Tag Archives: nwifc

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.