Tag Archives: Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan

Commissioner Calls For Snake Chinook-like Conservation Hatchery On Stilly

UPDATED AT BOTTOM WITH WDFW PRESS RELEASE ON TODAY’S COMMISSION TELECONFERENCE

Pointing to the successful restoration of Snake River fall Chinook from the edge of extinction, a Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner called for a new conservation hatchery program on the Stillaguamish.

It would rear more kings as habitat work is done in the Snohomish County watershed where the stock is having trouble rebuilding itself despite fishery cuts over the decades and which has been identified as a major constraint in the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

It’s the brainchild of the newest member of the citizen panel, Hockinson’s Don McIsaac, the retired chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“Much more needs to be done outside of fishery restrictions,” McIsaac said during a commission teleconference this morning.

His plan would need funding from the state legislature and buy-in from the Stillaguamish Tribe, which already operates a facility on the river.

But commissioners are trying to show the angling public that there are ways to mitigate the feared impacts of the controversial 10-year plan that’s been in the news so much of late.

In a nutshell, McIsaac explained that after construction of the four dams on the lower Snake River, fall Chinook returns dropped to just 78 wild fish in 1990.

But through joint tribal-state-federal efforts — along with habitat and river flow improvements — the run has been rebuilt to as high as 60,000 hatchery and wild kings past Lower Granite Dam in recent years, and sport and tribal anglers have been able to fish for and harvest the salmon.

Basically, eggs were taken from Snake kings and reared at WDFW’s Kalama Falls Hatchery for a couple generations. The progeny of those were then returned to the Snake.

McIsaac termed it “a successful example of a conservation hatchery helping out while habitat is worked on.”

He acknowledged that building a larger conservation hatchery on the Stilly would take time, so he suggested using existing state facilities as bridges.

And he stressed that the Stillaguamish Tribe would need to be amenable to it.

Of note, the extirpation of the basin’s Chinook is a nonstarter for the tribe and Washington.

McIsaac also touched on the 900-pound gorilla in the room, the “severe” predation on Chinook in Puget Sound by increasing numbers of MMPA-protected seals and sea lions that is “not being addressed.”

He said that pinnipeds are picking off tens of millions of the salmon as they leave the rivers as smolts, swim through the estuaries and out of the inland sea before returning after several years as adults.

“So in some ways it’s no wonder we’ve seen no rebound in fish numbers,” McIsaac said.

And he challenged WDFW staff to come up with a “genuine habitat restoration plan” for the Stillaguamish Basin too.

Ultimately, it all gives the agency negotiating tools as work continues on the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan, etc.

McIsaac also said a better job needs to be done communicating with the angling public on the plan, and asked WDFW staffers to put out a press release following today’s teleconference that would in part put out “true facts” on the plan’s impacts and “dispel rumors and exaggerations.”

He said that allegations that Puget Sound would be closed for salmon fishing for 10 years “are just not true.”

That said, in years of low runs, both state and tribal fisheries could be restricted in places as federal overseers lower acceptable risks on the stocks.

But there have been some indications that the plan will not be used as a blueprint for designing 2018 fisheries, meaning the reduced impact rates may not have to be applied this season. NMFS has numerous problems with what the state and tribes have come up with for many basins and the plan may not be approved until the 2020 season.

WDFW has been hobbled talking about the plan to a degree because of the nature of the closed-door negotiations between the state and tribes in a federal court that left the commission and angling public out. They have made little effort to explain it to us, and so the plan has been picked apart by their own retired experts as well as radio show hosts and others.

“It’s important that we try to improve the communications as we go through this,” McIsaac urged.

At the commission’s meeting in Ridgefield on Friday, Ron Warren, the agency’s Fish Program Manager, acknowledged that public trust with WDFW had been “eroded” and he apologized to anglers in attendance and across the state for that.

Seven of the commission’s nine members were in on today’s conference call, and McIsaac’s proposals drew very strong support from Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.

“We have a crisis on our hands here and we have to show leadership on the issue,” he said.

Carpenter, who is a former owner of Master Marine, had lobbied for another teleconference earlier this month in hopes of being able to share “perhaps something positive” with stakeholders before the big upcoming Seattle Boat Show “so it’s not a total disaster.”

Others were in support of McIsaac’s ideas, though caution was expressed about certain facets, including sending a letter to the governor asking for $5 million for the new hatchery, whether $5 million was a realistic figure, the potential for litigation over pinnipeds from “protection organizations,” McIsaac’s “off ramp” for fishery restrictions if runs improve, and the fact that the Stilly isn’t the only Chinook basin with problems — there’s also the Nooksack, among others, so what about them?

But it’s a start.

Ultimately, the commission did not vote on any specific resolution as, according to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, staff had enough direction to work with.

 

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

Commission advises WDFW on chinook plan that would guide Puget Sound salmon fisheries

OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission advised state fishery managers to strike a better balance between conservation and harvest opportunities as they work with tribal co-managers to revise a proposed plan for managing chinook harvest in Puget Sound.

During a conference call Tuesday, the commission – a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) – instructed state fishery managers to explore a variety of options as they revisit catch rates and other pieces of the updated Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

The plan defines conservation goals for state and tribal fisheries that have an impact on wild Puget Sound chinook salmon, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under that law, no fisheries affecting Puget Sound chinook can occur without a conservation plan approved by NOAA Fisheries.

“Ultimately, we would all like to see salmon runs restored in Puget Sound, but severely restricting fisheries isn’t the only path to achieving that goal,” said Brad Smith, chair of the commission. “For that reason, we advised WDFW staff to explore other salmon recovery options, including improvements to habitat and hatchery operations.”

State and treaty tribal co-managers initially submitted the proposed plan to NOAA Fisheries on Dec. 1, 2017. The plan would reduce state and tribal fisheries in Washington, especially in years with expected low salmon returns. For example, increased protections for wild chinook salmon returning to the Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers would likely restrict numerous fisheries because those fish are caught in many areas of Puget Sound.

Despite the restrictive nature of the plan, NOAA has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from many people who are concerned this plan could result in the closure of all Puget Sound sport fisheries, but that’s not the case,” Smith said. “Yes, the plan does call for reductions to some fisheries, especially in years of low salmon abundance. But we have an opportunity – given the need to revise the plan – to use various mitigation tools to offset impacts from fisheries when and where appropriate.”

Mitigation tools the commission asked WDFW to explore include:

  • Increasing habitat restoration efforts.
  • Improving hatchery operations, including increasing production to support salmon recovery efforts.
  • Reducing populations of predators, such as seals and sea lions.

NOAA has indicated its review process will take 18 months once the federal agency deems the plan is sufficient for a full review, making it likely the 10-year plan won’t be in place until the 2020-2021 fishing season. There will be opportunities for public comment during that review process.

State fishery managers believe that a long-term management plan will reduce uncertainty in the annual salmon season-setting process, providing more stability for recreational and commercial fisheries.

In the meantime, state and tribal co-managers are working on conservation objectives to guide this year’s salmon season-setting process. During its call Tuesday, the commission asked state fishery managers to continue to discuss the possibility of using the 2017 conservation objectives for this year’s upcoming planning efforts.

The commission directed state fishery managers to provide regular updates as the negotiations of this year’s objectives and the 10-year plan continue. State fishery managers will also provide updates throughout the process to citizen advisors during open public meetings.

The plan, along with feedback from NOAA, is available on WDFW’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.

WA Fish Commission Adds Another Meeting On Sound King Plan, OKs Some Reg Simplifications

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a package of simplified sportfishing rules for Washington’s rivers, streams and lakes during its Jan. 18-20 meeting in Ridgefield.

 

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also was briefed on proposed updates to a management plan for harvesting Puget Sound chinook salmon.

Commissioners decided to continue to discuss – and potentially provide guidance on – the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan during a special conference call on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The commission will convene the call at 8:30 a.m.

The public can listen to the work session, but there will be no opportunity for public comment. More information about the call will be posted Monday on the commission’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/.

State and treaty tribal co-managers initially submitted the plan to NOAA Fisheries on Dec. 1, 2017. NOAA has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives.

The plan is required by NOAA for the state and tribes to hold fisheries affecting wild Puget Sound chinook, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The proposed 10-year plan, along with feedback from NOAA, is available on WDFW’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.

During the meeting in Ridgefield, commissioners approved rules aimed at simplifying sportfishing regulations for freshwater species, including steelhead, trout, warmwater fish, sturgeon, shad and carp.

These rules – which apply to freshwater throughout the state, with some exceptions – will go into effect July 1, 2018. Some of the rules adopted by the commission include:

·       Reducing the number of exceptions to the year-round lake season.

·       Eliminating mandatory steelhead retention.

·       Standardizing the daily limit and minimum size requirements for bass, walleye and channel catfish in the Columbia River (downstream of Chief Joseph dam) and its tributaries, including the Snake River and its tributaries. This change aligns regulations on several rivers with a previously adopted rule that eliminated daily limits and size requirements for these species in most of the region.

WDFW staff withdrew a few proposals that had been put forth during the public review process. One such rule would have allowed chumming statewide while another would have eliminated special rules for panfish statewide. Another rule that was withdrawn would have eliminated a provision that requires anglers using bait to stop fishing for trout after landing the daily limit for that species, regardless of whether the fish are kept or released.

More information on the simplified rules can be found online athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/01/agenda_jan1818.html.

In other business, the commission directed WDFW staff to initiate a public process to strengthen the conservation and protection of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, which has been classified as a threatened species under state law since 1998. Commission members said they favored elevating the level of protection to endangered, which could increase the likelihood of the species’ survival and recovery.

In the 1800s, the sharp-tailed grouse was the most abundant game bird in eastern Washington, with its highest densities in relatively moist grassland and sagebrush vegetation. But with much of its habitat converted to cropland, and in the wake of major fires in 2015, the population has declined to an estimated total of less than 600 birds.

In the coming weeks, WDFW will seek public comments on the proposed change within a timetable that will enable the commission to make a final decision later this year.

A draft report on the bird’s status is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/.

The commission also voted to make changes to rules for compensating commercial livestock owners for animals killed or injured by wolves. One of those changes establishes market value for the loss of livestock and guard dogs. Another requires livestock producers to exhaust all available compensation from non-profit groups before receiving payment from the department.

Additionally, commissioners approved the purchase of 1.3 acres of floodplain in Whatcom County to restore habitat and 115 acres of land in Ferry County, which includes 3.4 miles of undeveloped shoreline on the Kettle River. The Ferry County acquisition will protect habitat and allow for public access to the river for a variety of non-motorized recreational activities and wildlife viewing.

Minutes and audio recordings of the commission meeting will be available online early next week athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/minutes.html.

Commission To Hear More On Puget Sound Chinook Plan Friday

Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners will hold a teleconference later this week to hear more about the proposed 10-year Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

WDFW staffers will provide details about the controversial 338-page document they and the basin’s tribes submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service early last month to protect the ESA-listed salmon stock.

Members of the nine-member citizen panel have been hearing from anglers concerned about its potential reduced salmon seasons in the North Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca due to tightened fishery impact rates on Stillaguamish River fall kings.

And in a conference call earlier this month, Commission Vice Chair Larry Carpenter pointed out that the region’s bustling marine trade industry is fretting about the plan too.

“There’s a lot of fear out there,” he said.

Carpenter, a former owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon, a Northwest Sportsman advertiser, called last week for the teleconference in hopes of being able to share “perhaps something positive” with stakeholders before late January’s big Seattle Boat Show “so it’s not a total disaster.”

With a booming stock market, steadily increasing home values and low interest rates, the boat market is otherwise primed for Puget Sound anglers with money to spend, but for many there needs to be a reasonable assurance there will be salmon to catch before they buy.

The plan was first posted in early December, and the commission — and public — were given some details about its development by WDFW brass and a state assistant attorney general at a Dec. 8 meeting.

Since then and even before, it’s been the subject of at least two negative analyses by former agency staffers, outrage from a local radio show host, as well as rumors.

Now, ahead of Friday’s call, WDFW has updated its webpage dedicated to the Chinook plan with more information about the plan.

It includes a note that “NOAA Fisheries has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives. For that reason, NOAA is asking the co-managers to provide more information and analysis on the conservation objectives within the proposed plan.”

The public can listen in on the 2 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, commission teleconference, though will not be able to comment — that can be done at the commission’s Jan. 18-20 meetings in Ridgefield.

To do so, contact the Fish and Wildlife Commission (360) 902-2267 or commission@dfw.wa.gov by 4 p.m. Jan. 11.

Editor’s note: An earlier version misstated the location of the Jan. 18-20 meetings. They will be held at WDFW’s Region 5 headquarters in Ridgefield, not in Olympia.

Fishing Show Host Blasts WDFW Over Proposed Puget Sound Chinook Plan

WDFW’s proposed 10-year Puget Sound Chinook plan drew more strong negative reaction over the weekend, and a “possible decision” on it by the Fish and Wildlife Commission looms later this month.

First, the latest loathing for the plan.

After a 13-minute interview with an author of a Tidal Exchange article out last week looking at Stillaguamish River fall kings and the basin’s deep-seated habitat problems, local radio show host Tom Nelson went off.

RADIO SHOW HOST TOM NELSON, THE YOUNGER OF THE TWO TOM NELSONS INVOLVED FOR DECADES IN PUGET SOUND FISHING ISSUES. (TVW)

“I’ve never been so disappointed in WDFW that they would come out with this tremendously misguided and useless piece of public policy,” said the cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line on Saturday morning. “It’s the worst plan that I could have possibly envisioned with regard to actually addressing the situation and helping the industry.”

(Full disclosure: Northwest Sportsman and our many advertisers are part of said industry.)

The Stilly portion of the proposal, which the state agency as well as 17 Puget Sound tribes sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service for review last month, could sharply reduce salmon fishing opportunities across the North Sound and Straits because on its own, it does not seem likely the river will suddenly start producing enough Endangered Species Act-listed Stilly Chinook in the future, despite new, lower impacts.

Indeed, 30 years of restricted state and tribal fisheries on that system haven’t had much if any affect on rebuilding the stock so far.

“Just go to WDFW and run down to page 167 of the plan with regard to the Stilly, where it says, ‘Due to habitat constraints, this plan won’t work,’ essentially. I mean, it says so in the plan — in the plan!” Nelson said.

The portion of the 388-page document he’s referring to reads: “Due to the limited productivity of existing habitat, it is unlikely that fishery actions alone can rebuild abundance of Stillaguamish Chinook to higher levels.”

This new harvest management plan arose out of the highly contentious North of Falcon 2016, which took WDFW and treaty tribes two months longer to resolve than usual.

Afterwards, 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 a U.S. District Court judge, according to a Attorney General’s Office deputy.

The top priority was an updated 10-year resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook, one that would also provide more surety of seasons.

But word of the yearlong closed-door talks and their final product took not only anglers but the Fish and Wildlife Commission by surprise.

Anglers are hoping the commission can do something.

Nelson and cohost Rob Endsley urged them to contact the citizen oversight panel — along with state legislators — to ask that the plan be altered as it applies to the Stilly, one of 15 management units it addresses.

Besides sending emails to the commission, fishermen can also speak to the members during open public comment at next week’s meeting.

The Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan is the subject of an hour-and-a-half briefing by Kyle Adicks, intergovernmental salmon policy advisor, on the afternoon of Friday, January 19.

Interestingly, the words “possible decision” accompany that agenda item.

It’s a relatively rare placeholder that’s mainly been used with legislative proposals in recent years. It’s meant as a heads up “that the commission preserves the option to provide further guidance,” according to the office of the commission.

Yet as much heat as WDFW is taking over the plan, on the flip side, it appears to be utterly screwed by three little letters:

E, S and A.

With Puget Sound Chinook federally listed since March 1999 and declines continuing, WDFW is more and more straitjacketed to protect the salmon so it can get federal permits/ESA coverage to hold seasons on and/or around the fish.

It can’t very well go ahead and ignore that requirement either, as without the permit, it faces lawsuits, like with the basin’s steelhead a few years ago now, or it would leave us all on the beaches and boat ramps for who knows how long, like it looked might happen for awhile in 2016 as the agency considered a go-it-alone NOF permit.

Without casting aspersions on the scientific- and conservation-oriented nature of WDFW and its dedicated staffers, I suspect they probably would not have come up with let alone agreed to this new Chinook plan if they had the choice.

To be blunt, Unsworth et al don’t make money to run their programs off of closed fisheries whatsoever.

And they’re not really in the business of deviously figuring out ways to piss off some of the most fervent of Washington’s anglers.

(OK, so it kinda looks like that more and more every day.)

What they are is stuck trying to provide opportunities in the ever-tightening vice of ESA and with critically damaged habitat that in some places is, frankly, unrepairable.

Part of me wonders if that line that Nelson referred to is being slightly misinterpreted, that it was actually written into the plan by WDFW and its tribal coauthors to catch our eyes to raise hell about its futility, or as a plea for help.

Proposed Puget Sound Chinook Plan Panned In Another Analysis

Adopting a new Puget Sound Chinook plan that could further decrease the region’s salmon angling won’t save fall kings in a highly degraded watershed, where the stock appears to be less and less able to naturally replace itself despite 30 years of restrictions.

That’s the nut of another analysis of comanagers’ 10-year harvest management plan now out for federal review.

THE SUN RISES OVER THE LOWER STILLAGUAMISH RIVER VALLEY AND HIGHWAY 530 NEAR ARLINGTON IN OCTOBER 2014. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Headlined “WDFW Gives Up Puget Sound Fishing… For Nothing,” the pro-sportsfishing blog Tidal Exchange focused on the Stillaguamish River’s highly constraining Chinook, concluding that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound tribes’ proposal is worse than the status quo for two primary reasons:

“Because it allows — for another 10 years — the continued narrative that further curtailing fishing will lead to recovery on this river”;

And it “seems likely to deliver … a negative spiral for recovery and WDFW itself” through the loss of as much as an estimated $32 million annually in economic activity due to curtailed Chinook fisheries in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and North Sound and lost angler interest.

Where a mid-December review by a retired longtime WDFW salmon expert focused on that potential “tighter noose” on fisheries, in this new one, authors Curt Kraemer and Brian Fleming look at the Stilly’s underlying and overwhelming habitat problems.

The basin does include the pristine, sheer-sided 76-square-mile Boulder River Wilderness but also hundreds of square miles of scalped heights of the North and South Forks and their ever-shifting glacial strata underneath midelevation tree farms, as well as a highly modified floodplain, presenting problems from top to bottom, from Segelsen Ridge to Port Susan.

The authors use the analogy that before settlement, the Stillaguamish watershed was a 5-gallon bucket that produced runs of 50,000 Chinook, but with farming, diking, logging and development, the bucket can now only hold a pint of water.

Between tribally produced hatchery and natural-origin fall kings, returns have declined from around 900 in 1988 to 700 in 2015, according to a graph directly from the management plan, which was posted at this time last month and which we first reported on.

(PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN)

Because Puget Sound Chinook are listed under the Endangered Species Act, Washington managers have federal overseers looking over their shoulders asking how they’re going to protect them.

With the fisheries that impact Stilly kings the most outside of state control — namely off Vancouver Island, British Columbia and Alaska — the only way currently to get more back on the gravel is to reduce fisheries here.

Yet it’s a catch-22 — even fully curbing those would yield “surprisingly few … perhaps a dozen” more spawners, the authors write.

I know this will come across as the equivalent of the radio stations that last month switched to a Christmas format and put “Sleigh Ride” by The Spice Girls on heavy rotation until you couldn’t stand it, but the fix really does come down to one thing.

“Unless and until we repair the bucket, the habitat, we’re never going to see those numbers again,” the authors argue.

Furthermore, Kraemer — who retired from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after decades as a fisheries biologist in charge of the Stilly among other rivers — and Fleming say that by reducing Chinook fishing even further, you “end up losing the most engaged and enthusiastic resource we have — which is the tens of thousands of license buyers” — who could otherwise muster up the public support as well as manpower for habitat fixes.

That in itself will be a pretty tall order because it’s not easy to convince people that there really is a habitat problem for Chinook in such a beautiful, bucolic valley, one of postcard views, tidy farms, and a smaller human population, relatively speaking.

Yet there is, as salmon production here shows.

The authors call for anglers to write to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and urge members of the citizen oversight panel to confirm with other experts that their biological arguments are sound, “as the social and economic implications of the proposed Puget Sound fisheries changes are enormous.”

Meanwhile, the commission will be briefed by WDFW staff about said plan at their upcoming meeting in Ridgefield.

Kyle Adicks, intergovernmental salmon advisor, is scheduled to speak beginning at 1:20 p.m. on Jan. 19. It’ll be a chance for agency brass to defend the plan.

At least one commissioner has already voiced displeasure with it.

Vice Chair Larry Carpenter told Director Jim Unsworth that for such a potentially weighty document, it was “an unacceptable practice” to not brief the commission during its behind-closed-doors, federal-judge-mediated development.

The plan is now being reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service for midspring 2019 approval, but WDFW has stated it wants to implement it starting with 2018 salmon seasons.

Yuasa: ‘Winter Chinook Fishing Hitting Full Stride’

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

It’s the start of 2018, and there are plenty of on-water salmon fishing activities to ring in during the New Year!

If you catch my drift this isn’t a time to sit back on the couch in front of a fireplace or TV as winter chinook fishing is hitting full-stride, and the table quality of these fish are like non-other to be had on the BBQ grill.

BE SURE TO CATCH THE SUNRISE AT SEKIU WHEN IT OPENS FOR SALMON FISHING ON MARCH 16. (MARK YUASA)

Keep in mind closing dates on many fishing areas mentioned below could hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for both sub-legal and legal-size chinook that often make or break if anglers can fish for hatchery-produced salmon. This unfortunate situation came to fruition in November for two northern marine areas when the sub-legal catch skyrocketed.

On that note, my word of advice is to go sooner than later, which will likely guarantee you more time on the water.

The San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) opened Jan. 1 with fishing allowed through April 30 for hatchery chinook.

Let me stand on my soap box, and preach to you about island chain being as close as you can get to awesome scenery and wildlife viewing that is very similar to Alaska’s coastline. And let’s not forget there’s a decent chance to catch a quality large-size chinook just minutes from nearby boat ramps or marinas.

A good gauge on success in the islands will occur when anglers hit the water for the Resurrection Salmon Derby – part of the NMTA’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series – on Jan. 5-7 in Anacortes at Cap Sante Marina. This is followed by Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Jan. 18-20. For details, go to NW Salmon Derby Series.

Closer to Seattle is central Puget Sound (Area 10), which has been quietly producing some fair to good action at places like Southworth, Allen Bank off Blake Island, Manchester, Rich Passage, West Point, Jefferson Head and Point Monroe. The closure date for 10 is Feb. 28.

Back in mid-November, northern Puget Sound (Area 9) fell victim to the huge sub-legal chinook (fish under the 22-inch minimum size limit) encounter rate and was shut-down until further notice.

Area 9 was scheduled to reopen for hatchery chinook from Jan. 16 through April 15. Look for blackmouth at places like Possession Bar, Double Bluff off southwest side of Whidbey Island, Point No Point, Foulweather Bluff, Pilot Point, Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend and Scatchet Head.

Areas 8-1 and 8-2 – eastside of Whidbey Island – also experienced a set-back in November, and was supposed to reopen sometime this month and could happen concurrent to the Area 9 opener. Keep an eye out for an announcement on this situation by WDFW very soon.

Don’t overlook, south-central (Area 11), Hood Canal (Area 12) and southern Puget Sound (Area 13), which are all open now through April 30.

Other winter chinook fisheries on the “must go” list are western Strait (Area 5) from March 16 to April 30; and eastern Strait (Area 6) from March 1 to April 15.

New Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan proposed

Salmon politics started brewing on Dec. 1 when fishery managers released the 368-page Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

This fishing plan – sent to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries for review – and guides conservation and harvest of Puget Sound chinook salmon from the ocean clear into inner-marine waterways takes effect from 2019 through 2029.

AUTHOR MARK YUASA WORRIES THAT THE OPPORTUNITY TO CATCH WINTER CHINOOK IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS “COULD BE A THING OF THE PAST IF THE PROPOSED PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN BECOMES A REALITY.” (MARK YUASA)

The controversial plan has raised issues and many in sport-fishing industry are concerned that the plan could adversely affect sport salmon fishing opportunities.

There is an 18-month public comment period, and this will surely be a hot topic of many debates in the months to come. To view the comprehensive plan, go to Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

Seattle Boat Show drops anchor Jan. 26-Feb. 3 at three locations

The Seattle Boat Show from Jan. 26 through Feb. 3 is the one-stop place to get your fix on hundreds of fishing boats, informative seminars, and state-of-the-art gear and electronics.

There will be 55 free fishing seminars, and more coverage on a variety of new topics by top-notch experts that will provide anglers with the most in-depth wealth of knowledge on how to catch fish across the Pacific Northwest. For a complete list of all fishing and boating seminars, go to https://seattleboatshow.com/seminars/.

This will also be a time when visitors can check out the NW Salmon Derby Series grand prize $65,000 KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series boat powered with a Honda 150hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer. The fully-rigged boat comes with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronic Stereo.

THE 2018 NORTHWEST SALMON DERBY SERIES GRAND PRIZE BOAT. (NMTA)

There are 15 derby events in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, and the drawing for the grand prize boat will take place at conclusion of the Everett Derby in September or November. For derby details, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

I’ll see you on the water or at the biggest boat show on the West Coast, the great Seattle Boat Show!

 

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.