Tag Archives: orcas

Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes ‘Unprecedented’ $1.1B For Orcas, Salmon

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is touting an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his just-released 2019-21 budget proposal.

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

It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts to increase returns by 186,000 fish, potentially a key bridge for starving orcas — and fishermen — as habitat work comes on line in the coming years and decades.

“Salmon hatcheries can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Resident orcas in the near term,” the next three to 10 years, a statement from Inslee’s office on Medium states.

Besides increasing SRKWs’ prey base, the governor’s multipronged approach includes a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, opening up more salmon habitat as well as to abide by this year’s Supreme Court decision to let a lower court’s ruling on fixing culverts to stand.

There’s a much-needed $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries, $17.8 million to incentivize voluntary habitat work by landowners and $4.7 million to “collect additional population information and develop management options for pinnipeds in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River.”

This week, Congress sent President Trump a bill that helps on the latter waterway, giving states and tribes more leeway to remove sea lions in parts of the big river and its tribs.

Another line mentions reducing salmonid predation by nonnative fish.

The budget also calls on DOE to allow more spill at dams in the Columbia Basin to aid outmigrating Chinook and other smolts.

“Increased spill will speed travel of smolts out to the ocean and help cool the water,” the governor’s Medium page story states.

Inslee’s also calling for go-slow zones around J, K and L Pods and a three-year moratorium on watching those particular whales.

Those and many of the other proposals unveiled today came out of the SRKW Task Force that the governor formed last March in response to decreasing numbers of southern residents. Since 1996’s high point, their population has dropped 24 percent to 74 animals, with several recent high-profile deaths spurring things on.

Of course there’s far, far more to Inslee’s proposed budget, including proposed fishing and hunting license fee increases.

And it all must first be passed or modified by state lawmakers during next year’s session.

But today’s rollout was a start to a better focus on the health of salmon runs, orcas and our fisheries and waters.

DFO Proposes New Orca Critical Habitat Areas

Editor’s note: This blog has been updated from an earlier version that was in places unintentionally overbroad, causing concerns outside of the new proposed southern resident killer whale critical habitat areas, and has been sharpened to reflect that. 

Canadian fishery overseers want to designate large areas around southern Vancouver Island as critical habitat for orcas, and that’s leaving some in salmon ports on the island’s south side worried.

This week’s proposal for SRKWs includes the fishy Swiftsure and La Pérouse Banks off the island’s west side and Washington’s Neah Bay, as well as most of the BC side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands.

(DFO)

Earlier this year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed salmon fishing seasonally on the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, Gulf Islands and at the mouth of Fraser, three key SRKW foraging areas, to “help increase the availability of this critical food source,” Chinook.

That hurt the summer fishing season. In Sooke, a famed salmon port on the south side of Vancouver Island, a local lodge owner and president of a tourism bureau said that business was off 80 percent.

Now the worry is that the new critical habitat areas will lead to much larger angling closures.

According to DFO spokesman Dan Bate it is not as cut and dried.

“Under the Species at Risk Act, activities themselves within critical habitat are not prohibited — it is the destruction of critical habitat that is prohibited,” he said via email.

Disturbance from boat traffic, the build up of pollutants and low numbers of Chinook salmon have been identified as major reasons why SRKWs are struggling in recent years.

After the new habitat designations were proposed, a consortium of 17 southern Vancouver Island chambers of commerce issued a statement, cautioning DFO “to carefully weigh potential management measures that could harm their coastal communities, destroy thousands of business and jobs, and impact tourism revenue across Vancouver Island.”

Bate said his agency works with sportfishing and other industries to meet SARA goals while minimizing its impact on stakeholders.

“All efforts will be made to minimize the economic impact of any reductions on coastal communities, and to work with implicated sectors to ensure their activities do not result in critical habitat destruction,” he said.

What it all might mean for next year’s Chinook seasons will be part of upcoming discussions with Indigenous groups and fishermen, Bate said.

Stay tuned.

Plan To Boost Duwamish Fall Chinook Production By 2 Million Going Out For Comment

Federal fishery overseers are laying out how much orcas and fishermen would benefit under a proposal to boost hatchery Chinook production in the Green-Duwamish River by 2 million smolts.

FEDERAL OVERSEERS WILL CONSIDER A PLAN TO BOOST PRODUCTION OF DUWAMISH-GREEN FALL CHINOOK BY 2 MILLION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

According to a NOAA draft supplemental environmental statement that will soon go out for public comment, the increase would provide an additional 8,750 adult salmon for the starving Washington whales to snack on, recreational and tribal fishermen to catch, and for broodstock purposes.

That and other hatchery salmon and steelhead programs already approved for the King County river system “would have a moderate positive effect on the diet, survival, distribution, and listing status of Southern Resident killer whales,” the DEIS states.

It’s the second time this particular set of Chinook, coho, chum and winter- and summer-run steelhead programs is being scrutinized in recent years.

Earlier, four alternatives proposed by WDFW and two local tribes were analyzed, but with this year’s major focus on ailing orcas, it was resubmitted with an “Alternative 5.”

Green-Duwamish Chinook were identified as among the most important current feedstocks for orcas.

NOAA’s new DEIS says the additional smolts would yield nearly 3,300 more sport fishing trips and around $580,000 in expenditures, mostly in the region the agency is calling the South Puget Sound subregion, but also in the North Sound and Straits.

And it would yield around 2,300 more Chinook for mostly local tribal fishermen.

The extra salmon would be reared at WDFW’s Soos Creek Hatchery and released upstream at Palmer Ponds.

“Alternative 5 would not affect the overall trend in cumulative effects on salmon and steelhead, although it may increase the adverse cumulative effect on the genetics of natural-origin fall-run Chinook salmon. However, this cumulative impact would not substantially add to the cumulative impacts compared to the other alternatives because the increase in production would represent a small component of the total abundance of fall-run Chinook salmon in the cumulative effects analysis area,” the DEIS states.

Overall hatchery Chinook production  in the watershed would be 6.2 million smolts.

The comment period begins Dec. 7 and runs for 45 days through Jan. 22. You can send your thoughts three ways:

Email:
GreenHatcheriesEIS.wcr@noaa.gov

Mail:
Allyson Purcell, Comment Coordinator
NMFS, West Coast Region
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1201 Northeast Lloyd Boulevard, Suite 1100
Portland, OR 97232

Fax:
(503) 231-6893

WDFW Director Looks For Public Budget Support, Assures Sportsmen He’s ‘Adding To, Not Changing Our Base’

WDFW’s new director Kelly Susewind fielded more than three dozen questions about salmon, hatcheries, sea lions, orcas, wolves, increasing fishing and hunting opportunities, and more during an hour-and-a-half-long webinar last night.

The “digital open house” provided a glimpse into Susewind’s priorities and goals as the head of the agency overseeing fish and wildlife management in the state, how he hopes to patch glaring budget holes, and lead WDFW into the future.

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND (LEFT) TOOK QUESTIONS DURING A ONE-HOUR, 37-MINUTE WEBINAR ON THE AGENCY AND ITS FUTURE. MOST WERE SUBMITTED BY THE PUBLIC AND READ BY AGENCY POLICY DIRECTOR NATE PAMPLIN. (WDFW)

And in seeking to get the wider public on board with his agency’s mission, he assured its most loyal customers they weren’t being abandoned for greener pastures.

With a $67 million budget boost proposed this coming legislative session — 75 percent from the General Fund, 25 percent from a license fee hike — it was part of an outreach effort to build across-the-board support for the agency’s myriad and sometimes seemingly at-odds objectives.

Susewind himself has already hosted five open houses in Spokane, Ephrata, Selah, Montesano and Ridgefield, with a sixth scheduled for Issaquah next month, but Wednesday’s webinar allowed him to take the message statewide and beyond.

“We need to become known, trusted and valued by 6 million people,” he said, speaking to the number of Washington residents who are not already intimately or closely familiar with WDFW, people who aren’t sportsmen, hikers, bikers or other recreationalists.

“I pause there for a second,” he added, “because as I’ve told people that that’s where I really want to head, some of our traditional users have expressed concern and are fearful that I’m stepping away from our traditional core users — the outdoor enthusiasts, the hunters, fishers — and that’s not the case at all. I want to reassure folks that I’m talking about adding to our base, not changing our base.”

Joining him was WDFW Policy Director Nate Pamplin who read off questions as they came in.

Most did sound like they were coming from the agency’s regular customers — hunters, anglers, commercial fishermen — or those who watch its moves very closely, and in general they followed the hot-button issues of the day.

Many grouped around salmon — producing more of them for fishing and orcas; dealing with sea lions eating too many; improving wild runs; gillnets; North of Falcon transparency.

With the lack of Chinook identified as a key reason southern resident killer whales are starving in Washington waters, several questions focused around what can be done to increase fish numbers, which would also benefit angling.

Susewind said that a new hatchery is being mulled for the Deschutes system near Olympia, with production boosts elsewhere.

“I don’t think we can recover salmon or maintain salmon over the long term without intelligent use of hatcheries, and I think that means higher production levels than we are at now,” he said.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns.

As he’s quickly added in the past, Susewind said that doesn’t mean going back to the Johnny Appleseed days of indiscriminately releasing them everywhere.

Early next month the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will be briefed on “what is possible towards a time frame of implementing the increase of approximately 50 million additional smolts at hatchery facilities.”

Boosting production will require a “substantial investment,” Pamplin noted, adding that the 2019 budget request into Governor Jay Inslee includes a “pretty assertive ask” towards that.

And it would also come with a responsibility to not damage wild returns.

(WDFW)

Responding to “somewhat of a loaded question” about his thoughts on getting nonselective gillnets out of the water, Susewind said, “I’ll get out on a limb here: I think there’s a place for gillnets. Right now, as we increase production to feed killer whales, as we increase production to provide opportunities, we need a good way of making sure those fish don’t end up on the spawning grounds, and gillnets are one of the ways to manage that.”

Asked if using a stenographer to increase transparency during the state-tribal North of Falcon salmon season meetings was possible, Susewind said all kinds of ideas — Facebook feed, better social media presence — are being considered.

“We recognize it’s not a satisfying process in terms of transparency,” he said.

In supporting being able to manage federally protected pinnipeds on both the Columbia and Puget Sound, Susewind said that data is showing that there’s a real problem in that the millions of dollars being spent on salmon recovery are essentially being spent on feeding sea lions.

He talked about some of the other problems the agency has, saying that it needed to improve its communications with the public, and with a personal aside he acknowledged how hard it is to decipher the regulations pamphlets.

While pointing out the complexity of the regs is actually a function of WDFW trying to eke as much opportunity as possible out of what’s available, Susewind said he was befuddled when he picked up the fishing rules for the first time in a long time.

“I found it was too difficult to go through to quickly go out fishing. You have to want to go and do it in advance, and I think we can improve on it,” he said.

Earlier this year WDFW did roll out a mobile app and it sounds like more may be coming.

Asked how he planned to increase hunting and fishing opportunities to keep the sports viable, Susewind emphasized the importance of habitat. As for better access, he called the Farm Bill a “great onramp,” with provisions especially helpful in Eastern Washington, and pointed to a key recent deal with Green Diamond that led to a drift boat put-in on the upper Wynoochee.

Asked why, if killing wolves leads to more livestock depredations, WDFW lethally removes pack members, Susewind said that in his on-the-job research he’s found that the science wasn’t as clear as that, actually.

He said that pragmatically it does reduce short-term depredations and felt that it changes pack behavior in the long run.

In response to another question on the wild canids, he said that WDFW was going to recover wolves in Washington using the 2011 management plan and in a way that was compatible with traditional land uses.

A couple ideas from the online audience perked up Susewind’s and Pamplin’s ears for further investigation — an annual halibut limit instead of set fishing days, a family hunting license package.

Questions so specific as to stump both honchoes — what’s being done to improve fish habitat on the Snoqualmie River, for example —  saw them advise that those be emailed in so they could be routed to the right field staffer or — as with the above case — the member attend the upcoming meeting at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery so biologist Jenni Whitney could answer it.

Asked if one day Washington hunters might be able to hunt cougars with hounds, which was outlawed by a citizen initiative, Susewind essentially said he doubted it, but noted that the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will be holding a work session on the wild cats next week.

He fielded questions on increasing youth involvement; where to find information on preventing bear and wolf conflicts; global warming; what’s being done to prevent whale watching boats from pursuing orcas; if recreational crabbing could begin at the same time tribal seasons did; his thoughts on hoof disease in elk and fish farming; and his favorite places to fish and hunt (the Humptulips and Westport growing up, and brushy, wet Western Washington, though “there’s something to be said about the Methow too.”)

PAMPLIN POSES A QUESTION TO SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

Pamplin took an opportunity to pitch a softball, asking a “myth busting” question whether license fees go to WDFW or the General Fund.

“It is a myth that hunting and fishing license fees go into the General Fund to build whatever –roads … They are specific to the agency and specific to hunting and fishing opportunities,” Susewind replied.

Part of the agency’s 2019 budget request is a 15 percent increase on licenses.

Susewind explained that the Great Recession of 10 years ago led to big cuts from the General Fund and that WDFW’s “heavy reliance” on user fees hasn’t kept pace with rising costs.

“We need to get a dedicated fund,” he said.

But in the meanwhile, WDFW needs more from the General Fund, Susewind added.

As the webinar wound to a close, one of the final questions — perhaps from a late-arriving member of the public — was, what were his top priorities as director.

With not even four months on the job, and the legislative session, budget and North of Falcon looming, just getting up to speed on everything was Susewind’s first reply.

But he said his single top priority was to “make us more relevant to the broader population.”

“We need to get a lot more people enthused and engaged and supporting the mission of the agency,” Susewind said. “The other 6 million people need to know that natural resources don’t just come naturally; it takes a lot of work to preserve and enhance natural resources, and that’s going to take all of us.”

Even as Washington sportsmen will step up and buy licenses next year, and the year after, and the one after that — grudgingly and otherwise, regardless of whether a fee hike passes — Susewind said another of his priorities is for the public to see that WDFW is managed well.

“They need to know we are efficient in how we operate and we are a good investment,” he said.

Susewind and crew have a big job ahead of them that will require more than a half-dozen open houses and the internet, but it’s a start.

Sport Fishing Reaction To Final Orca Recommendations Sent To Gov

Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force has transmitted its recommendations for how to help out the state’s struggling orcas to Governor Inslee, and members of the sportfishing community are reacting to the final package.

WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SPEAKS BEFORE SIGNING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ORCAS AND CHINOOK EARLIER THIS YEAR. THE ORDER CREATED THE SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE TASK FORCE THAT TODAY DELIVERED ITS FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS. (TVW)

An executive summary says the 148-page report provides an outline for meeting four key goals:

  • Increasing the abundance of Chinook, the key forage for the starving whales;
  • Decreasing disturbance from vessels with the affect of boosting their access to salmon;
  • Reducing contaminants in the environment;
  • And measures of accountability.

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

It aims to increase the population of J, K and L Pods by 10 in 10 years, reversing the decrease seen since 1996. There are now only 74 orcas after this year saw the high-profile deaths of a just-born calf and a young animal as well as a third.

“I will review these recommendations over the coming weeks, and my staff and I will assess each one for the most impact in the short and long-term. I will roll out my budget and policy priorities in mid-December for consideration during the 2019 Legislative Session,” Gov. Inslee tweeted.

Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers, George Harris of the Northwest Marine Trade Association and Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charters were among the dozens of task force members who signed on as supporting the entire package, while a whale watching world representative was the only no vote. Six others abstained.

Front and center, Goal 1 is to boost the numbers of Chinook that orcas depend on most.

That would be done through a mix of habitat restoration and acquisition projects, enforcing current laws that protect fish habitat, incentivizing private work that benefits salmon, and “significantly” boosting hatchery production.

With Puget Sound kings listed under the Endangered Species Act, that will have to be done carefully, but already the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is talking about how and where it might be possible to ramp things up for SRKWs.

“We did get the recommendation from the WDFW commission of 50 million Chinook into the recommendation to the Governor,” said PSA’s Garner.

It would take money and time were that to be implemented, but could potentially come online far faster than other parts of the goal.

A story out this week spotlighted the highly important but excruciatingly slow pace of salmon habitat work — 90 years to recover what plans call for for full estuary restoration.

“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 is a member of the task force’s Prey Working Group.

However, she expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

Admittedly, anglers would also see “shirt tail” benefits of more Chinook, to hazard a guess primarily in South and Deep South Sound and terminal zones, which are well past whale feeding zones.

There had been calls to “completely stop salmon fishing” to make more prey available for orcas, but ultimately that wasn’t the direction of the task force.

“We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing,” said Garner. “At one point we brought out the 87-page NOAA study that said if we stopped all fishing on the West Coast — California to Alaska — salmon would not recover.”

A GRAPH FROM THE TASK FORCE’S RECOMMENDATIONS SHOWS THE DECLINE IN CHINOOK AND COHO HARVEST IN WASHINGTON SALT- AND FRESHWATERS BY RECREATIONAL, TRIBAL AND COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN. (SRKWTF)

He said that he and others were able to convince the task force that reductions in salmon production due to ESA listings, Hatchery Scientific Review Group recommendations and the funding cuts that have particularly affected state facilities “put the entire system into shock.”

“The orcas, coastal communities, tribal communities, tackle retailers, fishing shops, boat shops, and everything that relies on salmon crashed. Our habitat is in terrible shape and we’re losing it faster than it’s being rebuilt,” he said.

Even if the larger target is off of the backs of fishermen as a whole, Hamilton remains vigilant about some possible closures she’s heard of that would only apply to sportfishing and wouldn’t help feed orcas.

As for those “cute little water puppies” stealing dinner from SRKWs, the plan includes a recommendation titled “Predation of Chinook: Decrease the number of adult and juvenile Chinook lost to predation by species other than Southern Residents.”

That begins with figuring out the impact of harbor seals and sea lions, which leaves a lot to be desired, but the task force does urge the legislature to fund that work by WDFW and the tribes.

It also requests that state fishery managers drop limits on popular walleye, bass, catfish and other nonnative species that are known to chow on Chinook smolts.

It doesn’t go as far as reader Larry Moller wants — herring hatcheries — but it does call for more work to be done to assess all the forage fish species so important to Chinook.

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

As far as vessel disturbance, instead of no-go zones it calls for lawmakers to create go-slow bubbles around J, K and L Pods.

Garner termed warding off area closures a win, but also acknowledged that others in the boating world will be hurt by another recommendation:

An all-fleet, three- to five-year moratorium on watching the three groups of orcas.

“WDFW said they could have a boat around them to ward off everyone while they are in our waters,” said Garner. “I think this hurt the whale watchers. They said the locals SRKWs are only here 20 percent of the time. There was never any intent to do damage to the whale watching industry.”

It’s important to note that the moratorium would NOT affect watching transient orcas, grays or humpbacks.

The plan’s recommendations also call for creating a new $10 orca endorsement for boaters, but it takes more of a strong nudge approach in terms of asking anglers and others to turn off their fish- and depthfinders when orcas are within about a half-mile’s distance.

And as for one of the most controversial elements, Snake River dams, it recommends a stakeholder process to talk about their removal with help from a third-party neutral.

Speaking of dams, NSIA’s Hamilton continues to call for more spill down the mainstem Columbia, saying that upping it over current levels to help smolts downriver is modeled to yield real results in returning adult spring Chinook.

“Columbia River springers are a critical food source to orcas during winter when there is little else to nourish pregnant and migrating orcas. Tags show they do circles off the mouth of the Columbia River during March,” she says.

A N.M.F.S STORY MAP SHOWS AN ORCA KNOWN AS K25 ALL BUT SWIMMING LAPS AROUND THE C.R. BUOY AS THE 2013 RUN OF SPRING CHINOOK ENTERED THE COLUMBIA RIVER. PRIOR TO THE ARRIVAL OF THE SALMON THAT YEAR, THE WHALE PATROLLED UP AND DOWN THE WEST COAST. (NMFS)

But she worries that the state is moving “too slow” on that key action and might even go “backward” next year.

“The first items were of immediate actions. If we are to have salmon and orca in our future, the long-term actions are critical,” says Hamilton. “We must enforce existing laws, we must protect and restore salmon habitats, and the science also says we should look at the effects of dams, especially the four lower Snake River dams.”

Even as the task force handled that issue with kid gloves, it urged the legislature to fund the dismantling of two other dams, one on the Pilchuck that has been attracting a lot of coverage of late, and another in the Nooksack watershed.

Besides Garner, Harris and Smith, the list of other task force members in the fishing world who consented to the final package include:

Amy Windrope of WDFW; BJ Kiefer of the Spokane Tribe; Brad Smith of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission; commercial fisherman Brendan Flynn; Chad Bowechop of the Makah Tribe; Jacques White of Long Live the Kings; Lynne Barre of the National Marine Fisheries Service; Paul McCollum of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe; Rep. Brian Blake of the state House of Representatives; and Terry Williams of the Tulalip Tribes.

Those who abstained included representatives from the Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Forest Protection Association and Association of Washington Businesses, and the Lummi, Squaxin Island and Skokomish Tribes.

The report also includes next steps, identifies which agency is tasked with dealing with what recommendations, minority reports from task force members about ideas they don’t support, and a rundown on public comments.

Now it is up to the governor and the legislature to put some teeth in the recommendations.

Task Force Makes Key Recommendations For Orcas, Chinook

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas is among the recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee yesterday.

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

Ron Garner of Puget Sound Anglers said it was a tough go with a lot of pushback from hatchery reformers, but he says a coalition of fishing interests got a recommendation that includes releasing as many as 50 million more smolts than were this year across the finish line.

“Butch Smith from Ilwaco, our tribes, and I pounded and pounded on that and finally got it in. WDFW’s Amy Windrope was key to helping me keeping it in and making sure it was supported by the Task Force. Without the bold statement that we endorse it, we most likely wouldn’t get anything out of it,” PSA’s statewide president said.

The governor and legislature must still buy into and fund Recommendation 6, which says any hatchery increases should be done in concert with habitat improvements, as well as be consistent with ESA constraints and management plans, but the lack of salmon — primarily Chinook — is one of the key reasons the orcas haven’t been doing well in recent years.

In an executive order this past March that also created the task force, Inslee began pushing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to boost production of the salmon stock, and two months ago the agency temporarily closed salmon fishing on the Samish River to allow more broodstock to reach the hatchery.

The 50 million figure comes from the Fish and Wildlife Commission which in late summer expressed support for upping smolt releases from select facilities, 30 million in Puget Sound and 20 million in the Columbia.

Kings in both areas were identified in a joint state-federal study as key feed stocks for the southern residents, and it’s no secret that increasing production would also provide “shirttail benefits” for fishermen.

Tens of millions more used to be released in Puget Sound — 55 million by the state in 1989 alone — and elsewhere in the past, but those have tailed off as runs declined and Endangered Species Act listings and hatchery reforms came into play to try and recover wild returns. The plight of the fish, SRKWs and fishermen of all fleets are intertwined.

MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC AND WASHINGTON’S SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE TASK FORCE GATHERED IN PUYALLUP ON TUESDAY TO GO OVER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A FINAL REPORT HEADED TO GOVERNOR INSLEE’S DESK AHEAD OF THE 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. THE MEETING WAS BROADCAST ON TVW, WHERE THIS SCREEN GRAB CAME FROM. (TVW)

Garner said he had to “get way down into the weeds” to show that more than a dozen rivers in Puget Sound were stocked with more than 35 million Green River fall kings by the old Department of Fisheries alone in the 1980s, a figure he says doesn’t account for tribal and federal releases either.

“My point was that there are no wild gene pools left, as this is just one instance as we have been mixing stocks for over 100 years. The tribes backed me up and said our habitat is not going to come back anytime soon and hatcheries are the future until we can fix the millions of people moving into the Puget Sound (region) and losing more habitat,” he said.

“The tribes, WDFW, and a few sporties came together yesterday for a big win for the orcas and fishing!”

Garner was among the members of the task force who met on Election Tuesday in a “fishbowl” format at the state fairgrounds in Puyallup. The meeting was broadcast on TVW.

During the day-long confab and under the guidance of facilitator Susan Gulick, the group made slight tweaks to pinniped recommendations and essentially added more stakeholder process for residents and businesses potentially affected by Snake River dam removal.

Returning Idaho kings are important for orcas as they forage off the Washington Coast, researchers found by studying their doots, the dam-and-lock and hydropower systems an economic lifeline to the Inland Northwest.

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

One of the task force’s most immediately tweetworthy moves was to agree to recommend suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years.

Disturbance from vessels is another key factor in why orcas are struggling, but a draconian “no-go zone” around the west side of San Juan Island — whether whales were feeding in this critical foraging area or not — has been tabled in favor of a bubble approach.

“There is now going to be a closure around wherever J, K, and L Pods are,” reports Garner. “They will be monitored by WDFW boats and if they come into an area, everyone has to leave. The whale watchers were not happy, but J, K and L are only there 20 percent of the time.”

The recommendation would not affect watchers’ ability to view humpback whales or transient orcas in Puget Sound and elsewhere.

TASK FORCE MEMBERS DISCUSS RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE “FISHBOWL” LATER IN THE DAY YESTERDAY. (TVW)

Next up is for the task force to send the governor its final report, due in mid-November, ahead of 2019’s legislative session, when lawmakers will need to fund many of the measures or enact laws to enforce them.

For WDFW task force member and Region 4 director Amy Windrope, the most important facet of this more than half-year-long process has been that the final recommendations had majority support from a diverse set of stakeholders and that the public turned out and joined the conversation.

And not just Puget Sound, Washington and Northwest residents, but people from as far away as England, Scotland and Germany.

“It was so powerful to hear the public talk about their love of orcas,” Windrope said.

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

WDFW Director Appears On Hour-long TVW Program

New WDFW Director Kelly Susewind talked budget, wolves, orcas and Chinook, tribal relations and more on TVW ahead of his upcoming six-stop tour across Washington.

The hour-long interview with Inside Olympia host Austin Jenkins is posted here and comes as Susewind nears the end of his third month in the hot seat.

A SCREEN SHOT FROM TVW SHOWS INSIDE OLYMPIA HOST AUSTIN JENKINS AND WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT THE END OF THEIR ONE-HOUR INTERVIEW. (TVW)

As with previous stories here and elsewhere, it fleshes out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, and sets the tone for what his priorities are going forward.

It also included news that the Old Profanity Territory Pack has struck again in northern Ferry County and that Susewind is expecting a recommendation from field staff soon on whether to take out its two remaining wolves or continue with the evaluation period.

Asked by Jenkins if he was concerned that a court could take lethal removal off the table, Susewind defended the agency’s protocols that have been challenged by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, saying he believes WDFW has “a good solid case.”

“We’re ahead of most of the country in wolf management, I think, by trying this … collaborative (approach), by having reasonable minds at the table from both sides talking about, ‘How can we make this work for everybody?” he said.

On helping out starving killer whales by producing more Chinook, Susewind said that while the olden day’s Johnny Appleseed approach to hatchery operations may have damaged wild runs, the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.

“We’ve learned from that, but have we gone too far to the point we’re restricting ourselves? In my opinion, yes,” he said.

While quickly acknowledging his lack of fisheries management experience but that he had staff who were experts, he also noted that “You can’t just turn the orca dial, you’ve got to turn the whole ecosystem dial.”

As for November and December’s open houses with the public, Susewind considers the half-dozen chances to meet with hunters, anglers and other Washington residents an “opening of the door.”

“Tell me what you need, what you’re not getting, and help us get into a position so that we can deliver that to you,” he told Jenkins.

Next year Susewind hopes that lawmakers are more amenable to WDFW’s big budget ask than the previous one that went down in flames.

Three-quarters of the overall $60-plus million proposal would come from the General Fund and the rest from a 15 percent across-the-board license fee increase to address funding shortfalls and boost hunting and fishing opportunities and habitat and other investments.

Those meetings are slated to occur:

Monday, Nov. 5 – CenterPlace Regional Event Center, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley
Tuesday, Nov. 6 – Grant County Public Works, 124 Enterprise St. SE, Ephrata
Wednesday, Nov. 7 – Selah Civic Center, 216 1st St., Selah
Tuesday, Nov. 13 – Montesano City Hall, 112 North Main Street, Montesano
Wednesday, Nov. 14 – WDFW Ridgefield Office, 5525 South 11th Street, Ridgefield
Wednesday, Dec. 12 – Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Watershed Science Center, 125 W Sunset Way, Issaquah

All run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Revised Orca Recommendations Out For Public Comment Before Final Report Due

Revised orca recommendations are back out for public comment, and there’s a pretty tight turnaround for submitting feedback this go-around.

A MEMBER OF A SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE POD FLICKS ITS TAIL. (CANDACE EMMONS, NMFS, FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/)

Midnight Oct. 29 is the deadline for expressing the level of support you have to a pared-down list of 36 items, as well as giving your top five things to do to help the starving southern resident killer whales.

The list comes out of last week’s Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force meetings, and were posted today.

After comments are collected, the group which includes anglers and boating interests will finalize its year 1 recommendations on what to do about major threats to orcas, with a final report to be issued in mid-November, ahead of next year’s legislative session.

This isn’t to say the other two-dozen draft recommendations aren’t worthy of attention, but a number will catch the eyes of Washington anglers.

They include:

Significantly increasing restoration and acquisition of habitat in the watersheds of key Chinook stocks

Example: “Emphasize large-scale estuary restoration programs focused on the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Possession Sound, Green-Duwamish, Puyallup, the mouth of the Columbia, and Chehalis rivers. Prioritize grant making for restoration that increases Chinook recovery in the short term.”

Enforcing habitat protection laws on the books

Example: “Direct WDNR, WDFW, and DOE to identify and report to the Task Force in 2019 on approaches using existing habitat, instream flow, and water quality regulations to improve prey availability.”

Boosting production of hatchery Chinook known to benefit orcas in coordination with habitat and restoration actions

Example: “Authorize/provide funding for WDFW to coordinate with co-managers to increase hatchery production at facilities in Puget Sound, on the Washington Coast, and in the Columbia River basin in a manner consistent with sustainable fisheries and stock management and the ESA. Decisions on hatchery production implementation are made by WDFW and tribal co-managers, with Endangered Species Act consultation from NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where appropriate.”

Getting salmon above run-blocking dams

Example: “Provide funding to WDFW and regional salmon organizations to coordinate with partners to determine how to re-establish sustainable salmon runs above dams including, but not limited to, the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee Dams on the Columbia River and the Tacoma Diversion, Howard Hanson and Mud Mountain dams in the Puget Sound. Provide policy support for actions needed. Prioritize projects that produce downstream adult Chinook.”

Figuring out if harbor seals and sea lions are limiting Chinook numbers in Puget Sound and the coast and consider what can be done about it

Example: “Conduct a pilot project for the removal or alteration of artificial haul out sites where sites are associated with significant outmigration and predation of Chinook smolts. Fund a study to determine if pilot removal accomplishes the goal of significantly reducing Chinook smolt predation.”

Supporting controlling sea lions in the Columbia

Example: “Support MMPA authorization to add Steller sea lions to the list of pinnipeds managed in the lower Columbia River. Support increasing removal levels and altering removal requirements.”

Relaxing regulations on popular but Chinook smolt-eating game fish species

Example: “Adjust game fish regulations and remove catch and size limits on non-native predatory fish—including, but not limited to, walleye, bass, and channel catfish—to encourage removal of these predatory fish, where appropriate.”

Passing a new law to create a slow-speed bubble zone around orcas

Example: “Enact legislation in 2019 creating a half-mile “go-slow” zone, defined as speeds of 7 knots over ground or less.”

Creating a new and annual certification program for all Puget Sound boaters

Example: “Create a $10 marine endorsement called a Be Whale Wise certification which would be required annually for all boats on the inland marine waters.”

Asking anglers and others not to use fish finders and other transducers within a kilometer of orcas

Example: “Establish a “standard of care” for small vessel operators limiting the use of echo sounders and other underwater transducers within a half nautical mile of Southern Resident orcas. Implement as a voluntary measure and provide exceptions for safe navigation.”

And switching from the voluntary to required go-slow and no-go zones in a key feeding and fishing area of the San Juans

Example: “Establish a no-go whale protection zone for commercial whale watching vessels, recreational vessels, and commercial kayak groups on the west side of San Juan Island from Pile Point to Mitchell Bay, within ¼ mile of shore. Allow vessels to transect the no-go zone to exit from shore.”

Fall King Production In Green-Duwamish Could Be Increased By 2 Million

With the plight of starving orcas front and center in the region, federal fishery overseers will consider a proposal to raise an additional 2 million fall Chinook smolts in the Green-Duwamish.

FEDERAL OVERSEERS WILL CONSIDER A PLAN TO BOOST PRODUCTION OF DUWAMISH-GREEN FALL CHINOOK BY 2 MILLION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The National Marine Fisheries Service put out a notice late last week that it will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for whether to boost releases in the King County river system above the level originally proposed by state and tribal managers.

“The alternative to be analyzed in the DSEIS is informed by the applicant’s interest in increasing hatchery production of juvenile Chinook salmon, and NMFS’ analysis of the status of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and the importance of Chinook salmon prey to their food base,” a notice published in the Federal Register reads.

Green-Duwamish Chinook were identified as among the most important current feedstocks for orcas, and they also provide sport and tribal fisheries.

The original EIS for the system called for release of as many as 5.1 million fall kings, mostly by WDFW and with 600,000 of those part of a new Muckleshoot “Fish Restoration Facility ” to be built below Howard Hansen Dam on the upper Green.

The supplementary Chinook would be reared at WDFW’s Soos Creek Hatchery for release at Palmer Ponds.

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.”