Tag Archives: orcas

Biop Says Corps Must Provide Downstream Salmon Passage At Upper Green River Dam

What goes up must come down, and in the case of King County’s Green River, that requires building downstream fish passage infrastructure at Howard Hanson Dam.

AN ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS HOWARD HANSON DAM ON THE UPPER GREEN RIVER. A BIOP REQUIRES THAT DOWNSTREAM FISH PASSAGE BE BUILT AT THE FACILITY TO AID ESA-LISTED CHINOOK, STEELHEAD AND ORCAS. (COE)

Earlier this month, federal fishery overseers issued a new biological opinion that found the Corps of Engineers had to help ESA-listed juvenile Chinook and steelhead get from the 100 miles of spawning and rearing habitat above the project to the waters below there.

That “Reasonable and Prudent Alternative” to collect the young fish would not only improve the viability of both populations but also help out the region’s starving orcas.


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“Because (Puget Sound) Chinook salmon are an essential prey base for Southern Residents … the higher (Puget Sound) Chinook salmon abundance provided by access to the upper watershed would also contribute to the survival and recovery of killer whales,” NOAA’s biop states.

Downstream passage would also build upon Tacoma Water’s existing facilities that can provide a lift for returning adult salmon and steelhead arriving at the utility’s diversion dam 3 miles below the reservoir, as well as link in with fish habitat work being done in the lower, middle and upper reaches of the Central Cascades river that drains into Seattle’s Elliott Bay as the Duwamish.

“Assuming 75% of the annual production upstream from (Howard A. Hanson Dam) would survive passage and be recruited into the adult population were safe and effective downstream passage provided, we estimate that an additional 644 natural origin spawners would return to the Green River from production areas upstream of HAHD. Adding the potential production from the upper Green River to the 1,288 spawners returning from production downstream from HAHD gives a total Green River escapement of 1,932 natural origin spawners returning to the Green River. About 36% of the Chinook salmon returning to the Green River are harvested,” the biop states.

In a press release, the Engineers’ Seattle District Commander Col. Mark Geraldi said that improving fish passage at its project is “a priority” for the federal agency.

“This is a project we’ve been working on. NOAA Fisheries’ BiOp provides us crucial guidance and design criteria to follow as we forge ahead,” Geraldi said.

WITH THE GREEN-DUWAMISH IDENTIFIED AS A KEY SOURCE OF CHINOOK FOR PUGET SOUND ORCAS, PLANS ARE IN THE WORKS TO NOT ONLY INCREASE HATCHERY PRODUCTION BUT PROVIDE ACCESS AROUND A PAIR OF DAMS FOR RETURNING ADULTS TO GET TO THE UPPER WATERSHED AND SPAWN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Essentially, the biop tells the Corps to get back to work on a project they began in the early 2000s after consulting with NOAA, spent tens of millions of dollars drawing up, but then “abandoned its commitment to construct them” as Congressional funding ran out in 2011 and wasn’t reauthorized.

That led to a reopening of consultations and downstream fish passage being left out of the Corps’ 2014 biological assessment for operating the project.

NOAA found that that was likely to harm kings, steelhead and orcas and instead came up with the biop’s RPA and a target of February 2031 for the Corps to have the new facility’s bugs worked out and be operating for that spring’s smolt outmigration.

“We’re optimistic that new fish passage at Howard Hanson Dam, with continued habitat restoration in the more developed lower and middle Green River, will boost fish populations toward recovery,” said Kim Kratz, a NOAA Assistant Regional Administrator, in a press release.

Congress will need to provide the funds for the Corps, which is also spending $112 million trap-and-haul facility at Mud Mountain Dam, in the next major watershed to the south of the upper Green.

North Of Falcon Salmon Season Setting Begins Feb. 27; Meetings Scheduled

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

State fishery managers have scheduled a variety of opportunities for the public to participate in setting salmon fishing seasons for 2019, starting with the annual statewide salmon forecast meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE 2018’S POTENTIAL SALMON FISHERIES TO THE PUBLIC AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will present initial forecasts compiled by state and tribal biologists of the 2019 salmon returns at the meeting scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., Olympia.

That meeting is one of more than a dozen sessions scheduled at various locations around the state as part of this year’s salmon season-setting process. A list of the scheduled meetings can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

State fishery managers rely on input from anglers, commercial fishers, and others interested in salmon as they work to develop this year’s fisheries, said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

“It’s important for us to hear what the public has to say about salmon fisheries,” Warren said. “We’re trying to make that easier this year by making video of some of the major public meetings available online. And we’ll again take public input electronically on our fishery proposals.”

Additionally at the upcoming meetings, fishery managers will discuss steps to protect southern resident orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic and ways to consider the whales’ dietary needs in the fishing season-setting process.


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The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” Warren said. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

In addition to attending meetings, other ways the public can participate include:

  • Plenary session: State and tribal co-managers plan to hold an informal discussion during the public meeting, Wednesday, April 3, in Lynnwood. Details will be available on the webpage listed above. 
  • Meetings on video: The department intends to provide video of several public meetings. More information will be available online soon.

The annual process of setting salmon fishing seasons is called “North of Falcon” and is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The council is responsible for establishing fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2019 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is also expected to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Washington Bass, Walleye, Channel Cats Would Remain Game Fish But With Liberalized Regs Under Bill Amendment

Walleye, bass and channel catfish would not be declassified as game species in Washington, but the Fish and Wildlife Commission would need to liberalize limits on them in all waters where sea-going salmonids swim.

STATE LAWMAKERS RECOMMENDED THAT LIMITS ON LARGEMOUTH BASS, LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT AT A NORTHWEST WASHINGTON LAKE, AS WELL AS SMALLMOUTH BASS, WALLEYE AND CHANNEL CATFISH LIMITS BE LIBERALIZED IN WATERS BEARING SEA-GOING SALMONIDS LIKE CHINOOK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee this morning voted 8-6 to amend HB 1579 to that effect.

The bill mostly deals with enforcement of hydraulic codes, but targets the nonnative smolt eaters as part of its suite of changes meant to help out struggling orcas and their key feedstock.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) said during a public hearing last week.

There already are no size or catch limit restrictions on smallmouth, largemouth, walleye and channel cats in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and Snake and both of their tribs, a move WDFW implemented in 2016 following ODFW’s lead.

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But as written the change would liberalize regulations for the species on Lakes Washington and Sammamish and a host of other stillwaters connected to streams that serve as spawning and rearing habitat for not only Chinook but also coho, sockeye, steelhead, bull trout and other anadromous species.

For instance, Cottage Lake near Woodinville, Big Lake near Mt. Vernon, and Lake Sawyer east of Auburn.

WDFW’s SalmonScape illustrates the scope of other potentially affected waters.

And it also shows ones that may not, at least under the bill as it’s currently written — important spinyray lakes such as Banks, Billy Clapp, Moses, Potholes, Scooteney and Sprague in Eastern Washington, along with Seattle’s Green, Snohomish County’s Goodwin and Roseiger, and Bellingham’s Whatcom.

The state mapping product shows those have not been documented to have salmon present in or above them.

But eventually Rufus Woods and Lake Roosevelt could, if efforts to reintroduce Chinook to the Canadian Columbia go through.

Walleye and smallmouth are primarily in the Columbia system and largemouth are ubiquitous in lakes across Washington, and all can spawn naturally, but channel cats, which tend to only be able to spawn in the warmest of our relatively cool waters, have been planted in select lakes when funding has been available to buy them from other states.

While the issue of how to classify fish that are from the Midwest and elsewhere east of the Rockies is of concern to WDFW and the state’s warmwater anglers and guides, the bill has primarily elicited pushback for the elements strengthening how the agency permits work around water, including repealing all but automatic approvals for residential bulkheads on the saltwater, which can impact forage fish spawning habitat.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Republican from eastern Yakima County, called the bill “an imposition of changes that really apply to Puget Sound.”

Chairman Brian Blake, a Democrat who represents Washington’s South Coast, termed it a “work in progress,” but nonetheless asked fellow lawmakers to move it forward.

All eight Democrats voted for a slate of amendments to the bill, while six of the seven Republicans voted against, with the seventh absent.

The bill also would require anglers who fish for smelt in saltwaters to buy a license, a move that would annually yield an estimated $37,400, according to a legislative analysis.

A version in the Senate, SB 5580, had a public hearing yesterday. It was supported by WDFW and tribal and environmental groups, and opposed by building and business associations, with concerns from the state farm bureau.

To go into law, they would have to pass both chambers and be signed by Governor Inslee, and then, at least as far as bass, walleye, and channel cats go, the Fish and Wildlife Commission would need to make the changes to the regulations, though it could be also be done via an emergency rule.

Editor’s note: An earlier version reported HB 1579 received a do-pass recommendation out of committee. In fact, the vote was whether to amend the bill, which occurred. It remains to be given a recommendation.

WDFW Fish-Hunt Fee Hike, Other Bills Introduced In Olympia

The Olympia Outsider™ almost didn’t file an update this week after — true story — messing up his shoulder really bad while swiping his bus pass on the card reader as he boarded the 41.

The pain!!!!!!!

But duty calls, and so with the muscle relaxants kicking in, here are fish- and wildlife-related bills that Washington lawmakers have introduced this week, as well as a pair three (good grief) that he totally missed from earlier in the session.

Bill: HB 1708 / SB 5692
Title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Fitzgibbon, Springer, Irwin, Chandler, Robinson, Riccelli, Lekanoff, Dye, Jinkins, Tarleton / Sens. Rolfes, McCoy, Takko, Wellman
Note: By request of WDFW
Bill digest: Not available, but this is the agency’s fee increase bill and while it would add 15 percent to the base cost for resident fishing and hunting licenses, by request of the Fish and Wildlife Commission it also includes a cap on how much more you’d end up paying overall. “It’s $7 on any combination of fishing licenses,” says Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison. “No fisherman will pay more than $7 more and hunter more than $15 more.” It pushes the age that kids first have to buy a fishing license from 15 to 16 and gives the commission authority to institute small surcharges after two years “to fund inflationary and other increased costs approved by the legislature in the biennial budget.” That could potentially mean “more frequent but smaller adjustments” to the cost of licenses compared to the effect of this bill, which would increase prices for the first time since 2011.

OO analysis: This is the second fee bill WDFW has floated since 2017 and Crosier is optimistic this one will do better than the last one. “It’s getting a lot more positive reach, at least in Olympia,” she notes, adding that some Republicans have even consponsored it this go-around. Overall, the agency is looking for a $67 million budget bump from lawmakers, with about three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund to make up for cuts from it since the Great Recession that haven’t been fully restored. It will be interesting to watch who testifies and what they say when the bills make it to a public hearing.


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Bill: HB 1784
Title: “Concerning wildfire prevention.”
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Blake
Bill digest: None available but essentially adds “wildfire fuel breaks” to the tools land managers have for preventing catastrophic blow-ups on public ground.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: Can’t say the OO is against taking better care of areas that also function as critter habitat. A recent DNR blog highlighted how tree thinning and preventative burning on WDFW’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area and elsewhere nearby helped keep parts of last summer’s Boyds Fire on the forest floor instead of crowning out as it did elsewhere in burning over 4,000 acres.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Bill: HB 1824
Title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey.”
Sponsors: Reps. Young, Kloba, MacEwen, Vick, Irwin, Chambers, Lovick, Tarleton
Bill digest: None available, but requires WDFW to file a permit with federal overseers “for the maximum lethal take of sea lions in order to enhance the survival or recovery of salmon species protected in Washington,” meaning ESA-listed Chinook which are a key feedstock for starting orcas.
OO analysis: The bill has cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including the woman who represents the Ballard Locks, where Herschell et al et all of Lake Washington’s steelhead — see what I did there? California sea lions are at their habitat’s capacity, and a recent analysis estimated that the marine mammals as well as harbor seals and northern orcas have increased their consumption of Chinook from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970. Between that and decreased hatchery production, there are fewer salmon available for SRKWs, not to mention fishermen. While thanks to recent Congressional action, WDFW is already applying for authorization to take out sea lions on portions of the Columbia and its tribs, this appears to call for a broader permit and without all the bother of RCW 43.21C.030(2)(c), something something something about big reports on environmental impacts something something. (Sorry, the Methocarbosomething something is kicking in pretty nicely.)

Bill: HB 1662 / SB 5696
Title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes.”
Sponsors: Reps. Dent, Springer, Kretz, Blake, Dye, Tharinger, Chandler, Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Fey, Corry, Dufault, Young /  Sens.
Bill digest: None available but according to Crosier it essentially would mirror the way DNR pays counties through the state treasurer, allowing WDFW to more fully compensate counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls as it has purchased farms, ranches and timberlands for wildlife areas. Crosier says it sets “a more consistent methodology and pay rate.”
OO analysis: If your eyes are as glazed over as the OO’s, we don’t blame you because this PILT bill is boring as hell, but could be helpful in restoring peace in counties where WDFW land ownership has caused friction and more critter habitat is needed.

THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN ASOTIN COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Bill: HB 1261 / SB 5322
Title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state.”
Sponsors: Reps. Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Stanford, Tarleton, Ortiz-Self, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Pollet /  Sens. Palumbo, Carlyle, Wellman, Hunt, McCoy, Hasegawa, Kuderer, Nguyen, Saldaña
Bill digest: “Specifies that a discharge to waters of the state from a  motorized or gravity siphon aquatic mining operation is subject to the department of ecology’s authority and the federal clean water act.” Per a press release from Trout Unlimited, which is supporting the bills, the bills would “ban suction dredge mining in Endangered Species Act-designated Critical Habitat for listed salmonids.” Those watersheds include most of Puget Sound; the Cowlitz and other Lower Columbia tribs; Middle and Upper Columbia tribs in Eastern Washington; and Snake River tribs, so, much of the state outside the OlyPen and South Coast river systems.
OO analysis: We’d blame the muscle relaxers for overlooking this pair of bills, but they were actually dropped well before the OO suffered his grievous muscle something something. They’ve been routed to House and Senate environmental committees, where they will have public hearings early next week. Even with mining in my family history, the OO tends to side with fish these days — if the stocks need protection from even catch-and-release angling, they should probably have their habitat protected a little more too.

IMAGES FROM AN INTENT TO SUE NOTICE FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO ILLUSTRATE TWO ORGANIZATIONS’ CLAIMS THAT WASHINGTON’S SUCTION DREDGING REGULATIONS WEREN’T ENOUGH AT THE TIME WHEN IT CAME TO PROTECTING ESA-LISTED FISH SPECIES.

Bill: HB 5597
Title: “Creating a work group on aerial pesticide applications in forestlands.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Saldaña, McCoy, Conway, Hasegawa
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the bill, it would establish a work group comprised of representatives from various state agencies, timber and environmental interests, among others, “to develop recommendations for improving the best management practices for aerial application of pesticides on state and private forestlands.”
OO analysis: Another bill from a couple weeks ago that the OO totally missed (possibly because he was enveloped by a cloud sprayed on the clearcut he reports all this stuff from), but will be an interesting one when it has a public hearing Feb. 7.

AS FOR OTHER BILLS THE OLYMPIA OUTSIDER™ HAS REPORTED ON so far this session, here’s a snapshot of those that have moved one way or another.

HB 1036, South Coast hatchery salmon production — hearing today in House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

HB 1061, Designating razors as the state clam — an open-and-quickly-closed public hearing was held by the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations .

HB 1230, Making more disabled sportsmen eligible for discounted licenses — hearing held and executive session scheduled today by House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

SB 5100, Restarting a pilot hound hunt for cougars in select counties — public hearing held by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks with varying support, opposition and neutralness.

SB 5320, Nonlethal hound training program — hearing held, received widespread support and now scheduled for executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks today. House version set for public hearing later in February.

SB 5404, Fish habitat enhancement projects definitions — hearing scheduled next week in Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

HB 1579 / SB 5580, Chinook habitat protections and declassifying select game fish — public hearing held earlier this week before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources with strong support from fishermen, tribes, others for major portion of bill addressing hydraulic approvals, but with angler concerns about designation drops for walleye, bass, catfish. Senate version set for hearing next week.

HB 1580 / SB 5577 Vessel disturbance and orcas — public hearing before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

SB 5617, banning nontribal gillnets — officially, this bill hasn’t been given a public hearing date since being introduced late last week, but rumor is it will get one before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks in February.

SSB 5148, OKing hunters to wear pink clothing during certain big, small game seasons — hearing held, received good support and was given a do-pass recommendation by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. Now in Senate Rules Committee for a second reading

AND AS FOR THE REST OF THE BILLS WE’RE FOLLOWING but which are awaiting committee assignments before the Feb. 22 deadline, those include:

Writing fishing and hunting rights into the state Constitution by a vote of the people — would be nice to get on the ballot, if only Washingtonians could be trusted to vote the right way

Estimating Northeast Washington whitetails — would be nice to get more refined data on the region’s flagtails

Studying human impacts on streambeds — would be nice to know

Turning Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!) into a wolf sanctuary — would be nice to visit, but bill not going anywhere

Barring WDFW from lethally removing livestock-depredating wolves — ironically, bill was shot and it limped off and died somewhere on Bainbridge

Banning hounds from being used to track down timber-depredating bears — unlikely to get a hearing

And asking Congress to open hunting seasons on sea lions — not going to happen, even if CNN seems ready to go.

Strong Salmon Habitat Bill Would Also Declassify Popular Fish Species

Washington fishermen and others spoke yesterday in Olympia in support of an orca bill that primarily would increase salmon habitat protections, but concern was also expressed over one part that targets popular game fish.

Under House Bill 1579 and similar legislation introduced in the Senate, walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass and channel catfish would be removed from the list of regulated species in Evergreen State waters.

A TRI-CITIES ANGLER HAD A T-SHIRT MADE OF COLUMBIA RIVER WALLEYE AND CHINOOK HE’S CAUGHT AND THAT HAVE APPEARED ON THE COVER OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE. (JERRY HAN)

The idea came out of Governor Jay Inslee’s orca task force last year, and citing the plight of southern resident killer whales and the lack of Chinook as one of the limiting factors for the state’s J, K and L pods, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon called removing limits on the species a “common sense” solution.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” the Burien Democrat said during a public hearing before Rep. Brian Blake’s Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee.

The four nonnative warmwater species and Chinook primarily overlap in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and in much of the Snake, but also occur in other places such as Lake Washington and portions of warmer rivers such as the lower Yakima and Grande Ronde.

No data was referenced during the hearing, which was televised on TVW, but a 2017 paper by federal researchers found Chinook smolts to be the second largest component of the diets of shoreline-running Snake River smallies between April and September from 2013 to 2015. Idaho kings are among important SRKW feedstocks, according to federal and state biologists.

But the removal of bass, walleye and whiskerfish from game fish status worries some anglers, even as they support the rest of the bill.

Ryley Fee of Puget Sound Anglers said that restoring and protecting habitat is the best long-term hope for recovering salmon and that the bill had “big teeth” in that regard.

We must give the state agencies the effective tools and civil-regulated authority to dissuade anyone from illegally damaging the remaining environment that we have,” he said.

However, Fee asked lawmakers to modify the broad-brush declassification of the four species.

For instance, he suggested only removing the game fish designation in habitats where ocean-going salmon occur and “not in lakes where there are valuable recreational fishing opportunities.”

RYLEY FEE OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS SPEAKS BEFORE A STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON A BILL THAT WOULD ADD “BIG TEETH” TO SALMON HABITAT PROTECTIONS BUT WOULD ALSO DECLASSIFY FOUR FISH SPECIES POPULAR WITH ANGLERS. (TVW)

He proposed two options, listing them as “exotic species” in select watersheds to make the regs more clear, or retaining the game fish designation but liberalizing the bag limits where need be.

Currently in the Columbia and its tributaries below Chief Joe there are no minimum size or daily limits on walleye, bass or catfish, but elsewhere the species generally fall under statewide rules with certain size and bag restrictions.

The bill comes as walleye are increasingly popular to fish for in the big river, with anglers flocking from as far away as the species’ Upper Midwest home waters to try and land the next world record, while local fishermen hope to best John Grubenhoff’s 20-pounder.

And bugeyes, as they’re also known, were among the hits at last weekend’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup.

After the hearing, WDFW legislative liaison Raquel Crosier said that the agency was working on tweaks to the game fish designations.

“We want to make sure anglers are a part of the solution, so we are working with the sponsor to see if we can amend that section of the bill to liberalize bag limits without removing those species from the game fish list,” Crosier said. “Hearing lots of concerns from bass anglers and want to see those concerns addressed. The sponsor is eager to work on addressing these concerns.”

As for the rest of the bill, agency assistant director Jeff Davis expressed support, calling it “really darn important” for protecting SRKWs, salmon recovery investments and comanaged fisheries.

HB 1579 primarily addresses state hydraulic codes and enforcement and among those also speaking in favor were representatives from two tribal organizations and Jacques White of Long Live The Kings.

A SUMMARY OF HB 1579 BY NONPARTISAN LEGISLATIVE STAFF LAYS OUT THE CURRENT BILL’S IMPACTS ON GAME FISH SPECIES AND HYDRAULIC CODE ENFORCEMENT. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

White spoke to how armoring of Puget Sound’s shorelines has affected forage fish spawning areas and that 50 percent fewer Chinook smolts make it out of the inland sea than they once did.

It turns out that the forage fish are a critical element in the health of those juvenile Chinook,” he told lawmakers. “Juvenile Chinook populations 10 or 15 years ago relied heavily on herring in their diet and now they’re relying on crab larvae. Now, I like crab larvae better than I like herring, but apparently our salmon really want to see herring in the water column and in their diet.”

He said forage fish like herring also represent an alternate food source for harbor seals that are otherwise having to prey on Chinook.

“So this bill, I think, is a critical step in us protecting this important habitat,” he said.

However, a representative from the Association of Washington Businesses expressed concerns about the bill’s Hydraulic Project Approval provisions, while another from the Farm Bureau reminded lawmakers that it would affect operations across the state, not just in Puget Sound, and a third from the building industry association was opposed because it impacts how streamlined the process for putting in bulkheads currently is.

Nontribal Gill Net Phaseout Bill Introduced In Washington Legislature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oly Update II: Gill Net Ban, Bainbridge Wolf Preserve Bills Introduced

Just a brief update from the Olympia Outsider™ as the second week of Washington’s legislative session comes to a close.

Lawmakers continue to introduce fish- and wildlife-related bills, and several of note were dropped this week, some more serious than others.

A TONGUE IN CHEEK BILL INTRODUCED IN OLYMPIA THIS WEEK WOULD ESSENTIALLY DECLARE BAINBRIDGE ISLAND A WOLF PRESERVE. IT’S REP. JOEL KRETZ’S RESPONSE TO A LOCAL LEGISLATOR’S BILL THAT WOULD BAR WDFW FROM LETHALLY REMOVING DEPREDATING WOLVES IN HIS DISTRICT. NEITHER ARE LIKELY TO PASS. (THE INTERWEBS)

With our rundown last Friday starting with House bills, this week we’ll lead off with new ones in the Senate:

Bill: SB 5617
Title: “Banning the use of nontribal gill nets.”
Sponsors: Sens. Salomon, Braun, Van De Wege, Rolfes, Wilson, L., Rivers, Fortunato, Palumbo, Keiser, Das, Frockt, Randall, Warnick, Hunt, Honeyford, Brown, Cleveland, Saldaña, Nguyen, Darneille, Conway, Pedersen, Wilson, C., and Liias
Bill digest: Not available as the bill was just introduced this morning, but parsing through the text, which cites declining wild salmon runs, the importance of Chinook to orcas and reforms on the Columbia, it would phase out gillnets “in favor of mark selective harvest techniques that are capable of the unharmed release of wild and endangered salmon while selectively harvesting hatchery-reared salmon.” It would not affect tribes’ ability to net salmon.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: First thing that jumps out about this bill is the massive number of cosponsors, 24 — nearly half of the Senate on board from the get-go. The second is its bipartisan support — 17 Democrats, seven Republicans. The lead sponsor is the recently elected Sen. Jesse Salomon of Shoreline, who defeated commercial fishing supporter Maralynn Chase last fall. It’s highly likely that the bill will make it through its first committee too, which is chaired by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, one of the cosponsors. It also comes with some apparent backsliding led by Oregon interests on efforts to get gillnets out of the shared Columbia.

Bill: SB 8204
Title: “Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to fish, hunt, and otherwise harvest wildlife.”
Sponsors: Sens. Braun, Fortunato, Takko, Wagoner, and Wilson, L.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but if passed would put the above up for a vote at the next general election.
OO analysis: The nut of this bill has been around for a few years, but here’s hoping it gets more traction this legislative session than 2017’s!

Bill: SB 5404
Title: “Expanding the definition of fish habitat enhancement projects.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Honeyford, Van De Wege, McCoy, Salomon, Hasegawa
Bill digest: None available, but essentially adds projects restoring “native kelp and eelgrass beds and restoring native oysters” to those that could be permitted to enhance fish habitat.
OO analysis: A recall watching shimmering schools of baitfish off a pier in Port Townsend that had signs talking about the importance of eelgrass to salmon and other key species, such as herring. With so many acres of beds lost over the decades, this seems like a good idea.

Bill: SB 5525
Title: “Concerning whitetail deer population estimates.”
Sponsor: Sen. Shelly Short
Bill digest: None available, but directs WDFW to annually count whitetail bucks, does and fawns on certain transects in Northeast Washington with the ultimate goal of increasing deer numbers to 9 to 11 per mile.
OO analysis: State wildlife biologists already drive roads here in late summer to estimate buck:doe ratios, but we’re not going to argue with getting more deer in the woods!

Bill: HB 1404
Title: “Concerning a comprehensive study of human-caused impacts to streambeds.”
Sponsor: Rep. Blake
Bill digest:  Unavailable, but directs WDFW, DNR and DOE to review scientific literature for the effects that mining, running jet sleds and operating diversion dams, among other impacts, have on fish, gravel and water quality, with the report due next year.
OO analysis: Could be interesting to read that report.

Bill: HB 1516
Title: “Establishing a department of fish and wildlife directed nonlethal program for the purpose of training dogs.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Dent, Chapman, Kretz, Walsh, Lekanoff, Orcutt, Springer, Pettigrew, Hoff, Shea
Bill digest: Unavailable, but essentially a companion bill to the Senate’s SB 5320, which yesterday had a public hearing and enjoyed widespread support from hunting, ranching, farming and conservation interests — even HSUS. It would create a program for training dogs for nonlethal pursuit of predators by vetted houndsmen to protect stock and public safety.
OO analysis: To quote the chair at Thursday’s hearing on the Senate side bill, “We love when there is widespread agreement.”

Bill: HB 1579 / SB 5580
Title: “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing chinook abundance.”
Sponsors: Reps. Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Stonier, Tharinger, Stanford, Jinkins, Robinson and Pollet; Sens. Rolfes, Palumbo, Frockt, Dhingra, Keiser, Kuderer, and Saldaña.
Note: By request of Office of the Governor
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee the bills “would increase habitat for Chinook salmon and other forage fish” through hydraulic permitting.
OO analysis: Good to see some teeth when it comes to overseeing projects done around water. Of note, this bill would also essentially reclassify some toothsome Chinook cohabitants, scrubbing smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and walleye from the list of officially approved state “game fish,” a precursor to slashing limits?

Bill: HB 1580 / SB 5577
Title: “Concerning the protection of southern resident orca whales from vessels.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Kretz, Kirby, Peterson, Appleton, Shewmake, Morris, Cody, Jinkins; Sens. Rolfes, Frockt, Liias, McCoy, Dhingra, Hunt, Keiser, Kuderer, Saldaña, Wilson, C.
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the Governor’s Office, “would protect Southern Resident orcas from vessel noise and disturbance. The bills would require vessels to stay at least 400 yards away from Southern Resident orcas and report vessels they witness in violation of the limit. It would also require vessels to travel under seven knots within one-half nautical mile of the whales. The legislation would create no-go and go-slow zones around the whales to protect them.
OO analysis: With vessel disturbance one of three key factors in why Puget Sound’s orcas are struggling, this bill follows on recommendations from Inslee’s orca task force. Having companion bills makes passage more likely.

Bill: HB 1639
Title: “Ensuring that all Washingtonians share in the benefits of an expanding wolf population.”
Sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz
Bill digest: Unavailable at this writing, but essentially declares Bainbridge Island a wolf preserve and would translocate most of the state’s wolves there so “they can be protected, studied, and, most importantly, admired by the region’s animal lovers,” as well as sets new limits for considering when to lethally remove depredating wolves, including after four confirmed attacks on dogs, four on domestic cats or two on children.
OO analysis: Rep. Kretz is known for dropping some amusing wolf-related bills in the legislature, often at the expense of lawmakers who live on islands, and this latest one needles Bainbridge’s Rep. Sherry Appleton, whose HB 1045 would bar WDFW from killing livestock-attacking wolves to try and stave off further depredations in Kretz’s district and elsewhere in Washington. Neither bill is likely to pass, but the text of HB 1639 is a hoot.

Former WDFW Director, NWIFC’s Chair Take Aim At SeaTimes Salmon-Orca Column

You know you’ve done something bad when Phil Anderson has to get involved.

Phil, in case you haven’t heard of him, is the retired director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and currently chairs the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

PHIL ANDERSON. (WDFW)

One day several years ago now when he was still WDFW’s chief head honcho I got an unexpected call from Mr. Anderson about an agency budget blog I’d inadvisedly written. Very shortly thereafter we agreed to a mutually beneficial solution; I’d spike my misinformed post.

This week it’s The Seattle Times that Phil’s reaching out to.

He and Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, have published an opinion piece in response to that column earlier this month entitled “In the great debate to save the orcas, the apex predator is missing.”

In it, author Danny Westneat and his primary source Kurt Beardlee of the Wild Fish Conservancy essentially argue that salmon fishing should be shut down to provide as many Chinook salmon to starving southern resident killer whales

“It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost. Bigger than anything else we could do short term,” Beardslee told Westneat.

Lack of Chinook is a key reason our orcas are struggling, but it’s not as simple as that black-and-white take on how to help the “blackfish.”

Respond Anderson and Loomis: “If recovering chinook salmon were as easy as drastically cutting or eliminating fisheries, we would have achieved our goal a long time ago.”

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST APRIL ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They point out that “at great cost,” state and tribal fisheries have already been cut as much as 90 percent and that shutting down fishing would “at best result in a 1 percent increase of chinook salmon available for southern resident killer whales.”

Loomis and Anderson point to a better approach than Beardslee’s kill-the-goose-laying-the-golden-eggs manifesto — cooperation across all sectors via the newly formed “Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition.”

“There are no more easy answers,” they write. “We are left with the hard work of restoring disappearing salmon habitat, enhancement of hatchery production, and addressing out-of-control seal and sea lion populations.”

If you’re a cheapskate like myself, you only get so many views of Fairview Fannie pieces a month, but Anderson and Loomis’s response is worth burning one on.

And then check out what Puget Sound Angler’s Ron Garner posted on his Facebook page about this as well.

They’re both highly educational as we fight to save orcas, Chinook and fishing.

(For extra credit, I also took on that column here.)

Stopping Salmon Fishing Won’t Save Puget Sound’s Orcas

The idea that we can save Puget Sound’s starving orcas by just stopping salmon fishing for a few years once again reared its misinformed head, this time in a big-city newspaper piece.

In a black-or-white summary of a very complex problem, the nut was that we humans were shamefully avoiding looking at our own consumption of the iconic marine mammal’s primary feedstock.

SALMON ANGLERS WORK POSSESSION BAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF THE CENTRAL PUGET SOUND HATCHERY CHINOOK FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Leaving that aspect out of the state of Washington’s recovery plan meant that, “We have decided, collectively though passively, to let the Puget Sound orcas go extinct,” it lamented.

We haven’t really, but nonetheless the prominence of the piece left leaders of the region’s angling community disappointed, as well as worried that it could lead to “knee-jerk” responses as Washington responds to the crisis.

And one has also asked the author to take another look at the issue with more informed sources to balance out the very biased one it primarily quoted.

THE ARTICLE IN QUESTION WAS a column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times last weekend in which he quoted Kurt Beardslee at the Wild Fish Conservancy.

“To cut back on fishing is an absolute no brainer, as a way to immediately boost food available for killer whale,” Beardslee told Westneat. “But harvest reductions are essentially not in the governor’s task force recommendations. We have a patient that is starving to death, and we’re ignoring the one thing that could help feed the patient right now. We’re flat out choosing not to do it.”

Columns are columns, meaning they’re not necessarily like a he said-she said straight news story, but what wasn’t mentioned at all was Beardslee’s complicity in the orca crisis.

So I’m going to try to shed a little more light on that and other things here.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS LAST SUMMER. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

AS IT TURNS OUT, WE HAVE BEEN cutting back on Chinook fishing.

Have been for years.

Ninety percent — 9-0 — alone in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, key foraging areas for the southern residents, over the past 25 years.

And yet so far J, K and L Pods appear to have shown no response.

In fact, they have unfortunately declined from nearly 100 members in the mid-1990s to 74 as of late 2018.

All while West Coast and Salish Chinook available to them actually saw nominal increases as a whole, according to state and federal estimates.

So I’m not sure what Beardlee expects to magically happen when he tells Westneat, “It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost.”

I mean, how is the 10 percent sliver that’s left going to help if the closure of the other 90 percent coincided with the cumulative loss of 25 percent of the orca population over the same period?

Don’t get me wrong, fishermen want to help too. Some of the most poignant stories I’ve heard in all this are angler-orca interactions.

But it’s not as cut-and-dried as not harvesting the salmon translating into us effectively putting some giant protein shake out in the saltchuck for SRKWs to snarf down.

“Each year the sport, commercial and tribal fishing industries catch about 1.5 million to 2 million chinook in U.S. and Canadian waters, most of which swim through the home waters of the southern resident orcas,” Westneat writes. “The three pods in question … are estimated to need collectively on the order of 350,000 chinook per year.”

Fair enough that 350,000 represents their collective dietary needs.

But not only do the SRKWs already have access to those 1.5 million to 2 million Chinook, the waters where they’re primarily harvested as adults by the bulk of fishermen are essentially beyond the whales’ normal range.

For instance, the Columbia River up to and beyond the Hanford Reach, and in terminal zones of Puget Sound and up in Southeast Alaska.

Pat Patillo is a retired longtime state fisheries manager who is now a sportfishing advocate, and he tells me, “If not caught, those fish would not serve as food for SRKWs — they wouldn’t turn around from the Columbia River, for example, and return to the ocean for SRKW consumption!”

“They already swam through the orcas’ home waters and they didn’t eat them,” he said.

WHILE BEARDSLEE IS TRYING TO COME OFF as some sort of orca angel  — “It’s like if you’re having a heart attack, your doctor doesn’t say: ‘You need to go running to get your heart in better shape.’ Your doctor gives you emergency aid right away,” he tells Westneat — he’s more like an angel of death trying to use SRKWs as  latest avenue to kill fishing.

Type the words “Wild Fish Conservancy” into a Google search and the second result in the dropdown will be “Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit.”

WFC is threatening yet another, this one over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversight of West Coast salmon fisheries through the lens of the plight of orcas.

It’s not their usual target, which is hatchery production.

Hatchery production, which is the whales’ best short- and medium-term hope.

After WFC sued WDFW over steelhead, a state senator hauled them before his committee in 2015 and pointedly asked their representative at the hearing, “Are there any hatcheries you do support in the state?”

“There are several that have closed over time,” replied WFC’s science advisor Jamie Glasgow. “Those would be ones that we support.”

That sort of thinking is not going to work out for hungry orcas, given one estimate that it will take 90 years for Chinook recovery goals to be met at the current pace of restoration work in estuaries.

And it leaves no place for efforts like those by the Nisqually Tribe to increase the size of those produced by their hatchery to provide fatter fare for SKRWs.

I’m going to offer a few stark figures here.

The first is 275 million. That’s how many salmon of all stocks that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produced at its hatcheries in 1989, according to The Lens.

The second is 137 million. That’s how many WDFW put out in 2017, the “lowest production year ever,” per the pro-biz online news source.

The third is 56 million. That’s how many Chinook smolts the agency released in 1989, according to figures from the state legislature.

And the fourth is 28 million. That’s how many were in 2016.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that 50 percent decreases in releases are due entirely to Beardslee et al — hatchery salmon reforms and state budget crunches play the strongest roles.

Nor am I going to suggest that they’re the sole reason that our orcas are struggling — pollutants and vessel disturbance have been also identified as affecting their health and ability to forage.

But with SRKWs dying from lack of Chinook to eat and Puget Sound’s wild kings — which are largely required to be released by anglers — comprising just a sixth to a twelfth of the Whulge’s run in recent years, surely the man must now have some qualms about his and similar groups’ anti-hatchery jihad, including against key facilities for SRKWs on the Columbia?

A FAR BIGGER PROBLEM THAN FISHERMEN for SRKWs is pinnipeds eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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

Bloated numbers of harbor seals were recently estimated to annually eat an estimated 12.2 million Chinook smolts migrating out of Puget Sound, roughly 25 percent of the basin’s hatchery and wild output, which in the world of fisheries-meets-math science, translates to 100,000 adult kings that aren’t otherwise available to the orcas.

Unfortunately, managing those cute little “water puppies” is realistically way down the pipeline, at least compared to recent lightning-fast moves (relatively speaking) in Washington, DC, that finally gave state and tribal managers the authority to annually remove for five years as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries.

By the way, guess who fought against lethally removing sea lions gathered to feast on salmon at Bonneville?

Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy.

“Given the clamor surrounding sea lions,”they argued in defense of a 2011 federal lawsuit to halt lethal removals at the dam, “you might guess that sea lions are the most significant source of returning salmon mortality that managers can address. Guess again. The percentage of returning upper Columbia River spring Chinook salmon consumed by California sea lions since 2002, when CSL were first documented at Bonneville Dam, averages only 2.1% each year.”

Three years later, sea lions ate 43 percent of the entire ESA-listed run — 104,333 returning springers.

Whoops.

Those fish were recently identified as among the top 15 most important king stocks for SRKWs.

Double whoops.

WHILE LARGE NUMBERS OF SEA LION PUPS ARE STARVING ELSEWHERE ON THE WEST COAST, MANY ADULTS PACKED INTO THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE SMELT RUN LAST MONTH. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW)

So to bring some of the above sections together, as CSL, Steller sea lion, harbor seal and even northern resident killer whale consumption of Chinook in the northeast Pacific has risen from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970 and hatchery production has halved, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

We aren’t the problem.

No wonder that sportfishing rep told me, “We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing” for this blog and which Westneat included in his column (I do appreciate the link).

SO INSTEAD OF SHUTTING DOWN FISHING, what could and should we do to help orcas out in the near-term?

I think the governor’s task force came up with a good idea on the no-go/go-slow boating bubble around the pods. That protects them where they’re eating, and it doesn’t needlessly close areas where they’re not foraging for fish that won’t be there when they do eventually show up.

(GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

While I’ll be following the advice Lorraine Loomis at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission gave after similar sentiments came up last fall — “If you love salmon, eat it” — anglers can take voluntary measures themselves. Even if it’s probably already past the gauntlet of orca jaws, if it makes you feel better to do so, go ahead and release that saltwater king you catch this summer, like Seattle angler Web Hutchins emailed me to say he’s vowing to do.

Switch your fishfinder frequency from 50 kHz to the less acoustically disturbing 200 kHz for killer whales if they happen to show up in your trolling lane.

Pay attention to fish counts and if a hatchery is having trouble meeting broodstock goals, maybe fish another river or terminal zone, or species.

Follow Orca Network on Facebook for where the pods are so you can avoid them.

I also think Beardslee and WFC could, say, lay off their low-hanging-fruit lawsuit schtick (lol, fat chance of that) to give (furloughed) federal overseers time to process permits that ensure hatcheries and fisheries are run properly, instead of having to drop their work and put out the latest brushfire they’ve lit.

And I think boosting hatchery Chinook production is huge, and all the more important because of the excruciatingly slow pace that habitat restoration (which I’m always in favor of) produces results.

Yes, it will take a couple years for increased releases to take effect.

But the ugly truth we’re learning here is, we cannot utterly alter and degrade salmon habitat like we have with our megalopolis/industrial farmscape/power generation complex that stretches everywhere from here to Banff to the Snake River Plain to the Willamette Valley and back again and realistically expect to turn this ship by just pressing the Stop Fishing button and have orcas magically respond.

That’s not the answer.

In this great effort to save orcas, we the apex predator have in fact been forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, at what we’ve wrought, and it is ugly.

We have made a monumental mess of this place and hurt a species we never meant to nor deserved to be.

So we’re setting this right.

It is going to take time. We are going to lose more SRKWs. But we will save them, and ourselves.

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