Tag Archives: predation

Congress Moves Closer To OKing States, Tribes To Lethally Remove More Columbia Sea Lions

Efforts to reduce sea lion predation on ESA-listed Columbia River salmon and steelhead got a big boost today with the passage of a bill that would provide state and tribal managers more latitude to deal with the hungry pinnipeds.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION CAPTURES A SPRING CHINOOK. (BRYAN WRIGHT, ODFW, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

HR 2083, introduced by a pair of Lower Columbia Congressmen from either side of the river and political aisle and which would allow sea lions to be culled in parts of the mainstem and its tribs to save fish, sailed out of the U.S. House of Representatives on a 288-116 vote this afternoon.

Cosponsors Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA3) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR5) were joined by every single one of their fellow Washington and Oregon representatives, as well as both of Idaho’s, in voting for the measure.

The move comes just days after similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate, making action now suddenly more likely after previous versions of the House bill had stalled.

Herrera Beutler said it was the result of a “team effort” and credited Schrader for getting the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act to a vote, Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D) and Idaho U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R) for introducing one in the upper chamber, and “all the local and tribal agencies and fishermen who have trumpeted the plight of our salmon for years.”

A SEA LION SURFACES NEAR A FISHING BOAT DURING 2017’S LOWER COLUMBIA SPRING CHINOOK SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Along with testimony from the Columbia River Inter-Tribe Fish Commission last year, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association has lent its strong support.

An exultant Liz Hamilton, NSIA’s executive director, called this “truly a good day for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon!”

She said lawmakers’ action offered “huge progress … giving fishery managers another tool to prevent extinction and help with recovery.”

Essentially, the bill would expand the scope of removals by, according to a Coastal Conservation Association of Washington press release, amending a portion of the “Marine Mammal Protection Act to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to provide states and local tribes the tools necessary to humanely manage sea lions on the waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries as long as the sea lions are not classified as an Endangered Species Act listed species.”

Between 2008 and 2016, as predation at Bonneville Dam increased, ODFW and WDFW were allowed by NOAA to remove 161 California sea lions, euthanizing 139 of those and finding zoos and aquariums for another 15.

But they’re smart critters and know where the food is at and readily return to unnatural pinchpoints.

In a joint letter, the heads of CRITFC, IDFG, ODFW and WDFW said passage of HR 2083 was “critical to ensuring we can manage the ever-increasing issue of predation on sturgeon, lamprey, and Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin,” according to a press release.

Back in April, ODFW took the strongest stance, specifically calling on Congress to act, pointing out that male sea lions gathering below Willamette Falls were driving the basin’s steelhead “closer to extinction,” not unlike what Herschel did at the Ballard Locks to Lake Washington’s stocks.

Earlier this year, federal researchers said that California sea lions had reached their “optimal sustainable population,” a triggering point in the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and a high enough level that West Coast states could begin to take over management.

“The California sea lion population has experienced a huge population recovery in recent years; unfortunately, that population has now grown to numbers totally inconsistent with its historic range, posing a very serious threat to the endangered salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia River system,” Rep. Schrader said in a press release.

Even as passage of HR 2083 put the focus on pinnipeds, that’s not to say that NOAA issuing one-year take permits to CRITFC, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW, and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Cowlitz Tribes to take out up to 100 of the Chinook-, steelhead- and sturgeon-munching marine mammals is a be-all, end-all solution to fish run woes.

“Salmon recovery isn’t about just one issue, and the data is crystal clear that this [sea lion predation] is an important component, just as dam removal must be,” said angler Chase Gunnell, a Wild Steelhead Coalition boardmenber. “We can’t ignore the real short term threats from unnaturally high predation on endangered salmon and steelhead, even if Bonneville and other dams have exacerbated the situation. Pragmatic, strategic conservationists and wild fish and river advocates should celebrate this sensible policy, just as we should continue working to remove the lower Snake River Dams. It’s not either/or.”

But in the short term it is progress.

NSIA’s Hamilton thanked all three states’ Congressional delegations,  especially Herrera Beutler and Schrader, and also urged fellow fishermen to show gratitude to their representatives.

Last Chance To Save Lake Washington Sockeye Fisheries?

Too few young sockeye are surviving as they rear in Lake Washington before going out to sea, and the runs — not to mention the famed salmon fisheries — could peter out in 20 years or so if nothing’s done.

SOCKEYE SMOLTS FACE AN INCREASING HOST OF PREDATORS IN LAKE WASHINGTON (THESE WERE PHOTOGRAPHED IN IDAHO), INCLUDING NATIVE SPECIES SUCH AS CUTTHROAT TROUT AND NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW, AND NONNATIVE ONES SUCH AS SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH AND ROCK BASS, YELLOW PERCH, AND NOW WALLEYE AND NORTHERN PIKE. (MIKE PETERSON, IDFG VIA NMFS, FLICKR, CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0)

That’s according to modeling put together by Dr. Neala Kendall, a WDFW research scientist, and shared for the first time publicly last night.

“Our analysis suggests that only small numbers of sockeye salmon will persist in Lake Washington under current conditions, much less provide future opportunities for tribal and recreational fisheries,” read one of her slides.

“Maintaining the run and restoring fisheries will be very challenging but not impossible,” it also said.

Kendall was presenting to 50 to 60 anglers and members of the Cedar River Council who’d gathered in a banquet room at Renton’s Maplewood Golf Course on an unusually warm evening for April.

The findings were grim news for the fishermen and state managers, as there are few salmon seasons as popular — or that provide the local economic jolt — as Lake Washington sockeye.

It’s been 12 years since the last one, held in 2006 after “insanely high” ocean survival for that year-class of fish brought home one out of every two smolts that left the lake.

RUB A DUB DUB! THREE MEN TROLL FOR SOCKEYE DURING THE 2006 LAKE WASHINGTON SEASON, WHICH YIELDED THE HIGHEST CATCH IN A DECADE BUT HAS ALSO BEEN THE ONLY FISHERY IN A DOZEN YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Despite the promise and production of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, returns have only averaged 84,000 since then, with even the best of those years more than 200,000 fish shy of the mark to open the lake.

Aaron Bosworth, the state district fisheries biologist, was also on hand and said that smolt survival is now not only lower than it used to be but well below what it is to the north of the continent’s southernmost sockeye system, 2 to 4 percent versus 16 to 20 percent.

As for why that is, Bosworth said that University of Washington studies have ruled out forage and competition — there’s enough zooplankton in the lake to support the pelagic salmon as well as the huge biomass of longfin smelt.

A big and increasing problem is prespawn mortality on returning adults.

His data showed that between 1995 and 2013, from 45 to 85 percent of the sockeye that went through the locks turned up in the Cedar River. But since 2014 only 20 to 33 percent have. That may be function of warm waters in the ship canal making less-healthy fish more susceptible to disease. With the stock comprised of roughly 60 percent natural-origin fish, fewer spawners produce less eggs overall.

SOCKEYE MANAGERS SAY THAT THE PAST FOUR RETURNS OF SALMON THROUGH THE LAKE WASHINGTON SHIP CANAL (BACKGROUND) HAVE SEEN ABNORMALLY HIGH MORTALITY, WITH 67 TO 80 PERCENT OF THE FISH NOT SHOWING UP IN THE CEDAR RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, the “leading theory” now for why the runs aren’t better is predation by native cutthroat trout and northern pikeminnow, as well as nonnative species such as largemouth, smallmouth — Lake Washington was rated as the West’s eighth best for bass by Bassmaster as recently as 2016 — rock bass and perch.

The latter stocks might not eat as many smolts as the former, but they do exacerbate the problem, Bosworth said. With a warming climate, they’ll only do better too, it’s assumed.

Another invasive, walleye, are also now being found in the lake, and earlier this year a bass angler caught but unfortunately released a pike, the second known northern here in the past 15 months.

But sockeye snackers are also getting a helping hand from humanity.

Amy Windrope, who was WDFW’s director for the North Sound region before named acting deputy director for the agency, brought up a factor she’d heard a person in the audience mention: light pollution.

Essentially, between sunset and sunrise, all the bulbs we turn on to light the streets and highways, our sideyards, parking lots and more, create an overhead aura that has benefited the fish-eaters to the detriment of young sockeye as well as Chinook.

Kendall said that the effect has extended the time that salmon smolts are visible through the night, making them more vulnerable to predation and providing fewer hours for them to eat without risk.

Scott Stolnack, a King County watershed ecologist, said data showed that 20 years ago there was a definite period when cutthroat were not feeding, but for the past five years, their stomachs are now full at all hours.

“It’s always dusk for cutthroat,” he said.

Driving home afterwards as night fell on Seattle, that really hit home for me.

As I crossed the bridge between Bellevue and Mercer Island, I looked to the south and saw a particularly bright bank of big lights by the lake. And zipping along Interstates 405, 90 and 5 while illuminated for vehicle safety from above, it was like me and the other cars were smolts, any staters in the shadows cutts.

The question of the night really boiled down to: Do we want to do something about this in hopes of having sockeye fisheries again, and if so, What is that path?

Kendall’s modeling suggests the best way would be increasing survival of the young salmon, and that lifting it to rates of 4 to 8 percent yields a good response.

DR. NEALA KENDALL EXPLAINS LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE MODELING. A MODEL SUGGESTS THAT INCREASING SMOLT SURVIVAL WILL HELP REBUILD THE SALMON’S POPULATION OVER TIME. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

She did face questions from the audience about how confident she was in her work, which is based on current conditions continuing.

Tom Allyn, vice chair of the Cedar River Council, wanted to know how much increasing survival and other tweaks might cost.

When fellow panel member and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck called for a show of support for asking WDFW to crunch the numbers, most if not all fishermen raised their hands.

In other words, for our part we’re not ready to give up on the salmon.

“After having heard how difficult a challenge it will be to restore Lake Washington sockeye sport fisheries, the public attending the meeting last night overwhelmingly voted for us to continue to see if that can be done,” said Urabeck. “This means convincing the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other entities like the Muckleshoot Tribe, King County, City of Seattle, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, etc., to engage in a feasibility assessment of a sockeye recovery action plan. I hope that my colleagues on the Cedar River Council will work with me to this end.”

Even as the Muckleshoots plan another year of walleye studies in the lake and WDFW biologists will again sample for diet and abundance of spinyrays in the ship canal, when talk centered around whether there were any current plans to actively remove predators — there are not — one fisherman pointed out, “You have a room full of volunteers.”

Steelhead Smolts (And Their Sponsors) Set To Try And ‘Survive The Sound’ Again

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM LONG LIVE THE KINGS

Local nonprofit Long Live the Kings (LLTK) has launched Survive the Sound, an interactive game that lets local residents “race” steelhead as they make their annual migration through the Puget Sound. All proceeds help fund LLTK research and conservation efforts to rebuild salmon and steelhead populations in areas of critical need.

STEELHEAD SMOLTS WILL ONCE AGAIN TRY TO MAKE IT OUT OF PUGET SOUND, AND FOR THE SECOND YEAR THE PUBLIC CAN FOLLOW THEIR JOURNEY THROUGH FISH THEY CAN SPONSOR. (SURVIVE THE SOUND)

Steelhead are now at 10 percent of their historic abundance, due in part to the many threats they face on their way through the Puget Sound: predators, disease, and habitat destruction. During this spring’s steelhead migration, Puget Sound residents can make a difference by sponsoring a fish (or a whole school of them) through an interactive game, Survive the Sound.

Sponsoring a steelhead allows players to track their progress to the finish line via the Survive the Sound website. Players can compete with friends, family and colleagues to see if their pick survive the migration to the Puget Sound – it’s like fantasy football for fish. And the stakes are high on this dangerous journey. Last year, just six of 48 steelhead survived. People looking to join must lock in their picks by May 6 to play.

LTTK has worked for more than 30 years on research and conservation efforts to rebuild salmon and steelhead populations. Participation in Survive the Sound helps LLTK bring the game to local classrooms for free–engaging students in local conservation efforts. This year the resources will reach more than 30,000 students.

“As the Washington State fish, it is up to all of us to help protect wild steelhead – they need all the help they can get,” said Michael Schmidt, Deputy Director of Long Live the Kings. “By using an interactive gaming platform, Survive the Sound gives local residents and kids the opportunity to learn about the major threats to salmon and steelhead populations, make a difference, and have fun while doing so.”

The Survive the Sound migration runs from May 7-18. Players can also create their own team to raise funds for steelhead recovery efforts or spark friendly competition at work by challenging colleagues. Registration closes May 6.

Support of Survive the Sound helps LLTK continue their work to ensure that wild salmon and steelhead remain a vital part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem for years to come.

For more information on Survive the Sound, visit www.survivethesound.org.