

James pointed out that even as local governments fought the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision on water and development, they have residents who like to fish, potential allies in the grand cause.

“We can’t ride the fish to zero so there are no problems for developers,” he said.

NORM REINHARDT OF THE KITSAP POGGIE CLUB MAKES A POINT WITH STATE FISHERY MANAGERS EARLIER IN THE DAY. ALSO IN ATTENDANCE WERE MANY PUGET SOUND ANGLERS MEMBERS AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM THREE MAJOR PUGET SOUND MARINE AND TACKLE STORES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AS THE SESSION CAME TO A CLOSE SO FISHERY MANAGERS could get to the rest of their afternoon salmon meetings, Loomis and Warren had some final thoughts.

“I have to tell you, this is the first meeting I’ve been to at North of Falcon that so many words were spoken about habitat,” said a pleased-sounding Loomis.

Warren, who joked that it was rare for him to get the last word over his counterpart with the tribes, began to choke up slightly.

“I grew up in the agency trying to do the right thing for resources and I’m proud to stand with you,” he said.

I’ll readily admit that I don’t have the North of Falcon-trenches experience that others in our world do, and so I looked for insight on whether what I’d just witnessed was real or just smoke and mirrors.

Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and who currently runs the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating and Salmon Derby Series fronts, had sat a row in front of me, and later in the afternoon tweeted a photo of himself and Loomis posing for a selfie.

“A historic day at NOF meetings that would’ve had Billy Frank Jr. smiling down on this blessed earth! Time to build a new path toward salmon recovery and habitat restoration by all parties. ,” Yuasa wrote on Twitter.

When I got home, I called Nelson the radio show host for his take. He called the meeting “unprecedented and wonderful” and said, “For the first time our real culprit has been pointed out.”

He talked about reducing the predatory effectiveness of pinnipeds, of redefining impacts on salmon to include development and to credit new building that helps the fish.

And if we get a season someday, Nelson promised me a recipe for cormorants.

It would be better than eating crow, which is what we’ll get if all we do is sit and argue and let the salmon dwindle to nothing instead.

Correction, 9:20 a.m., April 6, 2018: The last name of Ron Warren, WDFW Fish Program manager, was misstated in the cutline for the first image as Loomis. It has since been corrected. Apologies for the error.

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.