Tag Archives: orcas

Forgo Eating Chinook? There Are Much Better Ways To Help Orcas — NWIFC

Last month, when a Seattle public radio station tweeted out a link to a segment entitled “Should I eat Chinook salmon,” @NWTreatyTribes clapped back, “Yes, you should eat chinook salmon.”

Inserting myself into the conversation, I said, “Finally! Something we agree on!! ?.”

CHINOOK ON THE GRILL. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It was meant to be a light joke, as tribal and recreational anglers have certainly been at odds over salmon in the past, but these days the fate of our fisheries are linked more closely than ever and there’s increasing recognition on our part that habitat really is key, as the tribes continually note.

So while not eating Chinook might make Emerald City residents feel like they’re doing something noble for struggling orcas, it only makes recovering the key feedstock even more difficult.

That’s the gist of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chair Lorraine Loomis’s column this month.

In part it’s a response to a Seattle chef’s decision to pull the salmon species off the menu of her restaurants amidst the orca crisis.

“If restricting harvest were the solution to salmon recovery and orca survival, we would have accomplished both long ago,” Loomis writes.

Instead, she says if diners and others want to help, they should get in touch with their lawmakers to ask for increased hatchery production in select watersheds; more habitat restoration; quicker culvert work; and dealing with Puget Sound pinnipeds, which are literally stealing food from the southern residents, among other fixes.

Loomis acknowledges they’re all heavy lifts — many are also part of the governor’s SRKW task force’s potential recommendations out for public comment now — but they need to be implemented to help out the fish and thus the orcas.

Yes, it would benefit fishermen, but find me another part of the population that cares like we do.

“Indian and non-Indian fishermen are the greatest advocates for salmon recovery and the most accountable for their conservation. Contributing to the economic extinction of fishing will only accelerate the salmon’s decline,” Loomis writes, adding, “We need everyone in this fight. If you love salmon, eat it.”

With 4 Orcas In Sensitive Condition, NOAA Asking Boaters To Give ‘Extra’ Space

With another killer whale losing weight but at least three others recently discovered to be pregnant, federal officials are asking boaters to give the pods an even wider berth.

NOAA reports that a late-20s male appears thinner since losing its mother last year, which could be making foraging more difficult.

IMAGES FROM NOAA SHOW A “NOTICEABLY THINNER” ORCA KNOWN AS J25. (NOAA)

“While the decline in K25’s body condition is not as severe as we saw with J50 this summer, it is a warning signal,” said Lynn Barre, the recovery coordinator for resident orcas.

J50 was a three-year-old southern resident that is now believed to have died.

The agency says it will track the animal’s condition, collect poop samples if it can and otherwise try to minimize disturbing it.

The average life span of a bull orca is 30 years.

Meanwhile, NOAA says that at least one female in J, K and L Pods is pregnant, “vital news.”

(NOAA)

“We ask that vessels minimize disturbance of these pregnant whales, in addition to K25, to maximize the chances of successful pregnancies,” said Scott Rumsey, the deputy West Coast region administrator.

The news comes as salmon fishing is just about wrapped up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juans, where this coming Sunday, Sept. 30, is the final day of coho season.  That’s also when crabbing closes in the islands.

And it follows yesterday’s release for public comment of potential recommendations on what to do to increase prey availability, operate vessels and clean up contaminants that could be affecting killer whale survival in Puget Sound.

Federal regs require boaters to stay 200 yards from whales, and earlier this year WDFW created a voluntary no-go zone on the west side of San Juan Island, and

Chance To Comment On Orca Recommendations

You have two weeks to submit comments on potential proposals that Washington’s southern resident killer whale task force‘s three working groups rolled out yesterday.

The task force as a whole will review the public’s submissions in mid-October and send a final report with its agreed-to recommendations to Governor Jay Inslee in mid-November.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

Some of the ideas that will catch the eyes of fishermen include:

  • Boost hatchery Chinook production: There are three proposals, with 1A calling for increased releases, 1B for pilot projects and 1C, a combination of both along with habitat improvements. Upping production would require funding for more infrastructure and to complete scientific reviews;
  • Fund habitat purchases and restoration projects benefiting key Chinook stocks;
  • Develop a system to be able to close sport and commercial fisheries when orcas are in key feeding zones. This could go into effect by next spring and would appear to be dependent on setting up more hydrophones to better track SRKW movements, which is another potential recommendation;
  • Ask fishermen and boaters to switch their fish- and depthfinders from 50 kHz to 200 kHz within half a mile of orcas;
  • Buyout nontreaty commercial licenses and work with the tribes to consider the feasibility of doing so with treaty fishermen or switching to gear with lower impacts on Chinook;
  • Establish a half-mile-wide, 7-knots-or-less go-slow zone around orcas;
  • Create new no-go zones on the west side of San Juan Island and elsewhere in the islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca;
  • Continue studying the problem of pinniped predation on Chinook or begin a pilot program to immediately start removing the haul-outs of salmon-eating harbor seals, or both, as well as continue pushing the federal government for more management options to deal with sea lions in the Columbia and its tribs;
  • Reclassify walleye and bass as invasive, which would remove the “game fish” designation and subsequent rules against wastage;
  • Study whether altering the McNary Pool’s elevation would reduce the numbers of salmonid smolt-eating fish in the reservoir;
  • Develop a better understanding of Puget Sound forage fish populations;
  • Support Chinook reintroduction into the Upper Columbia and prioritize removing fish passage barriers that would benefit stocks elsewhere;
  • And continue to be involved in the conversation surrounding what to do with the four dams on the lower Snake River to varying degrees.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A CHINOOK OFF THE END OF AN ANGLER’S LINE IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (HUGH ALLEN)

There are many more, including potential recommendations addressing habitat, hydropower operations, contaminants and marine vessels.

The task force was convened earlier this year when the governor signed an executive order directing state agencies to begin doing what they could to help out the orcas, which are struggling due to lack of Chinook and other factors.

WDFW STAFFER EDWARD ELEAZER PARTICIPATED IN A TRIAL TO SEE WHETHER IT WAS POSSIBLE TO FEED AILING ORCA J50, NOW PRESUMED DEAD. A LACK OF CHINOOK IS STARVING LOCAL PODS. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA/FLICKR)

Since members of the panel — which includes Puget Sound Anglers’ Ron Garner, the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s George Harris, Long Live the Kings’ Jacques White, WDFW’s Brad Smith and Amy Windrope, tribal members and legislators Rep. Brian Blake and Sen. Kevin Ranker — began meeting two whales have died, including a newborn and a three-year-old adding urgency to the mission.

Some ideas did not make the cut from the working groups, but near the end of the public survey a question asks if they would otherwise be part of your top five strategies.

Those include further reducing fishing time in the Straits and San Juans in summer; coming up with a limited-entry recreational fishing permit system for key orca foraging areas; increasing WDFW’s hydraulic code enforcement budget; working with the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad on habitat work along the tracks as they run up Puget Sound; and pushing for the Corps of Engineers to quit the four dams on the lower Snake and then take them out, among others.

On Rivers, ‘Hallways’ And Rooms For Salmon To Grow

It was a tale of two rivers growing up.

OK, three, since we lived for several years just off the banks of the Sultan, a tributary of the Skykomish. Born in the mountains and cutting through canyons, they’ve always symbolized true rivers in my mind.

The other was the Sammamish, which in one section between Woodinville and Redmond runs as straight and true as any of my fishing rods.

Guess which one of those streams is the least natural and fish-friendly?

THE SAMMAMISH RIVER/SLOUGH ON A FOGGY DAY NEAR WOODINVILLE. (FENIXFYRE, WIKIMEDIA)

Yes, I’ve cast a line in “the slough” and actually caught stuff.

Pikeminnows at the mouth of Little Bear Creek during my teens with Dad while trying to catch rumored large rainbows.

Big, bacon-biting crawdads below the railroad bridge to the old DeYoung Feed Mill.

A huge horkin’ smallie and cutthroat trout below the lake in my 20s.

But shallow, weedy and heated by the summer sun, good fish habitat the Sammamish is not.

Especially that curveless north-south-bearing 1-plus-mile stretch alongside the turf and Christmas tree farms by the former Redhook Brewery.

A SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS A STRAIGHT, DREDGED STRETCH OF THE SAMMAMISH RIVER BETWEEN WOODINVILLE AND REDMOND. (GOOGLE MAPS)

It can be hard to explain to folks what’s wrong with that picture, but I found a great quote in a story about the recent closure of Blewett Pass.

The early September project allowed WSDOT and its contractors to put in new fish passage structures in areas a creek had been straightened for Highway 97.

“The streams that we’re trying to restore are like a house that’s made just of hallways,” Scott Nicolai, a habitat biologist with the Yakama Nation, told reporter Eilis O’Neil.

“Imagine walking into a house and there are no bedrooms, no kitchens, no bathrooms,” Nicolai said. “And that is what a lot of our streams look like today. They’re very straight—only one wet spot along the bottom of the floodplain.”

At one time the Sammamish River was a winding 30-mile-long wetland complex between Lakes Sammamish and Washington.

But between the lowering of the latter in the early 1900s and then a 1964 Army Corps of Engineers straightening project, it shrank to just 13 miles long.

That worked pretty well for farming the fertile soils and funneling off floodwaters — the hallway effect — but didn’t leave much room for fish to just chillax and scarf down bugs and whatnot.

An announcer in an old-time film clip dramatizing the famous boat races on the slough inadvertently made a great point about its diminished value as habitat: “It has about enough water in spots to accommodate a dozen minnows comfortably.”

But now more space for fish is coming online in the system, thanks to a recently completed restoration project in Bothell.

A CITY OF BOTHELL MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE SIDE CHANNEL AND HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT, WHICH IS JUST ACROSS THE WOODEN BRIDGE FROM THE PARK AT BOTHELL LANDING. (BOTHELL)

An 1,100-foot-long side channel of the Sammamish at Bothell is now providing quarters, galley, game room and outhouses for young wild Chinook and coho, as well as cutthroat and any remnant steelhead.

It’s not precisely clear how highly Lake Washington basin fall kings rate in terms of killer whale forage, but I think with how key the river systems to the immediate north and south are for the struggling southern residents, it’s safe to say this was probably money fortuitously spent by the King Conservation District and state Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Elsewhere in the county, a 700-foot-long constructed reach on the Green-Duwamish between Kent and Auburn known as Riverview was found to hold way more young kings and across all stream flows than four other surveyed stretches.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favor of a big increase in hatchery Chinook production where it makes the most sense.

Projects like this and others — which I’m also totally in favor of (here’s my own idea) — will take time to produce real results for salmon and orcas.

But here’s to remodeling rivers to make them more complete homes for fish in the meanwhile.

Washington Bass, Walleye In Crosshairs For Orca Recovery?

Smallmouth, largemouth, walleye and other popular but nonnative gamefish species might one day be reclassified as invasive in Washington, a proposal meant to help out the prey of struggling killer whales but one that would further alienate warmwater anglers who already feel like the state’s redheaded stepchildren.

A POTENTIAL RECOMMENDATION BY WASHINGTON’S ORCA TASK FORCE COULD PUT A CHILL ON WALLEYE, A NONNATIVE SPECIES THAT ALSO CONSUMES CHINOOK AND OTHER SALMONID SMOLTS WHILE PROVIDING EXCELLENT FISHING OPPORTUNITIES IN FALL, LATE WINTER AND SPRING ON THE COLUMBIA NEAR TRI-CITIES. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

A Seattle TV station got ahold of that and other draft recommendations that Governor Jay Inslee’s state orca task force has developed ahead of their Monday, Sept. 24 release for public comment.

According to KCPQ, “Prey Potential Recommendation 27” calls on Inslee to support adding bass, walleye, catfish, perch and more to a list that includes northern pike, several species of carp and northern snakeheads.

The idea is “to allow and encourage removal of these predatory fish in the waters containing salmon or other ESA-listed species,” according to documents that reporter Brett Cihon cites.

The papers state:

“Walleye in the Columbia River are reported to consume more than two juvenile salmon daily while bass are reported to consume more than one juvenile salmon per day. There are likely millions of these non-native predatory fish in Washington waters, including Lake Washington and other water bodies, containing salmon. Twenty-four million salmon smolts are consumed by these non-native species between McNary Dam and Priest Rapids dam.”

It wasn’t clear where the reported figures originated, but walleye do now occur throughout much of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as many Columbia Basin reservoirs and lakes.

These waters are so rich with forage – and not just salmonid smolts but young shad, perch, catfish and squawfish, according to guides quoted in a Northwest Sportsman article during last winter’s trophy fishery period – that anglers come from the home of walleye, the Upper Midwest, to try and catch fish into the high teens if not set a new state or world records, or at least personal bests.

Bass are simply everywhere, in lakes and slower, warmer rivers across the state, and support a number of fishing tournaments.

A 2011 paper KCPQ cited captured the dichotomy between the species’ value to anglers and fisheries and its danger to native fish. Researchers said there were 75,000 smallmouth bass anglers in Washington in 2006, or 14 percent of the state’s fishermen, and they spent 1.1 million days afield to the tune of $32.6 million in economic activity.

Those figures were also mostly below 1996 levels in not only Washington but Oregon and Idaho. The paper suggested site-specific regulations for areas of known salmonid smolt concentrations.

Since it came out, Washington and Oregon have moved to liberalize walleye, bass and catfish regulations, dropping size and daily limits on the Columbia and its tributaries, after pressure from federal overseers to show the states are doing something to reduce predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead smolts.

But now the focus is on orcas and their prey. Fall Chinook from the Lower Columbia and its tribs, as well as the Hanford Reach and Snake River, along with spring and summer king stocks from the Cowlitz, Kalama and Idaho rivers were found to be among the most important to southern resident killer whales, according to a new analysis out earlier this summer.

Anglers are being paid to remove northern pikeminnows, a native but numerous species that have benefited from the damming of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and they’re also getting cash to cut off the heads of northern pike in Lake Roosevelt.

KCPQ also reported that among other potential recommendations, the task force suggests removing three smaller dams on the Middle Fork Nooksack, Pilchuck and Naches Rivers; support efforts in Congress to make it easier to remove sea lions from more Lower Columbia Basin waters; establish a “no white-water wake” within half a mile of orcas; and develop a new limited-entry whale-watch boat permit program.

Some observers of the process are reported to feel that the measures aren’t strong enough or that their effects are too short-term.

Fish Commissioner Calls For Sharp Increase In Chinook Production For Orcas

Fifty million more Chinook would be released for southern resident killer whales under a plan being pitched by a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and which would also provide “shirttail benefits” for salmon anglers.

Don McIsaac wants to release 30 million kings in four areas of Puget Sound, and another 20 million from hatcheries in the Columbia River system to help feed the starving pods.

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

Their plight has gripped the region this summer and this past March led Governor Jay Inslee to sign an executive order directing state agencies such as WDFW to do all they can to help save the species.

The retired longtime director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, McIsaac’s been active on the commission working towards those goals and he detailed his latest proposal on The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN this past Saturday morning.

“These (smolts) would be released in carefully selected areas where negative impacts to the genetic strains of wild Chinook salmon would be minimized and using genetic strains for hatchery production that have migration patterns that take them to the areas where the killer whales are so they can feed on them,” he said.

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

“The intent is to make a significant difference, a big difference, in the number of adult Chinook available to killer whales and tag along some significant fishery improvements,” said McIsaac.

Lack of prey is one of the primary factors in why local orcas are doing so poorly.

Fellow commissioners heard McIsaac’s proposal earlier this month and deferred action on it until September, and now he’s looking for support from anglers.

Under his plan, the Puget Sound smolts would be released from “dead end bay areas,” places like Olympia’s Deschutes River (10 million), which has a waterfall near its lower end.

“This is the kind of excellent area where you could enhance the number of Chinook salmon released and not cause problems with wild salmon but gain the benefits of these salmon swimming up through Puget Sound, hanging around Puget Sound, which can be done by manipulating when you release the fish,” McIsaac said.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

Others include East Sound between two lobes of Orcas Island (10 million), Agate Pass (5 million) and southern Hood Canal (5 million).

Chinook from the Deschutes and Hood Canal were identified as two of the most important current stocks for orcas, according to a recent analysis.

So too were spring Chinook from Lower Columbia tribs, and McIsaac’s plan would increase production of them and other king stocks.

“There will be some shirttail benefits of all these fish swimming around, and whenever a fishing season is open, then this would benefit fisheries,” McIsaac acknowledged. “So this is intended to be kind of a win-win scenario. They don’t come around that often … but that’s what is intended.”

But his plan primarily aims to test whether increasing prey availability will help reverse orcas’ decline over the decades.

A recent paper suggests that harbor seals and sea lions are now consuming six times as many Puget Sound Chinook as recreational and commercial fisheries — and twice as much as SRKWs.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS CHINOOK LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

McIsaac and the commission recently passed a policy statement that advocates a “goal of significantly reducing pinniped predation on salmon” in the Columbia and Puget Sound. On the radio show he cautioned that that shouldn’t be exaggerated into a call for a “huge lethal removal effort,” rather behavior oriented.

As runs have declined due to longterm habitat issues and other factors and state hatchery production has been cut in half from 56 million in 1989 to 28 million in 2016, angling seasons have also been pruned way back, yet there are rumblings more might be coming.

“Closing back fisheries isn’t going to put enough in front of them,” McIsaac told Outdoor Line cohosts Tom Nelson and John Martinis. “And if you just look at closing these fisheries in Puget Sound alone, the number becomes even smaller. People say just close things off of this side of that island or that side of the other island, (but) the numbers are so small they just won’t make a difference.”

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

Anglers are being rallied to an orca task force meeting tomorrow at the Swinomish Casino over fears that salmon fishing will be scapegoated instead of dealing with the big issues.

It’s not clear how long it would take to collect the necessary number of eggs, how much new infrastructure might be needed and whether McIsaac’s plan would be challenged — some are scorning the idea that hatchery production might be a real bridge.

And for his part, McIsaac openly admitted that increasing Chinook production will take a lot of money and said some should come from the federal government.

“I think it’s time for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to make a strong policy statement, to go big and try to address this situation.. The revenue situation in the state of Washingotn is very positive. We’re not in a recession … There’s a lot of tax money that’s out there for the legislature to think about spending and we hope that they think about the killer whales, they think about the fishing industry. Again, this seems like a win-win proposal and it’s money well spent,” he said.

Host Nelson urged anglers to support his idea by emailing the commission@wdfw.wa.gov.

And McIsaac asked them to also talk with “friends in the conservation community” to increase awareness of the issue.

Orca Task Force Proposed Mission Statement Blasted For Overlooking Seal Predation

“This is going to be the Kill Sport Fishing Task Force.”

That’s Tom Nelson’s no-holds-barred assessment of an initial work product out of Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

TOM NELSON SAYS THAT THE GOVERNOR’S ORCA TASK FORCE IS OVERLOOKING A HUGE PROBLEM, SEAL AND SEA LIONS THAT ARE CONSUMING SIX TIMES AS MANY PUGET SOUND CHINOOK AS RECREATIONAL, COMMERCIAL AND TRIBAL FISHING FLEETS ARE. (THEOUTDOORLINE.COM)

Rather than address the fact harbor seals and other marine mammals are eating up starving local orcas’ breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks, a proposed mission statement from the group says it will instead seek to enact “temporary emergency measures to offset any shortfall in prey availability.”

Nelson, co-host of the Saturday morning fishing and hunting radio show The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN, interprets that to mean cutting salmon angling seasons, plain and simple.

“We’ve suffered cut after cut after cut after cut,” he bristles.

The statement also calls for reducing vessel traffic in whale feeding areas by 50 percent by the year 2022.

That probably doesn’t mean ferries, tankers and other shipping traffic, at least in Nelson’s eyes.

“It’s all going to be fishing and whale watching and recreational boats,” he says.

It all boggles Nelson, and this afternoon he ripped the apparent low-hanging-fruit approach on KIRO Radio 97.3’s Dori Monson Show.

He told his fellow radio host that officials were “ducking, dodging and diving from doing the right thing.”

A HARBOR SEAL SWIMS BESIDE A BOAT OFF KINGSTON IN MID-JULY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The task force’s “full draft” report for how to recover orcas isn’t due till Oct. 1, but that the mission statement doesn’t mention pinnipeds is highly perplexing.

Nelson points to a 2017 paper that looked at king salmon consumption in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands and Hood Canal over the previous 45 years.

“Converting juvenile Chinook salmon into adult equivalents, we found that by 2015, pinnipeds consumed double that of resident killer whales and six times greater than the combined commercial and recreational catches,” the authors’ abstract reads.

Another paper from last year with a wider lens says, “Harbor seals in the Salish Sea (i.e. Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and Strait of San Juan de Fuca) accounted for 86.4% of the total coast wide (Chinook) smolt consumption in 2015, due to large increases in the harbor seal abundance in this region between 1975 and 2015 (8,600 to 77,800), as well as a large diet fraction of Chinook salmon smolts relative to other regions.”

FIGURES IN “COMPETING TRADEOFFS BETWEEN INCREASING MARINE MAMMAL PREDATION AND FISHERIES HARVEST OF CHINOOK SALMON,” PUBLISHED IN SCIENTIFIC REPORTS LAST FALL, ILLUSTRATES THE INCREASING CONSUMPTION OF INDIVIDUAL CHINOOK AND CHINOOK BIOMASS BY HARBOR SEALS (BLUE) AND OTHER MARINE MAMMALS. (CHASCO ET AL)

Coastwide, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

As for the paper that the governor’s group appears to be leaning on, it doesn’t mention harbor seals or sea lions once.

It does say that “a 50% noise reduction plus a 15% increase in Chinook would allow the (SRKW) population to reach the 2.3% growth target.”

That 15 percent figure can also be found in the task force’s proposed mission statement: “By 2028: In the near term, our goal is to maintain reductions in vessel disturbance and underwater noise and increase Chinook prey abundance by 15% by 2028.”

Hatchery production increases are being considered and recently state and federal biologists identified the most important Chinook rivers for SRKWs.

Noise, pollutants and prey availability are believed to be the three key factors in why J, K and L pods are struggling, but the task force paper also states, “The whales’ depleted status is due in large part to the legacy of an unsustainable live-capture fishery for display in aquariums.”

It was popular to go to SeaWorld and see orcas eat fish out of trainers’ hands.

Ironically, Nelson was threatened with a $500 fine this week for flipping a finger-sized chunk of a salmon carcass to a harbor seal hanging out in the Everett marina, where he moors his boat.

He was on camera with KING 5 for a story illustrating the abundance of harbor seals in Puget Sound.

As soon as he tossed out that piece of fish to one of the “water puppies” that more and more appear to beg for scraps from fishermen and others, he and the camera crew’s phones started ringing and he eventually found himself on the line with a federal enforcement officer.

It all may go down as a warning, but it’s illegal to feed the Marine Mammal Protection Act species.

The day before a harbor seal ate a wild Chinook right off the end of Nelson’s line as he tried to release it.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

So how would Nelson deal with the overpopulation of harbor seals that are eating Puget Sound Chinook, many of which would otherwise grow into adults and upon their return to the Salish Sea provide nourishment for the orcas?

“If we could cut their numbers in half, it could do something. We could stop this by trapping and releasing them in the ocean,” he proposes.

There, they’d be subject to being preyed on transient killer whales, the pinniped-eating kind.

“We’re going to have to act,” he says. “It ain’t gonna be nice, it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

This week, lawmakers in Washington DC voted to expand state and tribal managers’ authority to remove sea lions from more of the Lower Columbia and its tribs to reduce their predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks.

Hold that thought, Senators.

Study Shows Importance Of Puget Sound Chinook Production To Starving Orcas

A new analysis is showing the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas.

Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs.

A JOINT STATE-FEDERAL ANALYSIS IDENTIFIED THE SNOHOMISH RIVER BASIN AS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCERS OF CHINOOK FOR LOCAL ORCAS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

For the analysis, NOAA and WDFW sampled orca doots to “assist in prioritizing actions to increase critical prey for the whales.”

Nutritional stress has been identified as among the chief causes of their declining numbers, and the news comes as officials report a newborn calf died off Victoria yesterday. Just half of the 28 reproductive-age “blackfish” have produced calves in the last 10 years, another report said.

“Ramp up the hatchery production. Do it now. It’s the only way,” says Tom Nelson, co-host of Seattle outdoors radio show The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN.

He was reacting this morning while fishing for coho at Possession Bar to a Seattle Times scoop on the findings.

Reporter Lynda V. Mapes writes that from the standpoint of federal overseers, “In some instances, it might make more sense to focus on habitat restoration rather than increasing hatchery releases, [NOAA’s Lynn] Barre said. “It has to be evaluated on a watershed level … It’s not just ‘let’s make more fish to feed the whales,’ hold on, there are a few things to consider.’”

A MATRIX FROM THE NOAA-WDFW RANKS THE MOST IMPORTANT CHINOOK STOCKS FOR SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES BY BASIN.

Nelson, who has a degree in fisheries biology, acknowledges that the problems salmon and orcas face are highly complex, with few if any single-faceted answers, but with J, K and L pods down to just 75 animals, action is needed right now, and not just restricting already restricted salmon seasons.

“A significant increase in hatchery releases has to happen. Anything else is a long-term fix. The killer whales don’t have time,” Nelson says.

With nine out of every 10 adult Puget Sound Chinook born at, reared in and released from hatcheries, the state is planning on bolstering prroduction, with the Fish and Wildlife Commission making moves towards that, along with adding  protections for orcas from vessels, another key factor in their struggles. Pollutants also play a role.

Both the salmon stock and marine mammals are listed under the Endangered Species Act, which NOAA is charged with enforcing.

But to achieve a meaningful increase in wild Chinook numbers, you have to have better habitat, Nelson says, and that’s unlikely to occur any time soon in our densely populated region.

“If you think you’re going to get everyone to move out of the Central Sound and get it back to presettlement days, you’re dreaming,” Nelson says.

A lot of habitat work is occurring in estuaries, side channels and elsewhere, but results are painfully slow, and that pace could impact the region’s interest in continuing with the much-needed work.

Meanwhile, 89 percent of this year’s forecast of 255,219 fall kings expected to return to Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and Hood Canal rivers are hatchery fish.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO AN UNUSED RACEWAY AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER KINGS. CHINOOK PRODUCTION IN WESTERN WASHINGTON IS HALF OF WHAT IT WAS IN 1989 AS HATCHERY PRACTICES HAVE BEEN REFORMED TO HELP WILD STOCKS RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The importance of Puget Sound Chinook — both wild and adipose-fin-clipped hatchery ones — to SRKWs is otherwise obvious because of where they hang out, off the Washington Coast, in the Straits and in the San Juans, where those salmon stocks return through on the way to their home rivers.

Upper and Middle Columbia and Snake upriver brights, and Fraser, Lower Columbia trib and Fraser springers were also highly important stocks, the analysis found.

But they also fed to a degree on Chinook from as far away as the Sacramento and Southeast Alaska.

“We can use this information as a guide, based on the best science, to help inform decisions about how we spend recovery dollars for both salmon and Southern Resident killer whales,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, in a NOAA news story on the analysis. “We remain committed to recovery of all West Coast salmon stocks, and this helps us understand where we can maximize our resources and partnerships to help killer whales too.”

In the words of one close observer of the salmon world, the whales don’t care if kings have an extra fin or not, yet hatchery production has and probably will face more legal challenges.

With harbor seals and sea lions identified as eating large numbers of Puget Sound Chinook before they can mature into orca fodder, Nelson also called for reducing pinniped numbers, which he says could show results in as few as three years in terms of salmon prey availability for killer whales.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A SAN JUANS CHINOOK LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

That and hatchery production would also yield more fish for anglers and help WDFW sell more licenses, easing its budget issues.

‘A Difficult Request,’ But WDFW Asks Boaters To Avoid Strip Along Fishy Western San Juan Island

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

State fish and wildlife managers are asking anglers and other boaters to avoid an area along the west side of San Juan Island in an effort to protect a dwindling population of southern resident killer whales.

Despite state and federal government protection, the population of southern resident killer whales has declined from 98 whales in 1995 to just 76 in December 2017. Major threats to the whales include a lack of prey – chinook salmon, in particular – disturbance from vessel traffic and noise, as well as toxic contaminants.

(WDFW)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will be working with partner agencies and stakeholder groups to help educate people about the voluntary “no-go” zone, which applies to all recreational boats – fishing or otherwise – as well as commercial vessels.

The no-go zone is located on the west side of San Juan Island, including:

  • From Mitchell Bay in the north to Cattle Point in the south, extending a quarter-mile offshore for the entire stretch.
  • In an area around the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, the no-go zone extends further offshore – half of a mile.

A map of these areas is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/orca/, where boaters also can find existing regulations on properly operating vessels near orcas.

These waters represent the areas in the San Juan Islands that southern resident killer whales most frequently use for foraging and socializing. To improve conditions for the whales, WDFW is asking vessel operators to stay out of these key areas to allow the whales a quiet area to feed.

“This voluntary no-go zone is a good step in helping to reduce human impacts in an important foraging area for southern resident killer whales,” said Penny Becker, WDFW’s policy lead on killer whales.

In March, the governor signed an executive order creating a task force and directing WDFW and other state agencies to take immediate action to benefit southern resident killer whales. In designing this year’s salmon fisheries, the department reduced fisheries in areas – such as the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet – important to orcas.

In late April, NOAA Fisheries asked the state to take additional action to protect southern resident killer whales during the upcoming fishing season. In response, the state included the voluntary measure in a set of actions NOAA should consider as the federal agency develops authorization for Puget Sound salmon fisheries.

“This step will help support killer whale recovery and prevents a potential delay in federal approval for our salmon fisheries throughout the entire Sound,” said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

Warren acknowledged that this is a difficult request to make of anglers who fish the San Juans, given the reduced opportunities for salmon fishing in the area this year. But there are a variety of other salmon fisheries in Puget Sound this season.

In particular, he noted that in other areas of the Sound anglers have more opportunities to fish for coho salmon than in recent years. More information about this year’s salmon fisheries can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

Warren said there is an exception for vessels participating in a commercial fishery targeting Fraser River sockeye that takes place in the northern portion of the no-go zone, given the limited number of commercial openings (six to eight days) this year.

As part of the governor’s directive, WDFW is working with NOAA and state agencies to increase hatchery production of salmon to benefit southern resident killer whales. However, it will take three to four years for fish released from Washington hatcheries to be available as returning adults for the whales.

WDFW also will continue to work with tribal co-managers and other agencies to restore salmon habitat.

“Our efforts to recover killer whales ultimately will mean more salmon returning to Puget Sound each year, which will benefit anglers as well as orcas,” Warren said.

More information about the governor’s task force is available online at https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/energy-environment/southern-resident-killer-whale-recovery-and-task-force.