Tag Archives: puget sound anglers

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)

Baker Sockeye Anglers Renew Call To Manage Fishery With Runsize Buffer

With a lower than expected salmon run leaving them again feeling shorted, some anglers are renewing calls for a Columbia River springer-style fisheries buffer on sockeye headed to a North Cascades reservoir.

Baker Lake reds were supposed to provide sport and tribal fishermen 12,400 fish each, but while members of the latter fleet were able to harvest 12,176, the former’s haul could ultimately come in around just 56 percent of the quota.

FRANK URABECK AND GRANDSON ALEC SCHANTZ SHOW OFF FIVE SOCKEYE FROM BAKER LAKE. URABECK REPORTS THIS YEAR’S FISH ARE TOUGH FIGHTERS. (FRANK URABECK)

Frank Urabeck, a longtime advocate of recreational fisheries, estimates that when it’s all said and done, it’s “likely” that Skagit River plunkers and Baker Lake trollers will have put somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 sockeye on their barbecues, 5,400 fewer than the preseason agreement allowed, and nearly 5,200 fewer than Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle fishermen took.

It’s also in part due to our less efficient methods and that it gets tougher to catch the fish as they near spawning, but the harvest disparity “could have been avoided had (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) adopted in-season harvest management improvement proposals put forth by CCA and others,” a press release from Urabeck states.

This year’s seasons were set on the expectation 35,002 sockeye would come back, but after tribal fishermen hit Skagit Bay and the lower river it begin to become apparent that fewer of the salmon were actually returning, somewhere around 30,000. Over 14,450 have been tallied at the Baker River fish trap and nearly 6,850 have been transported up to the lake.

It’s led Puget Sound Anglers President Ron Garner to renew the call to use something like the 30-percent set aside on the Columbia in case the ESA-listed spring Chinook run doesn’t come in as predicted.

That effectively reduces how many kings are available in the early portion of the season until managers are comfortable that preseason predictions will be met, or exceeded, and can reopen angling if enough fish are available.

“Under today’s complex salmon fisheries layout there are many problems in dividing fish as each area presents its own set of problems of how to secure equity,” said Garner in a press release. “Baker Lake sockeye is one fishery where we have the ability to do that using the Puget Sound Energy Baker River fish trap at Concrete, where Skagit Basin tribes can secure make-up sockeye, if needed, beyond what is achieved from net fishing.”

He says in years when the run comes in low, inequities can be avoided or minimized using the buffer.

Last fall, when the sockeye issue came before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers appeared hesitant to institute a buffer because of perceived tribal pushback over the potential for not being able to harvest their share. They wanted to try improved forecasting and opening more of the Skagit to fishing to achieve a closer balance.

“Unfortunately, while advocated by sport fishing groups, the department chose not to pursue a buffer, resulting in a significant disparity again. A buffer has to be part of harvest management next year,” Garner said.

Others expressing frustration over the issue include Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Nello Picinich of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington, and Roger Goodan of CCA Washington’s North Sound Chapter.

Urabeck says that this year’s imbalance means the tribes will have caught 24,000 more sockeye than sports since 2013.

But WDFW appears to be taking the long view. While Urabeck calls the 2010 and ’11 seasons “outliers,” state managers point out that between 2010 and 2017, the score was actually pretty close, 98,390 treaty fishermen, 94,737 recreational anglers.

And they say it’s likely to even out over time and even sway in our way if we see more big years like 2012, ’13 and ’14.

As for dipping into the fish trap, that’s likely a nonstarter with tribal fishermen. I hear over and over they want to fish the way they want to fish, and that means with a net, not lining up for a salmon handout.

Ultimately it’s in everybody’s best interest to get the forecast right the first time, though that is easier said than done.

Sport, Tribal Fishermen Speak As One On Salmon Habitat, Recovery Issues

Yesterday was a “historic” and “unprecedented” day at North of Falcon in the words of two longtime recreational angling observers of the annual salmon season-setting negotiations.

In a Lynnwood hotel conference room packed nearly to the gills, tribal and state fishermen spoke out on the importance of habitat and working together on key issues affecting Washington Chinook, coho and other stocks.

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS ADDRESS A CROWD OF ABOUT 100 DURING YESTERDAY’S STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION,  A NEW CONFAB ADDED TO THIS YEAR’S EDITION OF THE ANNUAL NORTH OF FALCON SALMON SEASON NEGOTIATIONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, one of if not the state’s most important salmon fishing organizations, said that if all fishermen worked cohesively, we could “move mountains.”

All in all, it was not what you might have expected when these historically at-odds groups get together, and one of the final speakers referenced that history of animosity.

“It’s a bit weird,” the Lummi Nation’s G.I. James said. “It’s the first time I’ve been with a bunch of (sport) fishermen and haven’t heard, ‘Why are the nets all the way across the river?'”

Indeed, many outstanding issues remain unresolved — the Skokomish and the state-reared hatchery salmon we can’t access in the river because of the boundary claim of the tribe there; the hold-up on the Point No Point ramp; the state’s challenge of the culvert case.

But with the ESA listings, the runs’ continued struggles, pinniped predation on salmon and steelhead a real problem not only for the fish and fishermen of all fleets but also starving southern resident killer whales, and the human footprint on the region only growing over the coming decades, Tuesday afternoon marked what might one day go down as a watershed moment.

“The time for fighting over allocation is over. It’s time to focus on habitat. It’s time to fight the people and the animals that are killing more fish than we are,” said Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, afterwards.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE POTENTIAL 2018-19 SALMON FISHERIES EARLIER IN THE DAY AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

HE WAS AMONG THE AUDIENCE TUESDAY AFTERNOON AS tribal fishermen and others filed into the room where state salmon managers had been discussing potential fisheries with recreational anglers earlier in the day.

Billed as a “plenary session,” it came out of calls by some in the sportfishing world to open the closed-door state-tribal negotiations over the harvestable surplus of fish, but in fact ended up allowing both sides to hear the other.

After a brief introduction, Ron Warren, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Fish Program manager, handed the microphone over to Lorraine Loomis, who heads up the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission as well as the Swinomish Tribe’s Fisheries Department.

Loomis reflected on her long involvement in North of Falcon, which essentially arose out of the Fish Wars and Boldt Decision of the early 1970s.

At one time splitting the fillets was easier, at least relatively, but with the Blob and allocation issues of the past three years, things have become increasingly heated.

“Right now, we’re fighting over the last fish and that’s not going to work,” Loomis said, adding that more salmon habitat is being lost than recovered.

NWIFC’S CRAIG BOWHAY AND LORRAINE LOOMIS LISTEN AS FORMER WDFW BIOLOGIST AND SPORTFISHING AND HABITAT ADVOCATE CURT KRAMER MAKES A POINT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Loomis left it to NWIFC fisheries director Craig Bowhay to answer questions from the public, the first of which came from a face that would be familiar to him, Pat Patillo, the retired WDFW salmon policy advisor and current sportfishing advocate.

Patillo wanted to know how the tribes felt about increasing hatchery production and how could NWIFC and the state work together towards that end?

Bowhay pointed back to budget cuts at Patillo’s old agency (Warren noted that the 1999 Endangered Species Act listing also played a role in the reduction of state releases from the 73 million range of the 1980s to today’s 38 million in the Sound and coast; the tribes report releasing 34 million last year), and while he said “We’d like to reverse” that trend, noted the challenges of tailoring production to harvest and realistically addressing salmon populations that can and can’t be rebuilt.

But he said that with the plight of orcas, there’s “more acceptance” from the feds of increased releases.

In fact, Governor Jay Inslee recently requested WDFW begin working on that, and it sounds like extra coho eggs were taken last year as a bridge stock for fisheries as more Chinook and areas may be allocated to the whales.

Curt Kramer, the retired North Sound state fisheries biologist and regional manager, stood and called for a “drastic change” in how recovering habitat is talked about. It’s primarily spoken of in terms of relation to salmon and steelhead, but he proposed couching it as “recovering rivers.”

“The Stilly is unraveling from the headwaters down. We need to figure out how to talk with a very loud voice,” Kramer said, drawing applause.

Much is made of tribal connections to the land and salmon but Kramer pointed out that we fishermen have those too, and we should all take advantage of that.

PSA’s Garner said his organization had the same outlook.

“I want to see no more fighting between us,” he said.

Garner pointed to issues all fishermen can work together on, namely seals’, sea lions’ and cormorants’ insatiable appetites for salmonid smolts.

A bit later Bowhay addressed that, saying NWIFC was trying to get more funding to build on the science that’s really beginning to show how much of a predation problem we face.

“Our collective harvest is less than what the marine mammals are taking,” he said, leaving “orcas last in line.”

Bowhay and others made several calls for fishermen to talk to their Congressional representatives, but he also acknowledged that the public at large “is in love with that brown-eyed seal.”

“There’s a lot of education (that needs to be done) to get over that,” he said.

Prompted by Kramer’s comments on the scale of lost habitat in the Central and North Sound over just the past dozen years and whether a better success metric was needed, Bowhay added that more land managers — counties, cities, the agriculture industry, state Departments of Transportation, Natural Resources and Ecology — should include salmon recovery in their core missions.

KING COUNTY LAKE WASHINGTON WATERSHED SALMON RECOVERY MANAGER JASON MULVIHILL-KUNTZ SPEAKS AS WDFW’S WARREN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

As it turned out, there was an actual land manager in the room, Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, who works on salmon recovery in the Lake Washington watershed for King County. He said he appreciated the focus on habitat and essentially wanted more tools for implementing actions. Warren promised to get in contact with him.

THEN A QUARTET OF TRIBAL FISHERY MANAGERS IN the audience rose to speak, led off by Sean Yannity of the Stillaguamish Tribe, who recalled how his uncle had closed Chinook fishing on the system 30 years ago.

“He saw the disaster coming,” Yannity said.

He decried that Stillaguamish River kings were still being caught in the saltwater and likened telling his five last tribal fishermen they couldn’t catch any in the 14 miles of the Stilly they can fish for a funeral to “telling a Catholic they can’t take communion.”

Yannity said that the tribes had been “mocked” by the public for their insistence that lost habitat was a big problem and that the Stillaguamish were considered “evil ones” for acquiring 1,000 acres in the watershed for restoration.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SAYS “EXTINCTION IS NOT AN OPTION FOR US.” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Saying that “extinction is not an option for us” and that “We have a lot more in common than differences,” Yannity added, “I hope you in Washington state don’t end up like the Stillaguamish Tribe.”

With Russ Svec of the Makah Nation and the Lummi Nation’s James standing by his side, Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Indian Nation said the plenary session was a “first.”

“This is the start if you wish to build a coalition,” Johnstone said, and that dancing around the issues wasn’t going to get us anywhere.

Speaking to the culvert case between the state of Washington and the tribes and which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court later this spring, he asked, “Who is against us? Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association … there’s like ten.”

While Johnstone said numerous other states have also joined with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and other angling groups earlier this week filed a SCOTUS brief supporting the tribes’ side.

Svec said he hadn’t seen tribes, recreational and commercial fishermen coming together like this before.

“Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice,” he said.

James pointed out that even as local governments fought the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision on water and development, they have residents who like to fish, potential allies in the grand cause.

“We can’t ride the fish to zero so there are no problems for developers,” he said.

NORM REINHARDT OF THE KITSAP POGGIE CLUB MAKES A POINT WITH STATE FISHERY MANAGERS EARLIER IN THE DAY. ALSO IN ATTENDANCE WERE MANY PUGET SOUND ANGLERS MEMBERS AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM THREE MAJOR PUGET SOUND MARINE AND TACKLE STORES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AS THE SESSION CAME TO A CLOSE SO FISHERY MANAGERS could get to the rest of their afternoon salmon meetings, Loomis and Warren had some final thoughts.

“I have to tell you, this is the first meeting I’ve been to at North of Falcon that so many words were spoken about habitat,” said a pleased-sounding Loomis.

Warren, who joked that it was rare for him to get the last word over his counterpart with the tribes, began to choke up slightly.

“I grew up in the agency trying to do the right thing for resources and I’m proud to stand with you,” he said.

I’ll readily admit that I don’t have the North of Falcon-trenches experience that others in our world do, and so I looked for insight on whether what I’d just witnessed was real or just smoke and mirrors.

Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and who currently runs the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating and Salmon Derby Series fronts, had sat a row in front of me, and later in the afternoon tweeted a photo of himself and Loomis posing for a selfie.

“A historic day at NOF meetings that would’ve had Billy Frank Jr. smiling down on this blessed earth! Time to build a new path toward salmon recovery and habitat restoration by all parties. ,” Yuasa wrote on Twitter.

When I got home, I called Nelson the radio show host for his take. He called the meeting “unprecedented and wonderful” and said, “For the first time our real culprit has been pointed out.”

He talked about reducing the predatory effectiveness of pinnipeds, of redefining impacts on salmon to include development and to credit new building that helps the fish.

And if we get a season someday, Nelson promised me a recipe for cormorants.

It would be better than eating crow, which is what we’ll get if all we do is sit and argue and let the salmon dwindle to nothing instead.

Correction, 9:20 a.m., April 6, 2018: The last name of Ron Warren, WDFW Fish Program manager, was misstated in the cutline for the first image as Loomis. It has since been corrected. Apologies for the error.

Olympia Update: Fishermen Support Boosting Salmon Production For Orcas; More Bills In Play

Top Washington fishing organizations lent strong support to a bill that would raise 10 million more Chinook and other salmon a year — for orcas.

Leaders and representatives from Puget Sound Anglers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Fish Northwest and Coastal Conservation Association, the salmon fishing ports of Ilwaco and Westport and commercial fleets all spoke in favor of House Bill 2417, which provides $1.55 million in General Fund revenues for the bid to benefit the state’s struggling killer whale population.

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/)

It’s one of two major proposals this session to ramp up salmon production, the other being in Governor Jay Inslee’s budget, which also features fixing up hatcheries to support the goal and increased patrols to protect the marine mammals.

During yesterday’s public hearing on HB 2417 before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, PSA’s Ron Garner called orcas “one of the neatest animals in the world” and shared up-close encounters as the whales chased salmon against his fishing boat to catch their dinner.

“I think this is a time when all of us to come together — the tribes, the commercials, the recreationals — all of us can come together because we need to save our precious orcas,” said Garner. “It’s a way of life, our fishing, and if we’re able to fish more with it, that’s great, but we can’t let our orcas go extinct on our watch. I think that’s an important thing. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t support helping our orcas out.”

Butch Smith, representing both the Ilwaco and Westport Charterboat Associations, said, “The ocean salmon fishermen do not want the orca to go extinct, especially when we have the ability to produce salmon to help the orca whale.”

Steve Westrick, skipper of the Westport-based Hula Girl, said that diminishing hatchery production had put orcas close to a tipping point.

“The whole world’s watching us,” said Greg King of Friends of the Cowlitz. “Are we going to let these orcas die and have that blood on our hands? I don’t think we want that, and I support two four one seven.”

The bill also drew support from two representatives from the commercial fishing industry, Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association and Dale Beasley of the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries.

But some like NSIA also called on prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake, Democrat of Aberdeen, to expand it to include hatcheries in Puget Sound and bump up production goals.

And Garner pointed out that strong harbor seal predation on Chinook smolts also needs to be addressed.

Under the bill’s initial version, the salmon would be raised at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kalama Falls, Beaver Creek, Naselle, Humptulips, Skookumchuck, and Lake Aberdeen hatcheries.

Penny Becker, WDFW diversity manager, said her agency was in favor of HB 2417.

“We’re committed to ramping up hatchery production to try and deal with this issue of prey availability for southern residents as possible,” she said.

Becker said WDFW was working with Blake on production goals and cautioned that Endangered Species Act issues, Hatchery Review Scientific Group recommendations and broodstock requirements needed to be considered.

Some of those concerns were echoed by retired WDFW Director Phil Anderson, who now sits on the Pacific Salmon Commission and is chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and who also called the bill a “great start.”

“As we’re putting these packages together, looking at all available resources and facilities, that we keep in mind there can be multiple benefits coming from this additional production,” said Anderson. “Orcas is the primary and we ought to be looking and selecting stocks that are most likely to increase the prey base for southern resident killer whales. But we can also build into that strategy looking for economic opportunities in terms of reinforcing recreational and commercial fisheries as we make those selections.”

Nobody spoke against the bill.

Rep. Vincent Buys, a Republican who represents most of Whatcom County outside of southern Bellingham, asked WDFW Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne if the state still had the facilities to ramp up production.

“We have taken out some of the infrastructure but most of that infrastructure still exists,” Kinne said.

AGENCY-REQUEST LEGISLATION

As you might expect, HB 2417 isn’t the only fish-, wildlife- and habitat-related bill active in Olympia. Between state legislators and Department of Fish and Wildlife-request bills, there is a host of other proposals out there to flesh out.

Raquel Crosier, who is WDFW’s very busy legislative liason, provided a rundown on three bills the agency has asked for state representatives’ and senators’ help on.

They address sportsman recruitment, ADA accommodations, and a bill that would “fix” another from last year that delivered a “disproportionate” impact on instate guides.

Through the lens of our old friend the Olympia Outsider here’s a look at those and others in play:

Hunting and Fishing Recruitment Bill: With Washington sportsmen aging dramatically, House Bill 2505 and its companion in the Senate, SB 6198, aim to increase participation in fishing and hunting through a multi-pronged approach.

“It raises the youth age for fishers to 16, provides a hunter education graduate coupon of $20 on your first hunting license, and provides the department authority to develop bundled discount license packages (like multiyear or family packages),” Crosier says.

It would also let anglers buy a temporary license to fish during April’s lowland lakes opener instead of requiring a more expensive year-round one.

Recruitment is a big problem for fish and wildlife agencies, and WDFW is no different. According to handout Crosier forwarded, the average age of the state’s hunters and anglers has increased from 46 for both groups in 2007 to 52 and 54, respectively in 2015.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast, Sen. Dean Takko, D, South Coast

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Anything that makes it easier and cheaper to get more people on the water in the woods, thereby helping conservation and, yes, our industry, is a good thing.

ADA Accommodations Bill: HB 2649 aims to make it “easier for disabled hunters and fishers to get into the sport and (improves) the department’s service delivery and accommodations process,” Crosier reports.

“(It) condenses multiple disabled hunting and fishing licenses and permits into one special use permit and expands who can sign disabled hunter and fisher reduced rate and accommodation forms,” she explains.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Andrew Barkis, R, Pierce County

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Another good bill to pass.

Fishing Guide Fee Fiasco Fix Bill: While Washington hunters and anglers were spared fee increases last year, not so with fishing guides. Instate operators saw their license costs more than double, while out-of-state guides received a dramatic price break.

HB 2626 and SB 6317 aim to reverse that.

“The fishing guides got a disproportionate increase compare to other commercial license types,” says Crosier. “Also, we were tracking a court case on nonresident rates as session was going and didn’t quite get the nonresident commercial rates in line with the court-approved model. We are looking at increasing the nonresident rates to set them at the court-approved rate ($385 above the resident rates) and using that savings to reduce the resident fishing guides rates.”

Under the bill, a resident food fish guide license would be reduced from $280 to $210 (it was $130) while the corresponding nonresident fee would go from $355 to $595 (it was $630).

A resident game fish guide license would drop to $305 from $410 while the nonresident one would increase from $485 to $690.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast; Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Math has never been the OO’s strongest suit, but it should cost much more for nonresident guides to benefit from the state’s fish stocks. This corrects last year’s error.

ALSO PERCOLATING

Beyond those three agency-request bills, there are many more bills prowling the halls of power, including:

HB 2771: “Managing wolves using translocation”

Effect: Directs WDFW to immediately begin capturing and moving wolves from areas where they’re causing livestock depredations — for instance, Northeast Washington — to areas they’re not (yet).

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: It’s clear Northeast Washington is bearing the brunt of wolf problems, but translocation bills haven’t moved much in recent years, and it’s possible this one won’t either.

HB 2276, SB 6315: “Concerning notification of wildlife transfer, relocation, or introduction into a new location”

Effect: Requires WDFW to hold a public hearing before moving critters to different parts of the state, and there must be 30 days advance notice of that hearing in the communities most affected.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R, North Cascades; Sen. Ken Wagoner, R, North Cascades

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Inspired by word that the National Park Service and WDFW would like to move mountain goats from the Olympics to North Cascades, the bill still needs better definition so it doesn’t squelch releases of, say, pheasants or butterflies to state wildlife areas, or suburban-garbage-raiding bears into the woods.

SB 6127: “Improving the management of the state’s halibut fishery”

Effect: WDFW would need to “advocate” for halibut fishing openers to be on consecutive days instead of the opener’s Thursday, Saturday setup. Also sets the price of a halibut catch card at $5, which would go towards monitoring and managing the sport fishery.

Prime sponsors: Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: The senator from the Straits has been itching to address halibut fishing for awhile, and now can as the chair of the committee that can hear this bill.

SB 6268, “Creating the orca protection act”

Effect: Requires WDFW to add extra marine patrols to protect baby killer whales, orca feeding areas and pods during the busiest whale-watching weeks of the year.

Prime sponsor: Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Just so long as it’s funded and, say, everyone is policed evenly.

HB 2337: “Concerning civil enforcement of construction projects in state waters”

Effect: Would allow WDFW to issue a stop work order if hydraulic code or other rules were being broken and levy fines of up to $10,000 overall, up from $100 a day.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: From a salmon-friendly perspective, not a bad idea to put a little enforcement behind the rules.

HB 2175, “Concerning natural resource management activities”

Effect: Allows WDFW to sign off on a range of land management activities — brush cutting, grazing, firewood gathering and others — without having to prepare a state environmental impact statement.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 9; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

OTHER BILLS

In the wake of the Cypress Island netpen failure that led to the escape of upwards of 160,000 Atlantic salmon, a few of which are still turning up, three bills take on aquaculture in Puget Sound.

They would (HB 2418) study existing facilities and report back to the legislature before authorizing more to be built, bar the “cultivation” (HB 2260) of Atlantics in the state’s saltwaters, and prohibit DNR (SB 6086) from signing new or extending existing leases, effectively ending the farming of nonnative fish by 2024.

Of those, the last — sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands — has moved the furthest. It’s now in Senate Ways and Means.

An unresolved issue from last year’s lengthy legislative session, the Hirst Decision and its potential effect on rural landowners as well as salmon-bearing waters is the subject of two bills, HB 2740 from Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County HB 2740 and SB 6091 from Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula.

The latter has made the most progress; a substitute bill was sent to the Senate floor and there were long negotiations with the legislature’s four main caucuses.

Commissioner ‘Not Very Happy’ To Be Left Out Of Loop As New Sound Chinook Plan Negotiated

This morning, more light was shed on the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook harvest comanagement plan, the result of confidential negotiations mediated by a federal judge but which left the vice chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission “not very happy” about things.

The plan only came to light this Tuesday following months of talks behind closed doors between WDFW, tribal and Department of Justice officials following the disastrous 2016 North of Falcon and its delayed state fisheries.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN LARRY CARPENTER TOLD WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH HE WAS NOT HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT OF THE LOOP AS A PROPOSED 10-YEAR PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN WAS NEGOTIATED IN SECRET BY AGENCY, TRIBAL AND DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICIALS. (TVW)

And while meant to try and avoid that fiasco again, as well as conserve key stocks, that the negotiations were done without knowledge of the citizen panel that oversees policy for the state agency irked the recently reappointed Larry Carpenter.

“Director (Unsworth), the commission delegates authority to you on a variety of issues, and that’s an appropriate thing to do. I agree with it. But I don’t think that that eliminates your responsibility to have consultations with us on issues of importance,” the former Mount Vernon boat seller and member of the Southern Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission said during a meeting of the commission in Olympia broadcast on TVW.

“And I certainly consider the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan to be an issue of significant importance. It’s very critical, and not having discussions with the commission, I think, is an unacceptable practice.”

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH BRIEFED THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON THE PROPOSED CHINOOK PLAN. (TVW)

Carpenter, who is the chair of the commission’s  fish committee and member of its executive committee, said that at a recent closed-door briefing just enough information about the ongoing mediation was given to he and fellow commissioners to “read between the lines about what was really happening.”

“We didn’t know,” he said.

Then the plan was posted online, and with its warnings of potentially reduced fishing for the basin’s premier salmon stock, anglers and tackle and boat makers immediately started fretting about the future of fishing and the industry.

“And we got stakeholders calling us and emailing us — angst,” Carpenter said. “I feel like we were really, really left out on a limb on this one. And I’m really not very happy about it.”

During public input afterwards, some of his concerns were echoed by Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, among the state’s largest sporting organizations.

“The commission needs to be apprised of this as a major stakeholder,” Garner said.

RON GARNER, PRESIDENT OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS, SPEAKS DURING PUBLIC COMMENT AT TODAY’S FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

He also took issue with a major change from the previous management strategy for Puget Sound — lowering exploitation rates on Stillaguamish fall kings, which are caught in fisheries everywhere from Stanwood to Juneau.

The plan reduces that rate from 13 percent to 8 percent. While that lower figure is actually near the rate of recent years, it also drops down to as low as 4 percent for years of lower abundances.

Garner called that “very restrictive,” and while he said he understood the reason why, he disagreed that it would actually help out Stilly Chinook.

“Even if you shut down every fishery on the West Coast, the Stillaguamish River would not recover. It’s strictly a habitat-water issue,” he said.

“It has the possibility of closing down a lot of businesses, manufacturing businesses, loss of jobs, maybe in the tens of thousands, and the quality of life in Washington state,” Garner added before his three minutes of time to speak were up.

Using 2017 preseason fishery forecasts as an example, Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and current Northwest Marine Trade Association staffer, reported that sport fishers would have lost out on 18,000 Chinook in mostly hatchery-targeted fisheries in North and Central Puget Sound this year, all to save nine wild Stillaguamish kings. Nine.

It is not immediately clear how it would affect tribal fisheries, but likely would impact open-water fishermen more so than terminal zone ones.

Following the meeting, Perry Mancheca, who has been calling for more open meetings between state and tribal officials, asked fellow anglers to attend tomorrow’s commission meeting and pour on the pressure.

“It is now more important than ever that the we follow such a strong statement by our Commission with a loud and strong message from the stakeholders,” he said via a petition update on Change.org.

The job of informing the Fish and Wildlife Commission how the confidential negotiations came about fell to Assistant Attorney General Mike Grossman, who advises WDFW on legal matters.

Grossman explained that after 2016’s highly contentious North of Falcon wrapped up, the state received a request from the U.S. Department of Justice and tribal officials to “meet and confer,” which resulted in confidential discussions mediated by U.S. District Court for Western Washington Judge Marsha Pechman.

He said that the number one priority of those talks was an updated 10-year resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook, and to get it in place by April or May 2019, it needed to be wrapped up by Nov. 30 for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s NEPA review, estimated to take about 17 months.

The previous 10-year plan expired in 2014 and the comanagers have been taking it year to year.

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE GROSSMAN SPEAKS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (TVW)

Grossman said that the state “benefited from being able to converse with the tribes on a confidentiality basis.”

He acknowledged the “tension” that that created with state laws on openness, and indeed, news of the secret talks comes as sportsmen like Mancheca have been working for more than a year to open up the state-tribal North of Falcon negotiations, which otherwise aren’t public.

Grossman explained that without Endangered Species Act coverage through the Chinook plan, “we can’t fish,” meaning nontribal anglers, as the feds “don’t have the view” they’ll do an individual consultation for the state like they would the tribes.

“Really, this … comanagement plan or a unilateral plan, which would very problematic, are the only two vehicles. And we made a decision, after a lot of talk with you and with the agency to proceed based on a comanager plan,” he said.

He described it as an umbrella, underneath which the state and tribes could divvy up the harvestable catch, though work remains.

“But it is a crucial piece that I think does recalibrate and puts us in a much better position to negotiate North of Falcon not having to worry about whether or not we have ESA protection at the end of the day. The focus will then entirely be on, do we have fair and balanced fisheries between the various comanagers, knowing that collectively we have to live within these limits,” Grossman said.

More details on what the Chinook plan may mean for sport fisheries may be forthcoming at the commission’s January meeting.

Outside today’s meeting, a question was raised by Frank Urabeck, a member of the sportfishing community, about whether not having the commission approve the plan before it was sent to the feds might invalidate it, but Garner said that that had been looked at and WDFW can act and then inform members.

One final note on the commission and Chinook: During discussion about Puget Sound orcas, Director Unsworth said that WDFW is evaluating what can be done via their facilities.

“Hopefully we can do something to increase hatchery production that will be helpful for killer whales, as well as salmon in general and our recreational and commercial, tribal use of those fish,” he said.

More information could come out as Governor Inslee pushes out his supplemental budget proposals for the coming legislative session.

Editor’s note: This blog was updated at 8 a.m., December 11, 2017, to clarify Mark Yuasa was reporting estimated 2017 fishery impacts and the figures were not his own. Larry Carpenter’s commission committee assignments were also added.

Baker, Skokomish Sockeye Issues Raised With Washington Fish Commission

Sockeye issues are boiling to a head in Western Washington.

Sportfishing representatives went to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in late October to ask for a more equitable share of one river’s salmon.

And they expressed opposition to the use of eggs from those fish so a tribe elsewhere can try and jumpstart a run but in the meanwhile are blocking recreational fishermen from accessing state hatchery-raised Chinook and coho.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“This egg transfer program needs to be put on hold until the sportfishing harvest inequities for the Baker Lake sockeye run is addressed and the sport salmon fishery is reestablished on the Skokomish River,” Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington told the commission in late October. “What’s missing here in the whole equation is opportunity — opportunity for us to get our fair share on the Skagit River and opportunity for us to fish on the Skokomish River.”

Ultimately, Senyohl and others are trying to use whatever leverage they can to get more state focus on reopening the Skokomish, which was closed in 2016 and this year, and where some 35,000-plus surplus Chinook have returned to WDFW’s George Adams Hatchery this fall.

Fishing advocate Frank Urabeck reports that with the Skokomish Tribe having harvested 55,000 Chinook this year, he figures that if the river had been open, anglers might have caught as many as 15,000.

The Baker sockeye eggs come from several hundred fish captured at Puget Sound Energy’s Baker River trap and are part of a broader, longterm enrichment of salmon runs in southern Hood Canal as Tacoma Power updates their dams there.

But anglers are leery that they will ever be able to access those fish following on the Skokomish’s use of a federal solicitor’s opinion to take over the entire width of the river.

“Why are we rewarding a neighbor who is behaving badly? Why?” asked Norm Reinhart of the Kitsap Poggie Club. “I understand that the (sockeye) may not belong to WDFW, but we most certainly are supporting that transfer with our science and our staff. Why are we doing that?”

(For the state’s position, go here.)

It has angler advocates looking around for options.

“We’re going to have to play hardball again,” Ron Garner, state president of Puget Sound Anglers, told the commission.

Back up on the Skagit River, as sockeye runs have increased to the Baker in recent years, North Sound tribes and recreational anglers have benefited, but in two of the past four summers, there’s been a sharp harvest inequity in favor of the former fishermen.

That’s due to returns that have come in lower than preseason forecasts. While tribes fish to that forecast, it can mean far fewer sockeye are hauled up to Baker Lake, a prime sportfishing opportunity.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff outlined several possible ways to address that for the commission.

One idea is to use a Columbia River spring Chinook-like 30 percent run buffer before an inseason run update, but the agency appears hesitant to do that because of perceived tribal pushback because of potentially not being able to harvest their share.

Staffers appear to prefer improving run modeling and increasing the sport fishing area on the Skagit River to better balance the harvest.

But Urabeck wanted the commission to get involved.

“Given the complexity, seriousness of the situation, and inability so far for the Department to adequately address the harvest imbalance issues, we ask that the commission have your Fish Committee work with us and the department to achieve the cooperation of the affected Skagit Basin tribes to secure harvest fairness and equity,” Urabeck asked commissioners. “It might be appropriate to have the Fish Committee also take a look at the implementation plan for the transfer of Baker sockeye eyed eggs to the Skokomish Tribe’s Salt-water Park Sockeye Hatchery. We ask that you also could encourage (WDFW) Director (Jim) Unsworth and Governor (Jay) Inslee to renew their efforts with the Skokomish Tribe to allow Skokomish River sport salmon fishing to resume in 2018.”

Members of the Fish Committee include Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Bob Kehoe, Dave Graybill and Kim Thorburn.

At least two expressed interest in taking some of the issues up. Carpenter noted that without other fishing opportunities on the Skagit in recent years, sockeye’s all that anybody — tribal and recreational alike — have really had.

Next Thursday, November 16, Tacoma Power is hosting a public meeting on Skokomish River salmon restoration. It will be held at the Cushman Fire Hall (240 North Standstill Drive) and begins at 6 p.m