Alarms are blaring ever louder in the Puget Sound salmon fishing world.
A proposed 10-year Chinook harvest plan revealed less than two weeks ago could be “a lot tighter noose” for sport fisheries, and state and tribal managers may try to implement it as early as this spring.
“It will very seriously reduce the very limited opportunities we’ve had in the past few years,” warned Pat Patillo in a 17-minute segment on a Seattle-based outdoor radio show last Saturday morning.
WDFW fish bosses, already the subject of displeasure from the Fish and Wildlife Commission about the plan they’ve sent to federal overseers, may publicly talk more next month about it, but Patillo is not shooting from the hip.
He’s a retired salmon policy advisor for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, where he worked for over three decades, and is now a sportfishing advisor to the agency.
After the resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook emerged from confidential, federal-judge-mediated negotiations between WDFW and area treaty tribes, he ran this year’s run forecasts through it to get a feel for what it might portend in the near term, as expectations aren’t too bright.
Speaking on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, Patillo explained that fishing impacts on Stillaguamish wild Chinook in, essentially, Puget Sound would be halved.
But he said that even more constraining might be a new limit on that river’s mass marked fin-clipped hatchery kings.
That’s because with the basin’s Chinook being federally listed, mass-marking has provided an option for anglers to release wild kings so they can continue on the way to the gravel while culling out generally abundant production fish missing their adipose fins.
That approach could face significant challenges under the new plan.
“With that limit on hatchery fish, it effectively eliminates selective fishing as a management tool for providing opportunity to catch all Puget Sound hatchery Chinook,” Patillo told hosts of Tom Nelson and Rob Endsley.
In danger, northern summer king and winter blackmouth fisheries.
“These fish, hatchery fish and wild fish, are mixed with all the others in Puget Sound,” Patillo explained. “So if you’ve got a constraint on your hatchery fish that are mass-marked — you can’t tell a mass-marked Stilly fish from a Green River fish, for example — so you’re, what’s the term? You pick it.”
Washington managers are screwed because many Stillaguamish Chinook get picked off in fisheries to the north, in southeast Alaska and along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Puget Sound is the only place they have any power to reduce impacts on the stock to try and rebuild it, though there are doubts that that’s possible.
In the meanwhile, anglers face a very bitter pill.
Patillo estimated that even if we’d had a total closure of Puget Sound sportfishing in 2017, it would have yielded all of “10 or 11” more wild Stillaguamish Chinook on the gravel.
Nelson, who labeled the overall approach “a harvest solution to a habitat problem,” urged listeners to contact Director Jim Unsworth and the Fish and Wildlife commission with their concerns.
Patillo echoed that, and pointing to Stilly kings, summarized an argument to make — that the plan’s constraints go “beyond the level necessary to enable rebuilding … and will not provide fishing opportunity for surplus hatchery Chinook salmon throughout Puget Sound or other healthy salmon like pink salmon, coho salmon — you’re not going to have those fisheries.”
As it stands, the plan will be reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service for compliance with ESA and it may be approved in early 2019 for 2019-20 to 2028-29 fisheries.