Tag Archives: salmon

Supreme Court Leaves Culvert Fix Order In Place

UPDATED 1:30 P.M., JUNE 11, 2018, WITH COMMENTS FROM GOV. JAY INSLEE AND NWIFC CHAIR LORRAINE LOOMIS

Washington must continue to fix fish passage as a divided Supreme Court this morning left a lower court ruling stand.

SKAGIT COUNTY’S GRANSTROM CREEK FLOWS THROUGH A BOX CULVERT THAT REPLACED A PERCHED CULVERT. AT RIGHT IS A HABITAT RESTORATION PROJECT TO BENEFIT SALMON AND WILDLIFE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The 4-4 decision by the nation’s highest arbiters came after the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson had appealed a 9th Circuit Court ruling that Washington needs to make hundreds of culverts more passable to salmon and steelhead across Pugetropolis.

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court,” justices relayed in a brief opinion.

The “anti-climactic” Supreme Court action is being billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, and while it’s a essentially a continuation of 1974’s Boldt Decision, it saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen.

“Friend of the court” arguments from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and others urged the court to uphold the 9th’s 2016 ruling.

The culverts case was originally brought by the Suquamish Tribe, who were joined by other tribes in Western Washington, and the basic argument, per the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, is that “tribal treaty rights to harvest salmon include the right to have those salmon protected so they are available for harvest.”

Even as the state is already bringing culverts up to snuff, the overall cost of the fixes — estimated to be in the billions of dollars — and that some might not actually help fish led Ferguson to appeal the Ninth’s 2016 ruling “on behalf of the taxpayers.”

In a statement out this morning, Ferguson said it was “unfortunate” that Washington taxpayers would how have to bear the burden of “the federal government’s faulty culvert design” and said that state lawmakers now have “a big responsibility” to fund work bringing fish passage up to standards.

But he also said that other government agencies have their work cut out for them too.

“Salmon cannot reach many state culverts because they are blocked by culverts owned by others. For example, King County alone owns several thousand more culverts than are contained in the entire state highway system. The federal government owns even more than that in Washington state. These culverts will continue to block salmon from reaching the state’s culverts, regardless of the condition of the state’s culverts, unless those owners begin the work the state started in 1990 to replace barriers to fish,” Ferguson said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine also released a statement that reads in part:

“We must do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of our Chinook, kokanee, steelhead, and Coho for future generations. Under my direction, King County departments have already been developing a culvert strategy that inventories where county roads, trails, and other infrastructure block access to habitat, and we will work with tribal and state scientists to assess where fix them, beginning with those that bring the most benefit to salmon.”

Hilary Franz of the Department of Natural Resources was the first state leader to react to the Supreme Court, tweeting, “Today’s decision affirms that it is our collective responsibility to ensure the survival of Pacific salmon. This decision is fair under the letter of the law, but it is also just.”

By early afternoon Gov. Jay Inslee put out a statement on Facebook, saying that the justices’ action “offers the parties finality in this long-running case.”

“For some time now I’ve hoped that instead of litigation we could focus together on our ongoing work to restore salmon habitat. Ensuring adequate fish passage is crucial to our efforts to honor tribes’ rights to fish, sustain our orcas, and protect one of Washington’s most iconic species,” he said.

Inslee pointed out that Washington was working to fix 425 blockages by 2030.

According to Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chair Lorraine Loomis this is the eighth time the state has gone to the Supreme Court over treaties, and eighth loss.

“The salmon resource is priceless. Fixing culverts and doing the other work needed to save that resource will require significant investment, but will pay off for generations to come,” she said in a statement. “We are eager to continue our efforts with our co-managers and others to protect and restore the salmon resource for future generations.”

On Piscatorial Pursuits, a sportfishing forum, it was termed both  “another step backward” and a “huge step forward.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who served on the 9th Circuit Court and was involved in the case at an earlier stage, withdrew himself from hearing arguments from the state AGO, federal Department of Justice and Suquamish Tribe attorney this spring and today’s decision.

Salmon Season–Think Resident Coho–Opens Friday In Parts Of Sound

I’ll admit, I’ve been more of an angler who looks to the Sky than the sea when June 1 rolls around, but not this year.

I’ve been giddy since North of Falcon wrapped up back in mid-April about the upcoming salmon opener on Marine Area 10.

HUNGRY RESIDENT COHO CAN PROVIDE GOOD FISHING IN PUGET SOUND. THIS ONE ATE A SHINER PERCH BEFORE GOING AFTER THE BLOGGER’S BUZZ BOMB. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Coho are fair game in the salt off Seattle, Shoreline, Bainbridge Island and much of the Kitsap Peninsula, as well as Area 11, starting Friday, so you won’t find me up at Reiter Ponds or Cable chasing early hatchery summer steelhead tomorrow morning.

Rather, I’ll be down where the rocks are a little more worn, casting off the beach for resident silvers.

Let’s just get this out of the way now: These salmon are definitely not the size of their ocean-returning cousins that come back in September and October.

But they are snappy, can be plentiful and are definitely pretty tasty.

COHO FILLETS FILL MOST OF THE BLOGGER’S WIFE’S SMALLEST BAKING SHEET. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW and the Squaxin Island Tribe cooperate to release as many as 1.8 million of these coho annually. The salmon are reared at state hatcheries and then transported to the tribe’s netpens way down in deepest Area 13, where they imprint and return to after 18 months.

Can’t say I’m any kind of expert on how to catch ’em — we’ll get to some sharper anglers’ tips here in a bit — but I’ve become increasingly confident off my local beach.

Mainly I huck 21/2-inch chrome Buzz Bombs rigged with a bumper and slightly offset double 1/0 barbless octopus hooks, but will occasionally jump up to the 3X size when I want to get some more distance.

BESIDES BUZZ BOMBS, ANGLERS USE CLOUSER MINNOWS, BROKEN-LIPPED RAPALAS, SPOONS AND OTHER BAIT-IMITATING LURES TO GET RESIDENT COHO TO BITE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I  also use the diamond-shaped jigs in blue or green pearl, and holographic patterns. Pink has worked in the past as well.

Sometimes I add a Gold Star hoochies to the back end of the rig, and for this season, I got a mess of 2 1/8-inch octopus and 4-inch needlefish skirts from Yo-Zuri that I’m going to try from time to time (especially when Chinook opens in mid-July).

One resident coho I caught from shore last year had a shiner perch in its tummy, so I might try adding some Hyper-Vis+ tape to some Bombs to get that effect.

Cast out, reel up the slack and start jerking the lure back in, reeling down, jerking, reeling down, etc., back to the beach. You don’t really want it down on the bottom, where the hook(s) might snag up on whatever.

I’ve found morning is far better than evening, but there’s no need to be on the beach at the buttcrack of dawn, thank god. There’s a relation to high and low tides, but it isn’t absolute.

Eelgrass and seaweed can be a pain at times as patches of schmutz eddy past.

The Seattle side of Area 10 has a fair amount of public beach access, including Lincoln Park, Alki, West Point, Golden Gardens, Carkeek Park and Richmond Beach, but wading into the waves isn’t the only way to catch ’em.

Northwest Sportsman columnists Jason Brooks and Terry Wiest from down Area 11 way talked about the how-tos from a boat for me recently.

Wrote Brooks for his South Sound article:

COHO AND EVEN resident Chinook can be found at various current breaks, beaches and kelp beds throughout the South Sound. Anglers with boats can launch at the many public and private launches, but Point Defiance and Gig Harbor in Area 11 seem to be most popular. The Point Defiance Boat House also rents small boats with a kicker motor that are perfect for hitting the famed nearby fishing grounds of the Clay Banks and Owen Beach, on the north side of the Tacoma peninsula.

TO TARGET THE coho, as well as sea-run cutthroat, troll small spoons such as the Cripplure by Mack’s, with the treble switched to a size 6 Gamakatsu siwash, or a small Coyote by Luhr Jensen.

A lightweight kokanee or trout rod can make this a very exciting fishery in early June. By midmonth switch over to longer rods, as the resident coho will be putting on weight and some transient fish will begin to show.

Anglers who prefer to fish from the beach have several options in the South Sound. Narrows Park puts you on the long gravel edge of Puget Sound near the bridges on the Gig Harbor side. Another is Sunnyside Beach Park in Steilacoom, at the outlet to Chambers Bay. Penrose State Park is known for its sea-run cutthroat fishing. And if you can find access to a beach on Harstine Island, you will be in a prime location for the Squaxin coho and some native cutts.

Wrote Wiest for his Westsider piece:

With Puget Sound’s ocean-going kings and silvers still out at sea, salmon opportunities are light in June – light outside of the sometimes lights-out resident coho bite, that is.

True, these aren’t big fish – I’d bet they average only a couple of pounds – but they are salmon and they will give you a good fight on light gear in Areas 10, 11 and 13, Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.

There are two primary ways to target them, from the bank and from a boat. Fly fishermen kill it on the banks using herring patterns. These fish are generally well within casting distance with a two-handed rod. The key here is to vary the speed you strip in with to see what draws a strike.

Buzz Bombs also work from the bank, quite effectively too. Those in white, white and blue, and all-chrome earn attention from coho, which are not slow about hitting them. These fish are higher in the water column, so let the lure settle into the salt only a few seconds before starting your retrieve. The retrieve is not a steady one, but rather a jerk, reel in the slack, jerk, reel in the slack, etc., back to the beach.

From a boat, red-label herring is my favorite, run either with a Silver Horde original Kokanee Hammered dodger or just naked (I prefer the dodger myself). Plugcut the herring, but if you’re good at rigging them, a whole herring can be even better. The key is a super-tight, super-fast drill-bit-type spin.

Another effective way to attract these fish is with a herring spinner, basically a fillet of herring with the same angle as a cut-plug herring at the top so it spins tight. Use super-sticky-sharp hooks, which you should anyway, but with the spinner, there won’t be much to retain the herring once a fish hits. It’s either all or nothing as far as hooking up.

I generally use 2 ounces of lead with 50 feet of line out, as I don’t want my presentation too far below the surface. I run 8- to 12-pound leader with 15-pound mainline between the sinker and the dodger if using one. I like Gamakatsu barbless hooks in red, size 2/0 on the front hook, 1/0 on the trailing hook.

In Area 10, the areas I’d concentrate on include Jefferson Head, Golden Gardens and Duwamish Head. The last is a favorite spot of mine and is basically two minutes from the Don Armeni ramp. Troll in an oval pattern about a quarter of a mile down the Alki side, then come back and go another quarter of a mile towards downtown Seattle. This half-mile stretch almost never lets me down.

I’d stick to the north end of Area 11. Des Moines, Dash Point and Browns Point produce good numbers. Concentrate on water no deeper than 120 feet and, again, stick to the top 20 feet with your gear. The shoreline is your friend. Des Moines and Dash Point are favorites for Buzz Bombers.

On the west side of Puget Sound, Olalla is a fantastic spot for these residential beauties, especially for those tossing a fly or a Buzz Bomb from shore. That’s not to say boaters can’t target this hotspot either, but personally I’d try the aforementioned spots.

The daily limit in both Marine Area 10 and 11 is up to two coho. As always, barbless hooks are required.

Salmon Fishing Closures Announced In BC Waters Across From Washington

Canadian salmon managers have announced a series of closures and reduced Chinook limits in British Columbia saltwaters across from Washington and up the coast, bids to help out orca whales and conserve fish stocks.

A large swath of the northern half of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Renfrew — opposite Neah Bay — to just west of Sooke — across from the Joyce area west of Port Angeles — will be closed to all salmon and finfish angling from June 1 to September 30.

(DFO)

Waters northwest of Orcas Island in the Gulf Islands and off the mouth of the Fraser River will also see Chinook closures.

(DFO)

“These measures include closures that will help increase the availability of this critical food source for southern resident killer whales,” the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement. “The closures will take place in three key foraging (feeding) areas.”

While the goal is to reduce fishing boat traffic, it wasn’t clear what might be being done about all the other vessels using the same waters.

DFO also announced that daily limits are being chopped in half on the north coast.

Overall, Canada’s two-pronged move aims to reduce commercial and recreational catches by 25 to 35 percent to boost numbers of kings returning to southern BC’s Fraser River and northern BC’s Skeena, Nass and other streams.

On the former front, it’s part of an international effort to help out struggling orcas.

(DFO)

It follows Washington’s closure of Chinook retention in the San Juan Islands in September, a good month to fish for Fraser-bound fish that are also preyed on by orcas.

WDFW also implemented new voluntary go-go zones along the west side of San Juan Island, a key feeding area for the giant marine mammals, but which were panned by a local angler as a feel-good move that doesn’t address root causes of the orcas’ plight — too few Chinook anymore.

DFO’s moves were also met with skepticism from the Sport Fishing Institute of BC.

“It is clear to see that decisions have been made to appear as though they will make a significant difference to the recovery of SRKW although there is little or no evidence of this,” the organization said in a statement. “While the recreational community has indicated a willingness to participate in measures that can lead to recovery of Chinook (and SRKW), the measures announced today are much more restrictive than the department itself explained was necessary to satisfy conservation objectives.”

SFI said that habitat, predator and “strategic enhancement” work for Fraser Chinook has “gone no where (sic)” and asked whether DFO really thought it could restore runs through the “now tiny exploitation rate associated with recreational fishing? Chinook and all those that depend on them deserve solutions and investment.”

Reacting to the developments, Nootka Marine, located further up the west coast of Vancouver Island from the closure zone, tweeted out a link to regulations for Nootka Sound and Esperanza Inlet.

DFO says the Straits, Gulf and Fraser mouth closures will be monitored “to assess the effectiveness.”

A WDFW official says besides the state’s closing of September Chinook retention and the voluntary stay-away areas, no more fishing measures to benefit orcas are anticipated to be implemented this year.

 

June Meetings On Oregon Salmon, Steelhead Regs Simplification Ideas

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

ODFW will host a series of public meetings to inform anglers of changes to sportfish regulations proposed for 2019.

ODFW SAYS THAT MANY OF THE SALMON AND STEELHEAD REGULATIONS UNDER REVIEW ARE IN THE NORTHWEST ZONE, WHERE THE ALSEA RIVER (ABOVE) FLOWS, AS WELL AS THE SOUTHWEST ZONE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The changes proposed are part of a multi-year process to simplify the fishing regulations. “To come up with these potential changes, we looked at every water body across the state, trying to develop common regulations, consistent language, and increased fishing opportunities,” said Mike Gauvin, ODFW recreational fisheries program manager.

The first phase was focused on warmwater and trout fishing and became effective in 2016. The current phase is focused on developing more consistent salmon and steelhead seasons, reorganizing zone regulations and clarifying some definitions.

“The majority of the proposed changes for salmon and steelhead regulations are located in the Northwest and Southwest Zones, as we found many opportunities to make small changes to streamline seasons,” said Gauvin.

ODFW staff will discuss the proposed changes and take public comments during the meetings. Comments can also be sent to odfw.commission@state.or.us. Final 2019 Sportfishing Regulations will be adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their Sept. 14 meeting in Bandon, where public testimony will also be taken.

Meeting dates and locations follow:

Coos Bay (North Bend), June 5, 6:30-7:30 p.m., North Bend Library, 1800 Sherman Ave

Newport, June 6, 6- 7 p.m., Hallmark Resort, 744 SW Elizabeth Street

Tillamook, June 7, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Tillamook County Library, 1716 3rd Street

Seaside, June 13, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Seaside Convention Center (Seamist Room), 415 1st Ave

Hillsboro, June 14, 7 p.m., Meriwether National Golf Club, 5200 Rood Bridge Road (at NW Steelheaders, Tualatin Valley Chapter Meeting)

San Juan Islands Angler Leery Of Voluntary No-boat Zone For Orcas

Kevin Klein has done his part to feed starving southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound.

As he fought a very big Chinook in the San Juans a few summers ago, a bull from J-pod swam over from a quarter mile away and chomped off the meatiest bits of the salmon.

“I THINK ALL OF US WANT THE BEST FOR THE ORCAS. THAT’S NUMBER ONE,” SAYS SAN JUAN ISLANDS ANGLER KEVIN KLEIN, HERE WITH ALL THAT WAS LEFT AFTER A KILLER WHALE SNARFED A BIG CHINOOK OFF HIS LINE IN JULY 2013. (KEVIN KLEIN)

The encounter left Klein temporarily deflated and holding a 5-pound fish head, but also gave him a new appreciation for the “giant marine super predator.”

That might help explain why he’s not too crazy about WDFW’s request yesterday for boaters to voluntarily avoid a quarter- to half-mile-wide strip along much of the west side of San Juan Island, prime feeding and fishing grounds for orcas and anglers alike.

The goal is to reduce human activity there and follows federal overseers’ call to do more to protect the endangered pods in Washington waters.

But Klein says it won’t do a bit of good to help out the killer whales and instead is just a “feel-good ‘win'” for the species’ enthusiasts.

“They did something. Picked some low-hanging fruit so now the grant money can keep coming in. If there is no problem with the killer whales, then professional orca advocates don’t have funding or jobs. So it’s in their best interests to perpetuate a problem rather that actually addressing the tougher issues that would help the whales,” says the Anacortes-based angler and yacht brokerage employee.

Lined up against fixes such as increasing hatchery salmon production and reducing pinniped and fish-eating bird predation are groups like the overly litigious Wild Fish Conservancy and PETA, which Klein claims are ready to sue the state as well as “take on even the Puget Sound tribes and boycott casinos if you start culling cuddly seals and sea lions.”

Other challenges include northern fleets’ interception of salmon bound for Northwest rivers, which in some cases have severe habitat issues.

He says he doesn’t want people to chase whales and notes that there are laws against that already.

The state legislature passed a measure in 2008, and a 2011 rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bars “vessels from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting a whale or positioning the vessel in its path” in Washington’s inside waters.

But NOAA has been pushing for more and more action, and earlier this year Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order directing WDFW and other state agencies to do all they could to help out the killer whales.

That included bumping hatchery production, though it will take several years for those fish to become available, and pruning salmon seasons in some areas.

When we posted WDFW’s press release on its “difficult request” to San Juan Islands fishermen Tuesday afternoon, anglers generally reacted against it.

They’ve already kicked us in the teeth taking September Chinook away. So … no,” wrote Bellingham angler Rory O’Connor, referring to the closure of the popular Chinook fishery that time of year in the islands.

Besides seven likes of the post, there were no supportive comments, though there was more on the agency’s version.

According to WDFW, the voluntary no-go zone — a quarter-mile strip of shoreline from Mitchell Bay to Cattle Point, with a half-mile bubble around Lime Kiln Lighthouse — is the “most frequently” used feeding and lounging area for southern residents.

(WDFW)

“This step will help support killer whale recovery and prevents a potential delay in federal approval for our salmon fisheries throughout the entire Sound,” Fish Program chief Ron Warren said in a press release.

He takes the long view, adding that recovering orcas “will mean more salmon returning to Puget Sound each year, which will benefit anglers” too.

Ultimately, the request is another straw on the usual camel’s back, sportfishermen, who are already bearing the burden of Washington’s failure as a whole to stem the loss of salmon.

Is it one straw too many this time, or the wrong straw?

“Really, we all know that the orcas aren’t bothered one bit by our 20- to 30-foot rec boats trolling at 2 mph,” says Klein. “The best thing a small rec boat can do is just keep trolling and let the whales react to you on a predictable path. If anything, they are attracted to us and curious. I think they know exactly what we are doing and might even think it’s funny.”

“They are highly advanced super predators. Top of the food chain, with sonar and perceptions of their world that we can’t begin to fathom,” he says. “Give them some credit. They’ll thrive with more fish in the water.”

‘A Difficult Request,’ But WDFW Asks Boaters To Avoid Strip Along Fishy Western San Juan Island

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

State fish and wildlife managers are asking anglers and other boaters to avoid an area along the west side of San Juan Island in an effort to protect a dwindling population of southern resident killer whales.

Despite state and federal government protection, the population of southern resident killer whales has declined from 98 whales in 1995 to just 76 in December 2017. Major threats to the whales include a lack of prey – chinook salmon, in particular – disturbance from vessel traffic and noise, as well as toxic contaminants.

(WDFW)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will be working with partner agencies and stakeholder groups to help educate people about the voluntary “no-go” zone, which applies to all recreational boats – fishing or otherwise – as well as commercial vessels.

The no-go zone is located on the west side of San Juan Island, including:

  • From Mitchell Bay in the north to Cattle Point in the south, extending a quarter-mile offshore for the entire stretch.
  • In an area around the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, the no-go zone extends further offshore – half of a mile.

A map of these areas is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/orca/, where boaters also can find existing regulations on properly operating vessels near orcas.

These waters represent the areas in the San Juan Islands that southern resident killer whales most frequently use for foraging and socializing. To improve conditions for the whales, WDFW is asking vessel operators to stay out of these key areas to allow the whales a quiet area to feed.

“This voluntary no-go zone is a good step in helping to reduce human impacts in an important foraging area for southern resident killer whales,” said Penny Becker, WDFW’s policy lead on killer whales.

In March, the governor signed an executive order creating a task force and directing WDFW and other state agencies to take immediate action to benefit southern resident killer whales. In designing this year’s salmon fisheries, the department reduced fisheries in areas – such as the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet – important to orcas.

In late April, NOAA Fisheries asked the state to take additional action to protect southern resident killer whales during the upcoming fishing season. In response, the state included the voluntary measure in a set of actions NOAA should consider as the federal agency develops authorization for Puget Sound salmon fisheries.

“This step will help support killer whale recovery and prevents a potential delay in federal approval for our salmon fisheries throughout the entire Sound,” said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

Warren acknowledged that this is a difficult request to make of anglers who fish the San Juans, given the reduced opportunities for salmon fishing in the area this year. But there are a variety of other salmon fisheries in Puget Sound this season.

In particular, he noted that in other areas of the Sound anglers have more opportunities to fish for coho salmon than in recent years. More information about this year’s salmon fisheries can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

Warren said there is an exception for vessels participating in a commercial fishery targeting Fraser River sockeye that takes place in the northern portion of the no-go zone, given the limited number of commercial openings (six to eight days) this year.

As part of the governor’s directive, WDFW is working with NOAA and state agencies to increase hatchery production of salmon to benefit southern resident killer whales. However, it will take three to four years for fish released from Washington hatcheries to be available as returning adults for the whales.

WDFW also will continue to work with tribal co-managers and other agencies to restore salmon habitat.

“Our efforts to recover killer whales ultimately will mean more salmon returning to Puget Sound each year, which will benefit anglers as well as orcas,” Warren said.

More information about the governor’s task force is available online at https://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/energy-environment/southern-resident-killer-whale-recovery-and-task-force.

WDFW Holding Public Meetings, Taking Comment On Columbia River Salmon Policies

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is inviting people to share their views at four upcoming meetings in Ridgefield on a draft assessment of a state policy that guides the management of salmon fisheries in the lower Columbia River.

 (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The policy, adopted in 2013 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, is designed to promote orderly fisheries, advance the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead, and support the economic well-being of the Columbia River fishing industry.

WDFW has initiated a review of that policy at the request of the commission, a nine-member a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the department.

“Once completed, this review will provide a foundation for the commission’s assessment of the policy,” said Bill Tweit, a WDFW special assistant. “Commissioners have emphasized that the department’s review must be detailed, comprehensive, and open to public involvement.”

To encourage engagement, the department invites the public to join in discussions with two WDFW advisory groups at any or all of four meetings designed to inform the department’s policy review. All of those meetings will be held at WDFW’s regional office at 5525 S. 11th St. in Ridgefield:

  • The Columbia River Commercial Fishing Advisory Group: Meetings scheduled May 15 and July 31 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • The Columbia River Recreational Fishing Advisory Group: Meetings scheduled May 15 and July 12 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

An initial draft of the Comprehensive Review of the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy is posted on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/comp_review_columbia_river_basin_salmon-C-3620.pdf.

WDFW staff briefed the commission on an initial draft of its policy review March 17 at a public meeting in Wenatchee. Commissioners will receive regular updates from staff through mid-September, when they will meet to discuss WDFW’s final review of the Columbia River policy.

The Washington and Oregon commissions may also meet jointly in November to discuss the policy.

All of these meetings are open to the public.

Information about the upcoming meetings can be found on the advisory group websites (https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/advisory/) and the commission website (https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/).

The Columbia River Basin Salmon Management policy, as revised by the Washington commission in January 2017, is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/policies/c3620.pdf

Yuasa Reviews Washington 2018 Salmon Seasons, Looks Ahead To Halibut, Shrimping

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

The months are flying by faster than a coho hitting your bait in the prop wash.

It felt like “Yesterday” – an ode to a classic Beatles song – when we gathered in Lacey on Feb. 27 to see what the salmon forecasts had in store for us. Now a season package is “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” – did you say Stevie Wonder? – for anglers to digest and begin making plans on where to wet a line.

The process known as “North of Falcon” (NOF) culminated April 6-11 in Portland, Oregon, and I was on-hand as a sport-fishing observer.

JUSTIN WONG HOLDS UP A NICE KING SALMON HE CAUGHT LAST SUMMER IN THE OCEAN OFF WESTPORT. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

When proposed seasons came to light in mid-March it was like a feisty trophy king tugging on end of a line, which after a long battle unhooked itself at the boat causing the lead weight to smack you right in the eye.

While grief and a swollen black eye set in, you might have been down in the dumps. But, my mantra has been to never whine about what you can’t do or lost (the trophy king in paragraph above), and more on making the most of the present moment.

Life throws you lemons so make sweet lemonade because if you don’t your head will go into a swift-moving tidal tail-spin and turn your fishing line into a messy tangled web of hurt.

The initial good news is environmental conditions – El Nino, warm water temperatures, a “Blob” and droughts – that have plagued us with restrictions going back to 2015-16 appear to be in the rear-view mirror.

Secondly, was the warmth (albeit mixed feelings by some NOF attendees) of unity and transparency between user groups despite a usual difference in opinions over how the whole pie of sport, tribal and non-tribal fisheries was divvied up.

These are signals of “baby steps” in a complicated process that long has been filled with arguments, bitterness, cultural indifference, protests and a fight over that “last salmon” dating back to Boldt Decision.

The true litmus test of how long this “hand-holding” philosophy will last between all parties is essential as we move forward to ensure our iconic Pacific Northwest salmon runs will be around for generations to come. Even more so as we carry the torch of a long-term Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan to the federal fishery agency’s table later this year, which will dictate how we fish from 2019 to 2029 and beyond.

“Now that we’ve finished this process we need to work on being responsible with conservation, habitat issues and simply change our philosophy to create a long-term management plan,” Ron Warren, the WDFW salmon policy coordinator said at conclusion of Portland meetings.

While being mindful of that briny future, let’s go over highlights of our fisheries at hand.

A positive are extended seasons – something that hasn’t happened for several years – for hatchery coho in northern Puget Sound (Area 9) from July through September, and non-select coho in central Puget Sound (Area 10) from June through mid-November. The Puget Sound coho forecast is 557,149.

Another shining star is a South Sound hatchery chinook forecast of 227,420 up 21 percent from 10-year average and a 35 percent increase from 2017.

The northern Puget Sound summer hatchery chinook catch quota is 5,563 – a similar figure to 2017 – and is expected to last one-month when it opens in July.

The elevated forecast is a blessing when south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) opens June 1 especially in popular Tacoma-Vashon Island area. A central Puget Sound hatchery chinook fishery starts July 16 with a cap of 4,743. Area 10 has a coho directed fishery in June at popular places such as Jefferson Head-Edmonds area.

A hatchery king season opens at Sekiu on July 1, and Port Angeles on July 3. Both switch to hatchery coho in mid-August through September.

A summer king fishery in San Juan Islands (Area 7) opens July to August, but September is chinook non-retention.

Late-summer and early-fall coho fisheries will occur in Areas 5, 6, 7, 8-1, 8-2, 11, 12 and 13.

On coast, Ilwaco, La Push and Neah Bay open daily starting June 23, and Westport opens Sundays to Thursdays beginning July 1. Hatchery coho quotas are same as 2017 although chinook quotas are down a decent amount. The popular Buoy 10 salmon fishery opens Aug. 1.

On freshwater scene, a sockeye forecast of 35,002 to Baker River is strong enough to allow fisheries in Baker Lake from July 7-Sept. 7, and a section of Skagit River from June 16-July 15.

The Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie open Sept. 16 for coho. Sections of Skykomish, Skagit and Cascade open for hatchery chinook beginning June 1. For details on seasons, visit WDFW at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

Bounty of May fishing options

There’s nothing more exciting than pulling up a pot loaded with prawn-size spot shrimp during a season that begins May 5.

“I am more positive this year on our spot shrimp projections than the last couple of years,” said Mark O’Toole, a WDFW biologist who is retiring May 18 after an illustrious 36 years with the department, and many thanks for your valued input on shrimp and other fish policies!

BIG PRAWN-SIZE SPOT SHRIMP COME INTO PLAY IN THE MONTHS AHEAD AROUND THE PUGET SOUND REGION. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

“In general, last year was another good season with relatively high abundance,” he said. “The catch per boat ended up being higher for all areas.”

Look for good shrimping in Strait; San Juan Islands; east side of Whidbey Island; central, south-central and northern Puget Sound; and Hood Canal. Test fishing conducted this spring showed marginal abundance in southern Puget Sound.

Hit pause button on spring chores since trout fishing in statewide lowland lakes is now underway.

Justin Spinelli, a WDFW biologist says 460,000 trout went into Puget Sound region lakes on top of 500-plus statewide lakes planted with 16,840,269 trout – 2,171,307 of them are the standardized size averaging about 11 inches compared to 8-inches in past seasons.

If you prefer a large-sized halibut then head out on May 11. The Washington catch quota is 225,366 pounds down from 237,762 in 2017, and a bump up from 214,110 in 2016, 2015 and 2014. Dates for Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Strait/Puget Sound are May 11, 13, 25 and 27. Depending on catches other dates are June 7, 9, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30. Ilwaco opens May 3 with fishing allowed Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Once you get your halibut fix add some black rockfish and lingcod to the cooler. Ilwaco, Westport, Neah Bay and La Push are open for both, and some Puget Sound areas are open for lingcod.

NW Salmon Derby Series hits pause button

While we take a break from a spectacular winter derby series be sure to keep sight of the PSA Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 13-15.

2018 NORTHWEST SALMON DERBY SERIES GRAND PRIZE BOAT. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

More great news is Edmonds Coho Derby on Sept. 8 and Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 22-23 – the largest derby on West Coast – are likely back on “must do” list. In mean time, check out derby’s grand-prize KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series boat powered with Honda 150hp motor and 9.9hp trolling motor at Anacortes Boat & Yacht Show on May 17-20 at Cap Sante Marina. The $65,000 boat also comes on an EZ-loader trailer, and fully-rigged with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; custom WhoDat Tower; and Dual Electronic stereo. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

I’m sprinting out the door with rod in hand so see you on the water!

U.S. House Vote Against Spill ‘A Hard Pill For Businesses To Swallow’: NSIA

“Unfathomable.” That’s what the head of a regional pro-fishing group is calling yesterday’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives that in part blocks spill through the Columbia Basin to help young salmon.

All of Oregon’s and Washington’s Congressmen representing the immense watershed voted for HR 3144, which passed 225-189 and would put off a federal judge’s spill order till 2022.

It also leaves it up to lawmakers whether to remove the lower four Snake River dams.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

But Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association in Portland says blocking spill will “accelerate salmon’s demise, affecting every single species that has to travel down this industrial river.”

Just three weeks ago she’d heralded U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon’s ruling that because the Columbia’s numerous Endangered Species Act-listed stocks “remain in a ‘precarious’ state,” and that with decades worth of studies showing “spill volumes higher than those proposed in the 2014 BiOp will lead to higher survival rates” for young Chinook, coho, steelhead, this year’s program would go ahead starting April 2.

The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by President Trump, but Hamilton said the House’s action was a direct shot at those benefits.

She called it a “hard pill for businesses to swallow, on the heels of the 2015 drought, the 2016 blob, a bad ocean, and the occasional flood.”

“Climate change, with the frequent, intense environmental changes it brings is hammering the fish and our industry. It is unfathomable that Congress would choose to do less at the exact moment in history when hydropower is needed less than ever. Particularly during the spring when there are over 200 major dams cranking out energy. There’s just no excuse,” Hamilton says.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Spokane Republican who consponsored the legislation, billed it as a way to “protect” the Columbia hydropower system’s dams.

She said the facilities and fish could coexist.

“When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, our dams provide critical baseload energy to power homes and businesses all across Eastern Washington and the Pacific Northwest,” McMorris Rodgers said in a press release. “Not only that, they provide transportation and irrigation benefits for our farmers, flood control for our communities, and recreational opportunities that fuel our economy. This isn’t about the merits of protecting salmon, we all agree on that. This is about providing certainty and letting experts and scientists in the region, who know the river best, work collaboratively to meet that goal. I’m proud to usher this legislation through the House.”

Joining her in voting for the bill were fellow Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert, all Republicans, Oregon’s Kurt Schrader (D) and Greg Walden (R), and Idaho’s Mike Simpson (R). The Gem State’s Raul Labrador (R) did not cast a vote as he was reportedly campaigning for governor.

Hamilton says she watched a hearing on the bill and came away “appalled” at what she’d heard bandied about from the other side of the issue.

She adds that walking away from even looking at removing Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite Dams “could mean extinction for many Snake River stocks in the future.”

According to the Idaho Statesman, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate due to opposition from Washington Senator Patty Murray (D).

“There is an ongoing legal process intended to account for all uses of our critical river system and a court-mandated comprehensive review that everyone can participate in, so I oppose this legislation that would cut off and politicize what should be a robust and transparent process,” Murray said in a statement.

 

Editor’s note: Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s first name was misspelled in the initial version of this story. Our apologies.

Last Chance To Save Lake Washington Sockeye Fisheries?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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