Tag Archives: puget sound

Puget Sound Shrimp Season Set To Open Week Later Than 2018

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

Recreational shrimp fishing will open May 11 in Puget Sound under seasons announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

(COURTESY KEVIN KLEIN)

This year’s Puget Sound shrimp fishing seasons will begin the second Saturday in May, about a week later than in 2018. Shellfish managers scheduled the later opening date based on tidal conditions. The season opening date will allow shrimpers to take advantage of tides that should maximize success in areas with the shortest seasons, said Don Velasquez, a shellfish biologist for WDFW.

“This is a popular fishery, and the volume of boats using the ramps will require some patience and courtesy,” he said. “Fishers should allow extra time for launching their boats to ensure they’re in the water when fishing opens.”

Though the season opens May 11 for all shrimp (spot, pink and coonstripe shrimp), people are mostly fishing for spot shrimp, Velasquez said. Also known as prawns, spot shrimp are the largest shrimp in Puget Sound and may grow up to nine inches in length.

Puget Sound recreational shrimp season opening days are:

  • Marine areas 4 (Neah Bay east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line) and 5 (western Strait of Juan de Fuca): Open daily beginning May 11. The recreational spot shrimp season closes when the quota is attained.
  • Marine Area 6 (Port Angeles Harbor, eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, excluding the Discovery Bay Shrimp District): Open Thursday through Sunday each week beginning May 11. The recreational spot shrimp season closes when the quota is attained.
  • Marine Area 6 (Discovery Bay Shrimp District): Open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 11, 15, 29, and June 1.
  • Marine area 7 South (Iceberg Point, Point Colville, Biz Point, Salmon Bank): Open May 11-12, May 16-19, and May 23-24.
  • Marine area 7 East (northern Rosario Strait, Bellingham Bay, Sucia and Matia islands, Strait of Georgia): Open May 11-12, May 16-19, May 23-26, and May 30-June 2.
  • Marine Area 7 West (San Juan Channel, Speiden Channel, Stuart and Waldron islands): Open Thursday through Sunday each week beginning May 11. The recreational spot shrimp season closes when the quota is attained.
  • Marine Areas 8-1 (Saratoga Passage, Deception Pass) and 8-2 (Port Susan, Port Gardner, Everett): Open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 11, and from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 15.
  • Marine Area 9 (Edmonds, Port Townsend Bay, Admiralty Inlet): Open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 11, and from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 15.
  • Marine Area 10 (Elliott Bay): Open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 11 (this is the portion of Marine Area 10 east of a line from West Point to Alki Point).
  • Marine Area 10 (outside Elliott Bay): Open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 11 (this is the portion of Marine Area 10 west of a line from West Point to Alki Point, which includes the Bainbridge Island shrimp fishing grounds).
  • Marine Area 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island): Open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 11.
  • Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal Shrimp District): Open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 11, 15, 29, and June 1.
  • Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound, Carr Inlet): Closed for spot shrimp harvest this season due to low abundance.

Additional dates and times will be announced if sufficient quota remains after the initial fishing days scheduled above.

In all areas of Puget Sound, fishers are limited to 80 shrimp a day (if open) during the month of May. A valid 2019-20 combination license, shellfish license, or Fish Washington license is required to participate in the fishery.

Velasquez reminds shrimpers that traps can be set one hour before official sunrise during any open period in marine areas 4, 5, 6 (except for the Discovery Bay Shrimp District), 7 East, 7 South, and 7 West only. As an example, one hour before sunrise is approximately 4:40 a.m. on May 11.

The pots must be removed from the water in these same areas by one hour after sunset at the end of an open period. The start and end times for the other areas are listed above.

More information on sport shrimp seasons, and a description of the marine areas, is available on WDFW’s recreational shrimp fishing website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/shrimp.

Higher Quota For Washington Halibut; 2019 Proposed Opener Dates Set

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

Anglers fishing for halibut in Washington waters will have more halibut to catch during the 2019 season compared to recent years.

Recreational halibut seasons announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are based on a statewide quota of 277,100 pounds, up by an average of 19 percent over the past three years.

WASHINGTON HALIBUT ANGLERS LIKE AMANDA SPIEGEL, HERE WITH A NICE FLATTIE CAUGHT OUT OF PORT ANGELES, CAN LOOK FORWARD TO A LARGER QUOTA IN 2019. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Those fisheries are set to get underway May 2 in both state coastal waters and in marine areas 5-10 in Puget Sound.

Heather Hall, WDFW coastal policy coordinator, said the higher annual catch quota is the result of a new fixed allocation for fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California approved by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in January.

Hall said that unique approach will allocate a total of 1.5 million pounds to halibut fisheries off the coast of those three states each year through 2022, barring any “substantive conservation concerns.”

“The Makah Tribe proposed a fixed quota for all recreational and commercial fisheries, not just for tribal fisheries,” Hall said. “That initiative will help to stabilize fisheries in all three states.”

Hall said the 2019 season is structured similar to recent years, with many of the fishing areas open at the same time. However, Hall noted that WDFW met with stakeholders last fall to establish halibut season dates that accommodate preferences in each management area.

Through that process, WDFW staff learned that Saturdays are important for the north coast (Neah Bay and La Push), while a Sunday opening is generally preferred on the south coast (Westport). The opening in the Columbia River subarea reflects requests that season dates overlap with those on the south coast off Westport.

Unlike previous seasons, anglers fishing for halibut in Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) will not be able to retain lingcod incidentally caught when fishing for halibut seaward of the 120-foot depth boundary. Hall said the depth restriction is designed to protect rockfish species, including yelloweye rockfish, which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“Higher halibut quotas in the next few years will likely mean more fishing days, which increase the chance that anglers fishing for halibut will encounter ESA-listed rockfish,” she said. “If we continued to allow lingcod retention outside of the depth restriction in Marine Area 6, it could affect rockfish recovery.”

However, lingcod retention will still be allowed seaward of the 120-foot depth restriction in Marine Area 5 (Sekiu), which is outside of the area where yelloweye rockfish are listed.

In all marine areas open to halibut fishing, there is a one-fish daily catch limit and no minimum size restriction. Anglers may possess a maximum of two halibut in any form while in the field, and must record their catch on a WDFW catch record card. There is an annual limit of four halibut.

Because halibut fisheries are managed to a quota, anglers should check the WDFW website to ensure a specific area is open prior to fishing. Complete information on recreational halibut regulations and seasons is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut.

Season details are listed below. Because halibut are regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, these dates are considered preliminary until the federal rulemaking process is complete.

Proposed 2019 Puget Sound halibut seasons

  • Marine areas 5-10 open May 2, 4, 9, 11, 18, 24, 26, June 6, 8, 20, and 22 as long as there is sufficient quota. Puget Sound will be managed to an overall quota of 77,550 pounds.
  • Marine areas 11, 12, and 13 will remain closed to halibut fishing to protect threatened and endangered rockfish species.

Proposed 2019 Pacific Coast halibut seasons

  • Marine Area 1 (Columbia River) opens May 2, 5, 9, 12, 24 and 26 as long as there is sufficient quota. If quota remains after May 26, the Columbia River subarea would be open two days per week, Thursday and Sunday, until the remaining quota is achieved. The nearshore area opens to fishing May 6 on a Monday-through-Wednesday schedule. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut/columbia-river. The all depth-fishery will be managed to 14,627 pounds; the nearshore quota is 500 pounds.
  • Marine Area 2 (Westport): The all-depth fishery opens May 2, 5, 9, 12, and 24 as long as there is sufficient quota. If sufficient quota remains, the northern nearshore area will open on the Saturday after the all-depth fishery closes and will continue seven days per week until the overall quota is taken. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/halibut/south-coast. This area will be managed to an overall quota of 62,896 pounds.
  • Marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) will open May 2, 4, 9, 11, 18, 24, 26, June 6, 8, 20, and 22, as long as there is sufficient quota. The combined quota for both areas is 128,187 pounds.

Fishing regulations include depth restrictions and area closures designed to reduce encounters with yelloweye rockfish, which must be released under state and federal law. Anglers are reminded that a descending device must be onboard vessels and rigged for immediate use when fishing for or possessing bottomfish and halibut.

Information about descending devices can be found on WDFW’s webpage at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/rockfish

Yuasa: Salmon Fishing, Season Negotiations, Rainbow Releases Highlight April

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

April 2019

Spring breathes new life into the world around us and is nature’s way of saying it is time to dust off the fishing gear for plenty of options happening right now and in the not so distant future.
First off there’s still time to hook into a winter chinook from the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Catch Areas 5 and 6) clear into Puget Sound and Hood Canal (7, 8-1, 8-2, 9, 11, 12 and 13) and prospects on some fishing grounds have taken a turn for the better with some bigger-sized springers up to 20 pounds.

THERE ARE BLACKMOUTH TO BE CAUGHT IN PUGET SOUND WATERS THIS MONTH. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

In eastern Strait (6) the catch limit was increased from one to two hatchery chinook daily and in the western Strait (5) it remains two hatchery chinook daily. In San Juan Islands (7) it will stay at one hatchery chinook daily. WDFW plans to look at possibly increasing the limit in northern Puget Sound and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1, 8-2 and 9) from one to two sometime in April so be sure to check to emergency regulations posted on their website.

In northern Puget Sound catches have been good one day and lousy the next. Target Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Point Wilson; Double Bluff off Whidbey Island; Pilot Point; Point No Point; Possession Bar; Mats Mats Bay; Marrowstone Island; and Foulweather Bluff.

Other marine areas worth a look are south-central Puget Sound in the Tacoma-Gig Harbor area; Hood Canal; and southern Puget Sound.

The western Strait, east side of Whidbey Island and southcentral Puget Sound and Hood Canal are open daily for winter chinook through April 30; eastern Strait, San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound are open daily through April 15. Southern Puget Sound is open year-round.

The length of seasons in some marine areas are dictated by catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (minimum size limit is 22 inches).

In eastern Strait the winter fishery can’t exceed 5,473 total chinook encounters, and through March 29 they were at 48 percent or 2,632 encounters. In San Juan Islands it is 10,735, and they were at 75 percent or 8,022 encounters.

Off the east side of Whidbey Island it is 5,474 encounters, and they were at 73 percent of 3,977 encounters. In northern Puget Sound it is 8,336 encounters, and they were at 60 percent of 4,970 encounters. WDFW provides catch updates at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports_plants.html.

If bottom-fishing gets you excited then head to Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay where catches have been excellent. The halibut fisheries in some marine areas begins on May 2.

Salmon season setting meetings ongoing

Carving out salmon fishing seasons is the hot topic of conversation and a final decision will come to light at the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif., on April 11-16.

THE 2019 SUMMER SALMON SETTING FESTIVAL KNOWN AS NORTH OF FALCON WRAPS UP IN APRIL. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The North of Falcon meetings will wrap up Tuesday (April 2) and it appears there will be more coho to catch and chinook fisheries should resemble 2018 although constraints of certain wild chinook stocks like Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal will play a factor in what goes down for 2019-2020 season.

Fishery managers indicate chinook stocks are still recovering from several years of drought and dire ocean conditions so don’t expect an uptick until 2020 or later.

In Puget Sound, 670,159 coho are forecasted to return compared to 557,149 in 2018. The chinook forecast is 246,837 (217,042 are of hatchery origin and 29,796 are wild) compared to 255,219 (227,815 and 27,404) in 2018. However, the expected marginal coho run to Snohomish river system will likely mean very minimal if any fishing in the river itself.

The Puget Sound pink forecast of 608,388 won’t generate any bonus catch limits as they’re still in recovery mode. The Puget Sound fall chum return is 1,035,835 and should provide some decent late-season action.

The Lake Washington sockeye continue to struggle and the forecast in 2019 is 15,153 but Baker Lake is pegged at 33,737. Brett Barkdull, a WDFW northern Puget Sound biologist indicated Baker will have a season that mirror’s last summer.

WDFW created a potential “wish list” of several added sport fisheries in the 2019-2020 season.

Mark Baltzell, a WDFW lead salmon policy manager, says there could be a couple weekends in August for a summer fishery – one targeting chinook – in inner-Elliott Bay. This is due to a good return of 25,794 chinook to the Green/Duwamish and this has been a rarity for the past several seasons with a brief fishery in 2017.

On the table is a “bubble salmon fishery” in lower section of Area 11 in May from Point Defiance down to the Narrows Bridge and up into Gig Harbor area or open all of Area 11 in May.

Central Puget Sound (10) could be open in June for a resident coho fishery, which produced good catches of 2- to 3-pound fish in 2018 and a later start (it opened on July 16 in 2018) for the hatchery-mark chinook fishery in Area 10 to push the quota-directed season closer to the Aug. 16 closure date.

Others include an expanded fishing opportunity around Minter Creek in southern Puget Sound. A non-select coho opportunity in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6) and northern Puget Sound (9), which seems unlikely given the fact that some Puget Sound and Thompson River, British Columbia, coho stocks are still stuck in a rut.

Ron Warren, the WDFW head salmon policy manager, said his department has a proposal for a summer Skokomish River chinook fishery on the table to be reviewed by tribal co-managers. This fishery has been closed for three years over a dispute about land ownership on the river’s shoreline bordering the reservation.

There are three alternative ocean sport fishing season options that reflect good hatchery coho fishing and a somewhat mediocre chinook fishery similar to 2018.

The high-end option is 32,000 chinook and 172,200 hatchery coho with opening dates either June 15 or 22; middle is 27,500 and 159,600 on either June 22 or 29; and low is 22,500 and 94,400 on either June 16 or 29.

The coho return for Columbia River is a robust 1,009,600 compared to a 2018 forecast of 349,000 and an actual return of 230,700. Along the Washington coast the coho return forecast is 401,538 up dramatically from 270,756. The Columbia River 2019 fall chinook forecast of 340,400 is better than the 2018 actual return of 290,900 but down from the preseason forecast of 365,600. For details, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

Look for trout to generate prime spring options

The warm weather mid-way through last month is a sure sign that spring is in full bloom and that means thousands of anglers will be soaking their favorite colored Power Bait for the statewide lowland lakes’ trout opener on April 27-28 or even sooner for that matter.

TROUT ARE STOCKED IN A WESTERN WASHINGTON LAKE. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

WDFW hatchery crews are working overtime right now planting millions of trout and kokanee into 553 lakes and ponds across the state. The standardized catchable-sized trout is now 11 inches compared to 8-inches in previous seasons and anglers should find about 2.17-million of these trout lurking in lowland lakes, plus another 126,200 “jumbo” trout measuring 14 or more inches long.

If you’re itching to go fishing right now, then take advantage of hundreds of year-round lakes that have or will be planted this spring.
“The early plants in year-round lakes is all about timing as the cormorants – a large diving bird with a voracious appetite for planted trout – are known to get a lot of the fish,” said Justin Spinelli, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Puget Sound regional biologist. “In our world it is something we deal with, and we’ll do our best to ensure they don’t get eaten up too badly. We’ll start ramping up our plants in lakes.”

Just to get an idea of where the WDFW hatchery trucks under Spinelli’s watchful eyes have been spinning their wheels one needs to look no further than Ballinger Lake on the Snohomish-King County line west of I-5 where on March 26-27 they planted a whopping 9,002; Kapowsin, 26,684; Spanaway, 18,012; Meridian, 16,815; and Lawrence, 20,102.

Other recent eye-popping trout plants include Battle Ground Lake, 4,600; American, 2,522; Black (Thurston County), 12,095; Blue (Columbia County), 4,025; Bonney, 1,050; Cassidy, 3,534; Duck, 850; Fiorito, 4,004; Gibbs, 741; Gissburg, 2,002; Green, 10,010; Horseshoe, 2,900; Island, 2,038; Kitsap, 4,830; Klineline, 5,515; Alice, 1,531; Bradley, 1,000; Ketchum, 2,000; Kokanee, 3,016; Louise, 1,000; Sawyer 1,500; Lost (Mason County), 4,912; Offutt, 5,000; Rattlesnake, 3,504; St. Clair, 6,000; Steilacoom, 5,000; and Swofford, 9,050.

Here are the total estimated plants that will occur in year-round lakes:

In King County try Alice (3,600 trout planted in March-April), Beaver (7,000 in April), Desire (8,000 in April), Green (13,500 in March-May), Meridian (16,700 in March), Morton (5,500 in April), North (9,500 in April) and Rattlesnake (3,500 in March).

In Snohomish County try Ballinger (9,000 in April), Tye (3,500 in April-May), Blackmans (1,500 in April), Flowing (6,800 in April-May), Gissburg Ponds (4,000 in March-April), Ketchum (2,000 in March), Lost (1,500 in March), Panther (1,500 in March), Roesiger (3,000 in April), Shoecraft (6,500 in March) and Silver (8,000 in April).

In Mason County try Spencer (12,644 in April-May) and Island (4,400 in April). In Thurston County try St. Clair (24,000 in April-May) and Black (39,350 in March-April). In Pierce County try Tanwax (5,500 in April-May), Spanaway (18,000 in March) and Bonney (1,020 in March). For weekly stocking updates, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/.

Word on NW Salmon Derby Series

The first five derbies in the series are in the books and each saw a very good turnout of anglers with plenty of winter chinook around to catch.

THE 2019 GRAND RAFFLE PRIZE BOAT. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 16-17 had 125 boats with 402 anglers catching 109 hatchery chinook. Winner was Ben Rosenbach with a 13.63-pound fish worth $3,000 that he caught off Hat Island. Next up: Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 12-14; and Lake Coeur d’ Alene Big One Fishing Derby on July 24-28.

Be sure to check out the grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer and fully-rigged with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; Salmon, Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics.

The boat will be pulled to each event by a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of our sponsor Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.

There are 15 derbies in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, and drawing for the grand prize boat will take place at the conclusion of the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

I’ll see you on the water!

WDFW Outlines 2019 Puget Sound Salmon Fishery ‘Ideas’

Don’t make your fishing plans around these options quite yet, but Puget Sound managers yesterday outlined some initial salmon season “ideas” they wanted to talk to anglers about more as North of Falcon gets cranking.

You’ll have that chance tomorrow in Sequim and next Wednesday in Mill Creek. Fishery proposals for other parts of Washington are subject of upcoming meetings too, and all will be negotiated with tribal comanagers before anything is set in stone.

Among Pugetropolis highlights is reopening Elliott Bay for two weekends this summer, one for Chinook, thanks to a “pretty good run” expected this year.

Just under 25,800 hatchery and “wild” kings are forecast to return to the Green-Duwamish, and fishing for salmon in the morning shadow of Seattle’s skyscrapers in August has been rare in recent years, but would follow on a brief opportunity that occurred in 2017.

Also under discussion are two proposals for Marine Area 10, including another June 1 start to the resident coho season.

Managers called 2018’s “highly popular,” and while I wouldn’t say it was very productive whatsoever on my particular beach, it was a different story for boat anglers fishing much deeper waters.

And they are mulling a later start to the mark-selective summer Chinook fishery off Seattle, or adding time to the season, which has typically begun July 16 and run until the quota was caught, which occurred around Aug. 16 last year.

But elsewhere during the meeting held in Olympia Tuesday morning and which was live-streamed they didn’t sound as positive about anglers’ wishes to hold wild coho seasons in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet, primarily due to issues with local and Thompson River, Canada, stocks.

Speaking of coho, WDFW Puget Sound manager Mark Baltzell warned that Snohomish River opportunities might be “very minimal” this season.

Federal overseers say that the stock has been overfished in recent years and now needs to be built back up, and Baltzell described how the state and local tribes have been talking about conserving the fish.

On the flip side, it’s possible there might be some coho angling on the Stillaguamish after a number of years without a season, Baltzell said.

But another Stilly stock is going to cause real headaches.

Just 944 fall Chinook are expected back this year and that will constrain saltwater fisheries. The question is, which one or ones will be cut or pruned to try and limit impacts on the run and get as many back to the river as possible while allowing more plentiful runs to be targeted? This will present a very hard choice for WDFW.

On a much brighter note, salmon managers are mulling how to expand opportunities on relatively plentiful returns to Minter Creek in Deep South Sound. The past few years have seen large numbers of surplus fish, but angler advocate Norm Reinhardt of the Kitsap Poggie Club worried about the potential for the fishery to become “disorderly.”

Baltzell said state game wardens were on board with keeping things under control and pointed out that it’s a relatively small area to police.

KITSAP POGGIE CLUB MEMBER NORM REINHARDT (LOWER RIGHT) RAISES A POINT DURING YESTERDAY’S NORTH OF FALCON DISCUSSIONS IN OLYMPIA. (WDFW)

There’s talk of how to manage Chinook fishing in Marine Area 11 in May, possibly through a “bubble fishery” in its lower end.

And fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull said that the 2019 Skagit River and Baker Lake sockeye fisheries were likely to be “identical” to last year’s editions.

As for the now-annual question about the Skokomish, Fish Program Manager Ron Warren stated that the state has a fishery proposal in to the tribe to evaluate, while Baltzell said that he has been encouraged by ongoing discussions that have included Director Kelly Susewind.

Sport anglers haven’t been able to fish the Skoke the past three years because of a dispute stemming from a federal opinion over ownership of the river on the edge of the reservation.

During yesterday’s meeting, anglers also urged the state to open more of the Puyallup for salmon, add more time for blackmouth in winter, and put September Chinook in the San Juans back on the table.

Puget Sound discussions continue tomorrow at Sequim’s Trinity Methodist Church (100 S. Blake Ave.) from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and at WDFW’s Region 4 office in Mill Creek ( 16018 Mill Creek Blvd.) on March 27 from 6 to 8 p.m.

There are also three other meetings on salmon fishery proposals for other Washington waters:

Ocean: March 25, Beach Room at Chateau Westport (710 W. Hancock), 7 p.m.

Grays Harbor: march 26, Montesano City Hall (112 N. Main St.), 6-8 p.m.

Upper Columbia: March 26, Douglas County PUD (1151 Valley Mall Parkway, East Wenatchee), 6-8 p.m.

Willapa Bay: March 27, Raymond Elks Club (326 3rd St.), 6-8 p.m.

Mid-Columbia: March 27, Kennewick Irrigation District Auditorium, (2015 S. Ely Street, Kennewick), 6-8 p.m.

Snake River: March 28, Walla Walla Community College, Clarkston Campus Room 104 (1470 Bridge St., Clarkston), 6-8 p.m

Following these discussions, WDFW will take the ideas to tribal comanagers, then return April 3 in Lynnwood to talk to anglers about the results of those negotiations and develop final fishery proposals before North of Falcon wraps up in California in mid-April.

NOAA Sharpening Its Eye On West Coast Chinook Fisheries

Federal overseers could press for new Chinook fishing restrictions for select stocks at sea in the coming years to provide more salmon for orcas.

In a guidance letter earlier this week to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries off the West Coast, NOAA made known that it wants to reengage with the panel on season setting.

AN ANGLER SHOWS OFF A 28-POUND FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WESTPORT ABOARD THE CHARTER BOAT SLAMMER IN A RECENT SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The agency last did that in 2009 and found that the council’s commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington’s, Oregon’s and California’s ocean waters, didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales at the time, but the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined since then and last year an analysis identified important king stocks for the hungry marine mammals.

“Several of the high priority Chinook salmon stocks currently identified in the framework contribute substantially to Council fisheries, including lower Columbia River, Sacramento River, and Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon stocks [bolding in the original]. Identifying high priority Chinook salmon stocks for SRKW is an important step to assess impacts and prioritize management and recovery actions that will benefit the whales,” the March 6 letter from NOAA Regional Administrator Barry Thom to PFMC Chair Phil Anderson states.


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Lower Columbia stocks are key to Washington Coast salmon fisheries, while the other two runs are important off Oregon and California.

Puget Sound fall Chinook were found to be even more important to orcas, according to NOAA’s and WDFW’s joint review last year, but are not mentioned in the letter. Still, the state agency is developing seasons with an eye towards the species’ “dietary needs.”

The letter does say that the feds are developing a “risk assessment” for analyzing salmon fisheries past, present and future in terms of overlap with SRKWs, and how they impact orca prey availability.

“If adjustments are needed, this framework could guide fisheries actions to limit impacts to prey availability in specific areas and times that are believed to create the greatest benefit to the whales. We believe adaptive frameworks like this, or other equally protective tools, provide confidence that fisheries can respond to the highest risk conditions and help improve conditions for SRKW in the future,” the letter states.

While it says that the new tool won’t likely be available to apply to 2019 fisheries, NOAA still wants to get with PFMC about this year’s proposed seasons and their impacts on the aforementioned stocks.

Lurking in the background is the threat of a lawsuit against NOAA to look into fishery effects on orcas.

According to The Seattle Times, which broke the story yesterday afternoon, fishing interests involved in the process say fisheries aren’t to blame for the downfall of the “blackfish,” but seasons are an easy “knob” to try and turn, and that habitat issues in the spawning and rearing waters are the real problem for low Chinook numbers.

The letter goes on to say that efforts are also being made to reduce disturbance from boats in orca foraging areas.

A bill passed out of Washington’s House yesterday on a 78-20 vote expands the don’t-go distance around orcas from 200 to 300 yards, prohibits approaching closer than 400 yards from behind, and requires vessels to slow to 7 knots within a half-mile bubble around them. It now goes over the Senate.

More Details From WDFW On This Year’s Salmon Forecasts; Coho Top Prospect

Editor’s note: Here is a link to our coverage from earlier in the day: http://nwsportsmanmag.com/north-of-falcon-being-live-streamed-2019-puget-sound-coast-salmon-forecasts-out

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

Fishery managers estimate higher numbers of coho salmon will return to Washington’s waters in 2019 compared to last year, but expect low returns of wild chinook will again make setting fishing seasons a challenge.

COHO FORECASTS LOOK GOOD FOR FISHING ON THE OCEAN, PUGET SOUND WATERS AND THE COLUMBIA, WHERE CHRIS SPENCER TROLLED UP THIS ONE SEVERAL SEASONS BACK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon – developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes – were released today during a public meeting in Olympia.

The forecast meeting marks the starting point for crafting 2019 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The annual process for setting salmon fisheries is known as “North of Falcon.” Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month.

Kelly Susewind, WDFW director, said fishery managers will look to design fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon but also minimize impacts on the region’s struggling southern resident killer whale population.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with tribal co-managers and constituents to make sure that we meet our conservation objectives while providing fishing opportunities where possible,” Susewind said. “It’s complicated, but important work.”

The forecasts are based on varying environmental indicators, such as ocean conditions, as well as surveys of spawning salmon, and the number of juvenile salmon migrating to marine waters.

As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2019 vary by area:

Columbia River: About 218,200 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That’s similar to the return in 2018 but down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.

An estimated 905,800 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, an increase of 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. About 147,000 coho actually returned to the Columbia River last year.

Salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be designed to harvest abundant coho stocks while protecting depleted chinook and “B-run” steelhead, which return to the Columbia and Snake river basins.

Washington’s ocean waters: Anglers should have more coho fishing opportunities in Washington’s ocean waters this summer compared to 2018, given higher numbers of coho projected to return to the Columbia River and to Washington’s coastal streams.

This year’s forecast of about 100,500 hatchery chinook to the lower Columbia River is down 12,000 fish from last year’s projected return. Those hatchery chinook – known as “tules” – are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

Puget Sound: Increased returns of coho salmon should provide anglers with some good fishing opportunities including in areas in mid and south Sound, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.

Roughly 670,200 wild and hatchery coho are expected to return to Puget Sound this year, up 15 percent of the 10-year average. However, the total forecast for wild and hatchery chinook is down slightly from 2018.

“We’re again expecting extremely low returns in key stocks such as Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal chinook, which will again limit salmon fishing opportunities,” Adicks said.

Meanwhile, this year’s run of pink salmon, which mostly return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years, is expected to be 608,400 fish. That’s roughly 10 percent of the 10-year average of 5.7 million fish.

Southern resident killer whales

While developing fishing proposals, the department will consider the dietary needs of southern resident killer whales as well as ways to protect orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic, Adicks said.

The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

WDFW is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas.

Public meetings and comment opportunities

A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

WDFW intends to livestream several public meetings, including those scheduled on March 19 and April 3. The department will provide links to those upcoming livestreams, as well as to the archived video from Wednesday’s forecast meeting, on the website listed above.

Upcoming meetings include:

Ocean options: State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 7-12 in Vancouver, Wash., with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Regional discussions: Additional public meetings have been scheduled into April to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2019 salmon seasons.

Final PFMC: The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2018 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is scheduled to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Beginning in mid-March, fishery proposals will be posted on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/, where the public can submit comments electronically.

2019 Puget Sound, Coast Salmon Forecasts Out As North Of Falcon Live-streamed For First Time

The big North of Falcon salmon forecast reveal was live-streamed for the first time today on WDFW’s website, where the predictions for Washington Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum runs are also posted, as are comparisons to past years.

(WDFW)

If you’re looking for a highlight at first glance it would be that nearly 2 million silvers overall are expected back to the Columbia, coast and inside waters, well up from last year’s forecast.

“The expected return of 670,200 (Puget Sound) hatchery and wild coho is up about 15 percent from the 10-year average,” a WDFW report adds. “It’s also an increase of 113,000 fish from the projected returns for 2018. Bright spots include mid- and South Sound rivers such as the Green, Puyallup, and Nisqually as well as marine areas 11 and 13.”

However, Hood Canal expectations are lower and exploitation rates are dropping from 65 percent to 45 percent and that may affect fisheries, and the escapement goal for the Snohomish is being bumped up to 50,000 due to concerns about recent years’ returns, and that may impact fisheries.

On the Coast, WDFW says, “The number of coho returning to Grays Harbor is forecasted at 135,900 fish, up from 93,800 in 2018. Fishery managers expect coho fisheries in Grays Harbor will be more robust in 2019 than last year.”

To the south, just over 900,000 coho are predicted back to the Columbia (537,000 earlies, 359,000 lates), about three-quarters of a million more than actually did in 2018, and allowing for a higher exploitation rate in the ocean and river — “I’m kind of excited for the first time in three years,” says WDFW’s ocean manager Wendy Beeghley — but accessing them in the Columbia may be tricky.

“The total forecast – including upriver brights and tules – of fall chinook to the Columbia River is 340,400 fish,” WDFW reports. “That’s about half of the 10-year average and is down slightly from 2018’s forecast of 365,600. Approximately 290,900 fall chinook actually returned last year. Fisheries for fall chinook will likely be limited in several areas of the Columbia River due to low returns both of fall chinook and ‘B-run’ steelhead bound for the Columbia and Snake river basins.”

The B-run forecast is 8,000, “a player in a our Columbia River discussions,” according to WDFW manager Ryan Lothrop. Recent years saw rolling restrictions to protect the Idaho-bound stock.

Just under a quarter million wild and hatchery Puget Sound Chinook are expected, just slightly down from the 2018 forecast.

“The projected return of 217,000 hatchery chinook is down 13,500 fish from 2018 but 11 percent above the 10-year average,” WDFW reports. “Continued low returns to mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish will continue to limit fisheries.”

As for accessing Skokomish River hatchery kings, which have been off limits for several seasons now over a boundary dispute, Puget Sound manager Mark Baltzell says that WDFW is still talking with the Skokomish Tribe about access and that getting anglers back on the water “is a goal of ours.”

Lake Washington sockeye are expected at 15,000 and change, “down 82 percent from the recent 10-year average,” and less than HALF of 2018’s lowest run on record, but Baker River reds are better, 33,737, “up 6 percent over the recent 10-year average, makes a fishery a possibility,” WDFW says.

As for pinks, it looks very poor, some 604,146 to Puget Sound streams, down from 2017’s preseason forecast of 1.5 million, but about 100,000 more than actually came back. Still, it would be among the lowest runs on record back to 1959, due to the hit the fish took at sea during the height of The Blob and poor river conditions when they returned to natal streams.

“We’re digging out of a pretty big hole,” said Aaron Dufault, a state stock analyst.

“We’re probably not going to have our bonus bag limit in the salt and in some of our rivers,” added Baltzell.

The Sound forecast of 1.035 million fall chum is down from 2018 but in line with 2017.

“Several areas, such as north Puget Sound rivers, are expected to have very low returns of wild chum, similar to recent years. Anglers should not expect to see chum fisheries in these areas,” WDFW reports.

But things are brighter for chums in the South Sound and Hood Canal.

Briefing meeting-goers, the agency’s Marissa Litz spoke to multiple blobs, El Ninos and La Ninas since 2013 leading to “a lot of instability across food webs” for salmon, including lower body sizes and fecundity for many stocks, but also surprisingly high returns in places, namely Alaska.

https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019021004

The release of the forecasts, drummed up by state and tribal fishery biologists over the winter, marks the first step in setting recreational, tribal and commercial spring, summer and fall seasons in Washington waters.

This year’s NOF — the 35th since the process was initiated in 1984 — will have a focus on what fisheries can be held without jeopardizing southern resident killer whales, according to the state agency’s Fish Program manager Ron Warren at the outset of today’s meeting at the Lacey Community Center.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” he said in a press release last week. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

Prompted by a question from Norm Reinhardt of the Kitsap Poggie Club during the meeting Warren expressed caution that efforts to increase hatchery Chinook production — 24 million in Governor Inslee’s proposed budget — would lead to more fishing opportunities, noting that underlying impact rates on ESA-listed wild kings still govern seasons.

That makes river fisheries all the more important, angling advocate Frank Urabeck pointed out.

“Let’s do better for sportfisheries in the terminal areas,” he stated.

As for how the new Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada will affect this year’s seasons, Phil Anderson, the chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council was hesitant to say that reductions in northern interceptions would increase fishing opportunities in Puget Sound but would instead “alleviate” impact rates on stocks in our southern fisheries.

Group Threatens Lawsuit Over Puget Sound Summer Steelhead

Even as Washington steelhead managers have been making plans to move away from hatchery Skamania summer-run releases in Puget Sound, an environmental group is threatening to sue the state agency over the program.

WDFW RELEASES SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER STEELHEAD INTO RIVERS LIKE THE SKYKOMISH, WHERE THIS ONE WAS CAUGHT ON A RAINY JUNE DAY SEVERAL SEASONS AGO. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Wild Fish Conservancy announced this afternoon it was filing a 60-day intent to sue WDFW, saying the stock violates the Endangered Species Act.

The highly litigious organization based in Duvall says that programs operated primarily on the Skykomish but also the North Fork Stillaguamish and Green-Duwamish Rivers threaten five wild populations of Puget Sound summer-run steelhead and are driving them “closer to extinction” by spawning in the wild, reducing fitness.

WFC cites concerns that the National Marine Fisheries Service had in mid-2017 over Skamanias — a 1950s mix of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead that came from a state hatchery on the Washougal — but in response to that WDFW in coordination with its ad hoc Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group and the Tulalip Tribes last year came up with a plan.


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It would eventually replace the strain in the Skykomish with Tolt River summers instead, but would also take multiple years.

“There’s no expectation to eliminate the existing program until we build up the Tolt,” WDFW’s Jim Scott, a special assistant to the director, told Northwest Sportsman for a story detailing the plan, “and there will be a period of overlap of the programs” before Skamania releases ends.

At last check late last year that plan was still moving forward, so it’s unclear whether it has gathered enough momentum to now be a threat to WFC and thus is forcing it into yet another lawsuit against fishery overseers.

But what is clear is that the 60-day intent to sue appears to purposefully bump up against the timeframe this year’s smolts would be released from Reiter Ponds into the Skykomish, perhaps in an effort to get WDFW to come to a settlement like what happened with Chambers Creek hatchery early winter-run steelhead in 2014.

While it also wasn’t clear from WFC’s intent-to-sue letter what they considered the five populations of wild summers threatened by Skamania summers to be, earlier this year, researchers studying hatchery summer and wild winter steelhead in Oregon’s Clackamas River found the former didn’t affect the latter.

WDFW Fish-Hunt Fee Hike, Other Bills Introduced In Olympia

The Olympia Outsider™ almost didn’t file an update this week after — true story — messing up his shoulder really bad while swiping his bus pass on the card reader as he boarded the 41.

The pain!!!!!!!

But duty calls, and so with the muscle relaxants kicking in, here are fish- and wildlife-related bills that Washington lawmakers have introduced this week, as well as a pair three (good grief) that he totally missed from earlier in the session.

Bill: HB 1708 / SB 5692
Title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Fitzgibbon, Springer, Irwin, Chandler, Robinson, Riccelli, Lekanoff, Dye, Jinkins, Tarleton / Sens. Rolfes, McCoy, Takko, Wellman
Note: By request of WDFW
Bill digest: Not available, but this is the agency’s fee increase bill and while it would add 15 percent to the base cost for resident fishing and hunting licenses, by request of the Fish and Wildlife Commission it also includes a cap on how much more you’d end up paying overall. “It’s $7 on any combination of fishing licenses,” says Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison. “No fisherman will pay more than $7 more and hunter more than $15 more.” It pushes the age that kids first have to buy a fishing license from 15 to 16 and gives the commission authority to institute small surcharges after two years “to fund inflationary and other increased costs approved by the legislature in the biennial budget.” That could potentially mean “more frequent but smaller adjustments” to the cost of licenses compared to the effect of this bill, which would increase prices for the first time since 2011.

OO analysis: This is the second fee bill WDFW has floated since 2017 and Crosier is optimistic this one will do better than the last one. “It’s getting a lot more positive reach, at least in Olympia,” she notes, adding that some Republicans have even consponsored it this go-around. Overall, the agency is looking for a $67 million budget bump from lawmakers, with about three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund to make up for cuts from it since the Great Recession that haven’t been fully restored. It will be interesting to watch who testifies and what they say when the bills make it to a public hearing.


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Bill: HB 1784
Title: “Concerning wildfire prevention.”
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Blake
Bill digest: None available but essentially adds “wildfire fuel breaks” to the tools land managers have for preventing catastrophic blow-ups on public ground.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: Can’t say the OO is against taking better care of areas that also function as critter habitat. A recent DNR blog highlighted how tree thinning and preventative burning on WDFW’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area and elsewhere nearby helped keep parts of last summer’s Boyds Fire on the forest floor instead of crowning out as it did elsewhere in burning over 4,000 acres.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Bill: HB 1824
Title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey.”
Sponsors: Reps. Young, Kloba, MacEwen, Vick, Irwin, Chambers, Lovick, Tarleton
Bill digest: None available, but requires WDFW to file a permit with federal overseers “for the maximum lethal take of sea lions in order to enhance the survival or recovery of salmon species protected in Washington,” meaning ESA-listed Chinook which are a key feedstock for starting orcas.
OO analysis: The bill has cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including the woman who represents the Ballard Locks, where Herschell et al et all of Lake Washington’s steelhead — see what I did there? California sea lions are at their habitat’s capacity, and a recent analysis estimated that the marine mammals as well as harbor seals and northern orcas have increased their consumption of Chinook from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970. Between that and decreased hatchery production, there are fewer salmon available for SRKWs, not to mention fishermen. While thanks to recent Congressional action, WDFW is already applying for authorization to take out sea lions on portions of the Columbia and its tribs, this appears to call for a broader permit and without all the bother of RCW 43.21C.030(2)(c), something something something about big reports on environmental impacts something something. (Sorry, the Methocarbosomething something is kicking in pretty nicely.)

Bill: HB 1662 / SB 5696
Title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes.”
Sponsors: Reps. Dent, Springer, Kretz, Blake, Dye, Tharinger, Chandler, Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Fey, Corry, Dufault, Young /  Sens.
Bill digest: None available but according to Crosier it essentially would mirror the way DNR pays counties through the state treasurer, allowing WDFW to more fully compensate counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls as it has purchased farms, ranches and timberlands for wildlife areas. Crosier says it sets “a more consistent methodology and pay rate.”
OO analysis: If your eyes are as glazed over as the OO’s, we don’t blame you because this PILT bill is boring as hell, but could be helpful in restoring peace in counties where WDFW land ownership has caused friction and more critter habitat is needed.

THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN ASOTIN COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Bill: HB 1261 / SB 5322
Title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state.”
Sponsors: Reps. Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Stanford, Tarleton, Ortiz-Self, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Pollet /  Sens. Palumbo, Carlyle, Wellman, Hunt, McCoy, Hasegawa, Kuderer, Nguyen, Saldaña
Bill digest: “Specifies that a discharge to waters of the state from a  motorized or gravity siphon aquatic mining operation is subject to the department of ecology’s authority and the federal clean water act.” Per a press release from Trout Unlimited, which is supporting the bills, the bills would “ban suction dredge mining in Endangered Species Act-designated Critical Habitat for listed salmonids.” Those watersheds include most of Puget Sound; the Cowlitz and other Lower Columbia tribs; Middle and Upper Columbia tribs in Eastern Washington; and Snake River tribs, so, much of the state outside the OlyPen and South Coast river systems.
OO analysis: We’d blame the muscle relaxers for overlooking this pair of bills, but they were actually dropped well before the OO suffered his grievous muscle something something. They’ve been routed to House and Senate environmental committees, where they will have public hearings early next week. Even with mining in my family history, the OO tends to side with fish these days — if the stocks need protection from even catch-and-release angling, they should probably have their habitat protected a little more too.

IMAGES FROM AN INTENT TO SUE NOTICE FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO ILLUSTRATE TWO ORGANIZATIONS’ CLAIMS THAT WASHINGTON’S SUCTION DREDGING REGULATIONS WEREN’T ENOUGH AT THE TIME WHEN IT CAME TO PROTECTING ESA-LISTED FISH SPECIES.

Bill: HB 5597
Title: “Creating a work group on aerial pesticide applications in forestlands.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Saldaña, McCoy, Conway, Hasegawa
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the bill, it would establish a work group comprised of representatives from various state agencies, timber and environmental interests, among others, “to develop recommendations for improving the best management practices for aerial application of pesticides on state and private forestlands.”
OO analysis: Another bill from a couple weeks ago that the OO totally missed (possibly because he was enveloped by a cloud sprayed on the clearcut he reports all this stuff from), but will be an interesting one when it has a public hearing Feb. 7.

AS FOR OTHER BILLS THE OLYMPIA OUTSIDER™ HAS REPORTED ON so far this session, here’s a snapshot of those that have moved one way or another.

HB 1036, South Coast hatchery salmon production — hearing today in House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

HB 1061, Designating razors as the state clam — an open-and-quickly-closed public hearing was held by the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations .

HB 1230, Making more disabled sportsmen eligible for discounted licenses — hearing held and executive session scheduled today by House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

SB 5100, Restarting a pilot hound hunt for cougars in select counties — public hearing held by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks with varying support, opposition and neutralness.

SB 5320, Nonlethal hound training program — hearing held, received widespread support and now scheduled for executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks today. House version set for public hearing later in February.

SB 5404, Fish habitat enhancement projects definitions — hearing scheduled next week in Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

HB 1579 / SB 5580, Chinook habitat protections and declassifying select game fish — public hearing held earlier this week before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources with strong support from fishermen, tribes, others for major portion of bill addressing hydraulic approvals, but with angler concerns about designation drops for walleye, bass, catfish. Senate version set for hearing next week.

HB 1580 / SB 5577 Vessel disturbance and orcas — public hearing before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

SB 5617, banning nontribal gillnets — officially, this bill hasn’t been given a public hearing date since being introduced late last week, but rumor is it will get one before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks in February.

SSB 5148, OKing hunters to wear pink clothing during certain big, small game seasons — hearing held, received good support and was given a do-pass recommendation by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. Now in Senate Rules Committee for a second reading

AND AS FOR THE REST OF THE BILLS WE’RE FOLLOWING but which are awaiting committee assignments before the Feb. 22 deadline, those include:

Writing fishing and hunting rights into the state Constitution by a vote of the people — would be nice to get on the ballot, if only Washingtonians could be trusted to vote the right way

Estimating Northeast Washington whitetails — would be nice to get more refined data on the region’s flagtails

Studying human impacts on streambeds — would be nice to know

Turning Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!) into a wolf sanctuary — would be nice to visit, but bill not going anywhere

Barring WDFW from lethally removing livestock-depredating wolves — ironically, bill was shot and it limped off and died somewhere on Bainbridge

Banning hounds from being used to track down timber-depredating bears — unlikely to get a hearing

And asking Congress to open hunting seasons on sea lions — not going to happen, even if CNN seems ready to go.

Strong Salmon Habitat Bill Would Also Declassify Popular Fish Species

Washington fishermen and others spoke yesterday in Olympia in support of an orca bill that primarily would increase salmon habitat protections, but concern was also expressed over one part that targets popular game fish.

Under House Bill 1579 and similar legislation introduced in the Senate, walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass and channel catfish would be removed from the list of regulated species in Evergreen State waters.

A TRI-CITIES ANGLER HAD A T-SHIRT MADE OF COLUMBIA RIVER WALLEYE AND CHINOOK HE’S CAUGHT AND THAT HAVE APPEARED ON THE COVER OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE. (JERRY HAN)

The idea came out of Governor Jay Inslee’s orca task force last year, and citing the plight of southern resident killer whales and the lack of Chinook as one of the limiting factors for the state’s J, K and L pods, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon called removing limits on the species a “common sense” solution.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” the Burien Democrat said during a public hearing before Rep. Brian Blake’s Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee.

The four nonnative warmwater species and Chinook primarily overlap in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and in much of the Snake, but also occur in other places such as Lake Washington and portions of warmer rivers such as the lower Yakima and Grande Ronde.

No data was referenced during the hearing, which was televised on TVW, but a 2017 paper by federal researchers found Chinook smolts to be the second largest component of the diets of shoreline-running Snake River smallies between April and September from 2013 to 2015. Idaho kings are among important SRKW feedstocks, according to federal and state biologists.

But the removal of bass, walleye and whiskerfish from game fish status worries some anglers, even as they support the rest of the bill.

Ryley Fee of Puget Sound Anglers said that restoring and protecting habitat is the best long-term hope for recovering salmon and that the bill had “big teeth” in that regard.

We must give the state agencies the effective tools and civil-regulated authority to dissuade anyone from illegally damaging the remaining environment that we have,” he said.

However, Fee asked lawmakers to modify the broad-brush declassification of the four species.

For instance, he suggested only removing the game fish designation in habitats where ocean-going salmon occur and “not in lakes where there are valuable recreational fishing opportunities.”

RYLEY FEE OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS SPEAKS BEFORE A STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON A BILL THAT WOULD ADD “BIG TEETH” TO SALMON HABITAT PROTECTIONS BUT WOULD ALSO DECLASSIFY FOUR FISH SPECIES POPULAR WITH ANGLERS. (TVW)

He proposed two options, listing them as “exotic species” in select watersheds to make the regs more clear, or retaining the game fish designation but liberalizing the bag limits where need be.

Currently in the Columbia and its tributaries below Chief Joe there are no minimum size or daily limits on walleye, bass or catfish, but elsewhere the species generally fall under statewide rules with certain size and bag restrictions.

The bill comes as walleye are increasingly popular to fish for in the big river, with anglers flocking from as far away as the species’ Upper Midwest home waters to try and land the next world record, while local fishermen hope to best John Grubenhoff’s 20-pounder.

And bugeyes, as they’re also known, were among the hits at last weekend’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup.

After the hearing, WDFW legislative liaison Raquel Crosier said that the agency was working on tweaks to the game fish designations.

“We want to make sure anglers are a part of the solution, so we are working with the sponsor to see if we can amend that section of the bill to liberalize bag limits without removing those species from the game fish list,” Crosier said. “Hearing lots of concerns from bass anglers and want to see those concerns addressed. The sponsor is eager to work on addressing these concerns.”

As for the rest of the bill, agency assistant director Jeff Davis expressed support, calling it “really darn important” for protecting SRKWs, salmon recovery investments and comanaged fisheries.

HB 1579 primarily addresses state hydraulic codes and enforcement and among those also speaking in favor were representatives from two tribal organizations and Jacques White of Long Live The Kings.

A SUMMARY OF HB 1579 BY NONPARTISAN LEGISLATIVE STAFF LAYS OUT THE CURRENT BILL’S IMPACTS ON GAME FISH SPECIES AND HYDRAULIC CODE ENFORCEMENT. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

White spoke to how armoring of Puget Sound’s shorelines has affected forage fish spawning areas and that 50 percent fewer Chinook smolts make it out of the inland sea than they once did.

It turns out that the forage fish are a critical element in the health of those juvenile Chinook,” he told lawmakers. “Juvenile Chinook populations 10 or 15 years ago relied heavily on herring in their diet and now they’re relying on crab larvae. Now, I like crab larvae better than I like herring, but apparently our salmon really want to see herring in the water column and in their diet.”

He said forage fish like herring also represent an alternate food source for harbor seals that are otherwise having to prey on Chinook.

“So this bill, I think, is a critical step in us protecting this important habitat,” he said.

However, a representative from the Association of Washington Businesses expressed concerns about the bill’s Hydraulic Project Approval provisions, while another from the Farm Bureau reminded lawmakers that it would affect operations across the state, not just in Puget Sound, and a third from the building industry association was opposed because it impacts how streamlined the process for putting in bulkheads currently is.