Tag Archives: salmon

States delay lower Columbia River steelhead fishery opening

SALEM, Ore – An action packed weekend is coming up in LaGrande at the 12th annual Ladd Marsh Bird Festival, May 19-21.

CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Fishery managers have postponed the annual fishery for hatchery steelhead and jack Chinook salmon from Tongue Point upriver to the Interstate 5 Bridge set to begin May 16.

Lower than expected passage of spring Chinook salmon over Bonneville Dam coupled with the spring Chinook catch to date in the recreational fishery downstream of Bonneville Dam are the primary causes of the delay. As of yesterday only about 26,000 of the approximately 160,000 forecasted spring Chinook salmon had been counted at Bonneville Dam.

Although steelhead anglers would have been required to release any adult salmon they caught in the postponed fishery, a certain percentage would die after release. “Unfortunately we just don’t have any lower river sport allocation left to operate this fishery prior to a run update,” said Tucker Jones, ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program manager.

“We’re not sure if this run is just very late or also below forecast,” Jones said “Water conditions have been way outside of normal this year, and that could be the primary cause for the low counts to date,” he added.

“The abnormal water conditions this year have injected a level of uncertainty into assessing this run that doesn’t typically exist,” Jones said. “Given the unclear situation we have this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes another week or two before we really know the full story on this year’s return.”

Latin Lessons, And Other Thoughts On Puget Sound Fishing, Circa 2017

Editor’s note: The following is Tony Floor’s monthly newsletter and is run with permission.

By Tony Floor, Fishing Affairs Director, Northwest Marine Trade Association

I learned a new phrase a few weeks ago which is a Greek saying called “Carpe diem.”

It’s very strange; however, I like the meaning. Carpe diem means to seize the day and put little trust into tomorrow. When I think about the recent outcome a few weeks ago at the annual North of Falcon salmon season setting process, it causes me to want to head to a tattoo shop to have Carpe diem welded on my shoulder!

For those who know me, my attitude towards sport salmon fishing is to focus on what we can do, versus what we can’t do. And, for the second time in as many years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has delivered a semi load of ‘can’t dos’ to the 2017-18 sport salmon fishing season, with emphasis on marine waters from Sekiu to Bellingham.

On the flip side, and to be fair to the North of Falcon outcome, there are a decent amount of ‘Can dos’ which are highlighted by significant improvements in central and northern Puget Sound catch quotas, especially for hatchery-produced Chinook salmon.

So, while you gather information on whether this year’s salmon season package is good or bad, it very much depends on where you like to fish, whether it’s the Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, or all of the above. While you look for a smoking gun, you do not need to look beyond the end of your nose to find good ‘ol Mother Nature holding the gun. The El Niño of 2015-16, with the warm water mass of “The Blob”, caused havoc to salmon survival rates. Last year was the first year anglers were whacked with conservation-based restrictions delivered by Mother Nature. And 2017 will be the second consecutive year of paying the conservation price, which will likely be carried forward through 2018.

May means prawns in most Puget Sound waters as the season opens May 6. Shellfish biologists say this year’s test fisheries showed healthy numbers of spot prawns in most areas. Bob Cannon, Westport, pulled this pot loaded with spot prawns in the San Juan Islands during last year’s opener.

BELLA ANDERSON SHOWS OFF SEVERAL NICE SPOT SHRIMP BROUGHT OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF MARINE AREA 12 ON A PAST OPENER. SHE WAS OUT WITH HER GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, NANCY AND GENE BURDYSHAW. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

Back at the turn of the 21st century, many saltwater salmon anglers, including this cat, believed mass marking of Chinook and coho salmon (removal of the adipose fin at salmon hatcheries) would lead anglers to target hatchery-produced fish in expanded seasons while releasing and protecting wild fish. That isn’t necessarily the case today, as expanded closures and sport fishing restrictions have resulted in reducing fishing opportunities in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands for the upcoming seasons despite the evolution of selective fishing for hatchery-produced fish.

Releasing wild Chinook and coho salmon isn’t good enough anymore, especially in the tribes view, which was agreed to by WDFW and witnessed by participants in the discussions between the two parties. Sport salmon fishing closures are becoming the choice of salmon managers in these annual negotiations versus relying on selective fishing. Just ask the sport salmon fishing community in Port Angeles and Sequim as their winter and spring blackmouth fishery for hatchery-produced fin-clipped Chinook salmon went from a five month season to six weeks.

Now that the 2017-2018 salmon season (May 1 through April 30) is set, I recommend careful examination of where you intend to fish for Chinook, coho and pink salmon in the months ahead. Similar to many other years, planning is critically important to opportunity and success.

And by the way, if I’ve left you scratching your head to this writing, HB 1647 is alive in the legislature which proposes to increase your sport salmon fishing license fees beginning April 1, 2018. The Northwest Marine Trade Association and other sport fishing advocacy groups have been working with WDFW, the legislature, and the governor’s office to see if a fee increase is really necessary. If the answer is yes, depending on who you ask, it is our priority to ensure sport fishing priorities and benefits are realized.

Here Comes the Spot Prawn Season

May 6 is just a few days away as serious prawn fishers should be putting the final touches in becoming gear ready for this annual blast. The tides on the opener are unbelievably fantastic as many of us who dig this fishery finalize our prawning plans. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands, central and northern Puget Sound, along with Hood Canal look good as the result of test fishing by WDFW shellfish biologists. Even south Puget Sound has a robust population, according to the tests, however, there are ongoing challenges by some south Puget Sound tribes who do not support a sport fishery. Get over it.

I warmed up my prawn pots a few weeks ago in Esperanza and Tahsis Inlet on Vancouver Island where the season is open most of the year with a 200 prawns per day limit. Just like home but different.

Trailering a boat to Vancouver Island, or the Gulf Islands from Olympia is not a cake walk in time or expense. However, in my experience, Canada does a great job hosting thousands of Pacific Northwest anglers and the quality of fishing opportunities for salmon, marine fish and shellfish gives anglers an impression that we are welcome in their fisheries.

For several recent decades, Canada has recognized the economic importance of sport fishing which is very refreshing. As a result, they have adjusted their allocations between the troll and the sport fishing fleet increasing opportunity for anglers. And, with the current exchange rate favoring the strength of the U.S. dollar, why not add that card to your hand while developing your fishing strategy in the months ahead.

Sooke, Port Renfrew, Barkley Sound, Tofino, Nootka Sound, and Esperanza Inlet, to name a few. For the last 13 years, I have made the trek to Tahsis in early July to fish coastal waters including the north facing shoreline of Ferrer Island. All day long trolling naked herring off the kelp beds in 50-80 feet of water, down 30 feet on the downrigger, the king salmon go crunchie-munchie. Two kings per angler per day, four in possession. It’s a slam dunk! Sign me up for 2017!

Sort it out, Vernon, the summer salmon fishing season is coming and it’s time to finalize your plans. Carpe diem baby! See you on the water!

Feds, Tribe Prevail In Elwha Salmon, Steelhead Hatchery Appeal

Federal and tribal fishery overseers have prevailed in a court case involving Elwha River salmon and steelhead that allows for continued use of hatchery fish in the restoration of runs to the north Olympic Peninsula watershed.

After hearing arguments last month, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service had done its homework when approving state and Lower Elwha Klallam production programs for after two dams were removed.

THE ELWHA RIVER ABOVE THE SITE OF THE DAMS. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

“The Ninth Circuit found our analysis was complete and that both NOAA and the (National) Park Service have thoroughly adequately assessed the impacts involved, from the dam removal process to the efforts to recover salmon and steelhead populations,” explained Michael Milstein, a spokesman  for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Portland.

That analysis was the target of a long-running challenge in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Salmon Rivers.

According to federal court documents, they had argued that NMFS’s approval of hatchery programs violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts, and that the tribe’s facility output represented a taking of ESA-listed fish.

But 9th Circuit Court Judges Susan P. Graber, Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz largely agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle’s earlier ruling, and according to Milstein that “clears the way” for NMFS and its partners to focus on restoring the river, including with hatchery fish per a 2012 environmental assessment that found minimal risk and some benefits from them.

The Elwha restoration is a project on a huge scale, featuring the removal of Elwha Dam in 2012 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014, freeing up dozens of miles of river and tributaries that flow from the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.

To that end, earlier this spring, WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe extended a fishing moratorium on the Elwha through May 2019.

For its part, WDFW doesn’t appear interested in stocking steelhead into the river, as last summer it declared the Elwha a wild steelhead gene bank. The Wild Steelhead Coalition said that designation was the result of “decades of work,” but the tribe’s hatchery means the sanctuary “still does not exist.”

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WDFW Outlines Potential Puget Sound Salmon Seasons

Puget Sound anglers, guides, gear retailers, resort owners, commercial fishermen and others got their first glance at possible summer salmon seasons today.

Options presented this morning by WDFW included a mixed bag of opportunities to catch abundant Chinook and coho in some marine areas and rivers, sharply carved seasons elsewhere to limit impacts on depressed stocks, and closures on some waters to ensure enough salmon make it back to North Sound spawning grounds.

The agency was gathering comments from its stakeholders for the next round of negotiations with Western Washington tribes, who were also in meetings today.

2015 LOOMS LARGE OVER THESE ANGLERS ON WHIDBEY ISLAND AS A THUNDERSTORM MOVES PAST THAT JULY, AS WELL AS OVER 2017’S SALMON FORECASTS AND NEGOTIATIONS. THAT YEAR SAW THE BLOB WREAK HAVOC ON THE FISH AT SEAS, OVERHEAT AND DIMINISH THEIR NATAL RIVERS, AND THEN FLOOD THEIR REDDS UNDER FALL’S DELUGES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Discussions at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites were slated to continue through the afternoon, but, well, some of us have magazine deadlines to attend to, so I had to leave “North of Falcon II” early and can’t go as in-depth on all the arcane math behind WDFW’s modeling as is my usual wont, but I found several fishing options that the agency has drummed up as newsworthy:

For starters, with over 16,300 Chinook heading back to the Green, the agency would like to hold a one-weekend (Friday-Sunday), two-salmon-limit fishery on inner Elliott Bay in August (hatchery coho and pinks only the next two weekends), and open part of the lower river for king retention.

Initially, WDFW is looking at a nonselective season on E-Bay kings, following a lack of objection from the Muckleshoot Tribe, according to Mark Baltzell, Puget Sound salmon manager.

But that concerned several anglers, including retired state salmon policy expert and current sportfishing representative Pat Patillo. He thought that it might be better to propose the fishery as a mark-selective one, aligning it with consistent efforts to target and harvest fin-clipped hatchery salmon.

Either way, it buoyed one longtime angler who sat in the front row of today’s briefing.

“We’re glad to see a chance to get back our king fishery,” said Ed, last name unknown.

WDFW is also modeling hatchery Chinook seasons in the Nooksack, Skykomish, Skagit, Cascade, Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers, and any-king fisheries in the Samish River and Tulalip Bubble.

THIS TABLE FROM WDFW SHOWS CHINOOK FISHERIES THE AGENCY BROUGHT TO ANGLERS AT TODAY’S NORTH OF FALCON MEETING IN LYNNWOOD.

Unlike 2016, this year there are least options to fish for coho on the salt.

But to protect very low forecasted returns of Stillaguamish and Skagit coho, WDFW is considering closing Areas 8-1 and 8-2 through October, and running Area 9 as a shore fishery only for hatchery silvers in September.

According to the agency’s Ryan Lothrop, Admiralty Inlet typically produces 24,000 silvers that month, with impacts to Stilly and Skagit coho “quite high” as the rivers’ stocks mix before heading for their natal streams.

The tribes were said to be “relatively open” to a shoreline fishery throughout Area 9, including down to the Hood Canal Bridge, though it would only yield about 5 percent of the usual catch for anglers, according to WDFW.

Elsewhere, Areas 5, 6, 10 and 13 are modeled as open for hatchery coho, while wild and clipped silvers could be fishable in Areas 11 and 12.

WDFW’s proposal also includes selective coho fisheries in the Nooksack, Samish, Cascade and Nisqually Rivers, and any-silver fisheries in the Snohomish, Green, Puyallup, Nisqually and Quilcene Rivers, and Lakes Washington and Sammamish, and Tulalip Bay.

The Skagit and Stillaguamish would be closed, but the retired WDFW biologist and North Sound angler Curt Kramer said the agency owed game fish anglers something for 2016 closures and termed the Stilly a “blue-ribbon” cutthroat fishery.

ANOTHER CHART FROM TODAY’S NORTH OF FALCON MEETING SHOWS POTENTIAL COHO FISHERIES.

Since the early 2000s, odd-numbered years have delivered stellar numbers of pink salmon, but not so for 2017, at least by the forecast, some 1.15 million Puget Sound wide.

Again, with Stillaguamish and Skagit coho mixing into the best waters for Snohomish- and South Sound-bound humpies, things look grim for Area 8-2 anglers, but audience members came up with two possible sliver fisheries.

Patillo advocated for one on the eastern side of the area, from, say, Mukilteo down to the Shipwreck, with the idea being a fishery in Humpy Hollow would be further away from the constraining coho stocks.

Scott Weedman of Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville wanted to know about one off the mouth of the Snohomish River, from approximately the Tulalip Bubble down to Mukilteo, an area known as 8A.

The latter is a consideration, with the assumption that the closer to the Snohomish, the higher the density of salmon native to that basin. WDFW staffers were up until 2 a.m. this morning modeling an 8A fishery.

Other modeled saltwater fisheries include:

  • Hatchery Chinook in all or parts of July and August in Marine Areas 5-7, 9-11, 12 south of Point Ayock, and 13;
  • Any-Chinook fisheries in Area 7 from August through September;

But ominously, Skokomish kings and coho are listed as TBD, a possible sign about negotiations to reopen the river after last year’s closure by the tribe.

About 60 people attended today’s meeting. Besides those mentioned above, they included Gabe Miller of Sportco in Fife, Tom Nelson of The Outdoor Line, Puget Sound sportfishing advisors Ryley Fee and Norm Reinhardt, among others, Mark Spada, a pair of representatives from Sekiu, charter skippers Keith Robbins, Carl Nyman and Steve Kesling, Kevin John from Holiday Market, Art Tatchell of Point Defiance Boathouse, Jacques White of Long Live the Kings, Fish and Wildlife Commissioners Dave Graybill and Bob Kehoe, numerous Puget Sound Anglers, Kitsap Poggie Club and CCA members, Mark Yuasa at the Seattle Times, dozens of WDFW headquarters and regional staffers, and Susan Bishop at NOAA.

Again, I had to leave early, but this represents what WDFW presented to fisherman as North of Falcon 2017 draws to its scheduled mid-April conclusion.

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The Gurus: Bob Rees

Guide, conservationist, fisheries advocate – there are many pieces to the subject of this month’s feature in our continuing series on all-around Northwest anglers.
By Andy Schneider

God, no, I’ve never looked back!”
So exclaims Bob Rees, the executive director of the  Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Northwest Oregon and Columbia River guide, and fish and fisheries advocate.
“Besides my gray hair, I’ve got no regrets,” he says. “I owe my entire life to salmon. The best lesson my dad ever taught me was to get a job you love. It’s been a wonderful journey, meeting some incredible people and having some incredible opportunities.”

IT’S THE LAUGHTER coming from Bob Rees’s boat that usually gets your attention. Rees has a way of trolling right up behind you without attracting much attention – that is, until the laughter breaks out. You glance back and see Rees standing at the tiller making minor adjustments to the motor, while leaning in and telling his clients something that sets them off laughing again. As you think to yourself that it’s good his clients are having so much fun but they must not be taking the fishing too seriously, someone hooks one almost on cue to a punchline of a joke just out of earshot and the entire boat erupts in uncontrollable laughter again.
Fish around Rees enough and you begin to see the pattern: This guy is having a good time, and it’s infectious to his clients.  At first encounter with Rees, you wonder if it’s just a show that he puts on to be a good businessman; no one could be that easygoing, quick-witted and fun all the time, could they? Well, I hate to break it to you, but yes, Rees is the real deal. He truly loves  what he’s doing and is glad to share his good fortune with pretty much everyone.
“People come out fishing to have a good time,” explains Rees. “And I can easily accommodate a group of folks looking to have an enjoyable time on the water. It actually makes my job pretty easy. Sure, I’ve been stuck on a sandbar or two – or three – but those are usually the highlights of the trip!”

GROWING UP, REES was lucky that a friend of his father’s was a good fisherman and willing to share his knowledge.
“No one in my family really fished, so when my dad’s friend Gerry Lake took me salmon fishing for the first time, I was pretty ecstatic. It was early September and I had just started eighth grade when Gerry took my dad and I fishing out of Astoria. It was one of those flat-calm days on the ocean and when the rod started bouncing up and down, Gerry told me to just keep my hands off it. It didn’t take long before that rod started bucking and I thought for sure it was going to break in half. But with Gerry’s advice I was able to land my very first salmon. We only caught three that day, but I couldn’t keep the lid on the fish box – I just wanted to look at them all day.”
With the flame kindled, Lake fanned Rees’s fishing passion by taking him down to Diamond Lake fishing many times.
“He was my hero. Gerry was my gateway to sport fishing in Oregon, there’s no doubt about that. I now take his four daughters fishing on a regular basis; they participate in the Buoy 10 Challenge every year. Even though Gerry has passed away, it’s evident that he made a strong connection to fishing with his daughters and me.”
Rees believes that it’s extremely important to pass on your knowledge and passion for fishing to the next generation, whether you have children or not.

Rees credits Gerry Lake, a friend of his father’s, for getting him into fishing when he was in eighth grade and fueling his passion for the sport (BOB REES)

Rees credits Gerry Lake, a friend of his father’s, for getting him into fishing when he was in eighth grade and fueling his passion for the sport (BOB REES)

“If parents don’t support that passion, that energy is going to go somewhere else, and not necessarily good,” he says.
When we talked in late February, Rees had just wrapped up a  new two-day event put on by the Steelheaders. Called Family Fish Camp, it was held near Rockaway Beach for families wanting to find out more about the sport, or if they’re already anglers, how to refine their skills.
“We had over 100 anglers and 30 volunteers in attendance –  not too bad for our first year,” says Rees. “Saturday was some classes and then fishing for trout. Sunday was trout fishing, breakfast and then more trout fishing. Everyone really liked being able to go out and catch some fish.”
“One of the great moments of the camp for me was watching a 12-year-old, who incidentally has caught way more steelhead than me this season – way more. Anyway, he really wanted to help other kids catch fish. It was pretty neat watching this young angler in action and already passing on his knowledge.”
By building the next generation of anglers, Rees believes you also recruit the advocates who are going to fight for the future of our fish.
“We didn’t know where to start, so Family Fish Camp was a start,” he says. “And it turned out great – the thirst is definitely there. Sometimes parents just don’t have the time to invest in learning  a new hobby. We hope we can jumpstart everyone’s passion and create future foot solders for salmon advocacy.”

REES’S INTEREST IN fish increased in high school, when he contemplated running a guide business from shore. But he really got serious when he entered college and got his fisheries degree.
Shortly after graduating he got a job as an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish checker in Astoria.
“I started meeting guides and talking with them and realized that was the direction I wanted to go. I never thought I was going to be rich enough to be able to buy a boat – thank goodness for credit!”
“I’ve since graduated towards fish advocacy and it’s been the exclamation point on my career. Working for the Northwest Steelheaders  has been great and I’ve got a very understanding board of directors that still allows me to guide (northwestguides.com). I wake up pretty excited everyday to go to work and get a chance to work on some challenging issues. Northwest Steelheaders is 56 years old and stronger than ever before. I’m really excited about the direction we are heading.”
His career so far has provided some very rewarding moments.
“The most memorable fishing trip was when I took Governor Kitzhaber fishing in Tillamook Bay, October 23rd, 2002. The governor was considering closing salmon hatcheries due to budget cuts and deferred maintenance costs. That day the governor got his limit of salmon, one even being a hatchery fish. The day perfectly demonstrated how much local communities depend on commerce that comes from having salmon to catch in our oceans, bays and rivers.”
“Oh, and it was my very first freshwater double on salmon – that made it pretty memorable too.”

Rees is very active in fish and conservation issues, not only as the executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders and holding a Family Fish Camp this past winter, but helping out at the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association’s annual Buoy 10 derby, which raises funds to advocate for fish and fisheries. (BRIAN LULL)

Rees is very active in fish and conservation issues, not only as the executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders and holding a Family Fish Camp this past winter, but helping out at the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association’s annual Buoy 10 derby, which raises funds to advocate for fish and fisheries. (BRIAN LULL)

But even more important than standout days is the graduation of fishermen Rees has seen over the years.
“Anglers who I took out fishing for the first time caught the bug, then started buying their own boats and now show up at meetings fighting for salmon restoration. Looking back, you see this change in folks from not just being a consumer of the resource, but a steward. That is one of the most rewarding things to have seen in my career.”
Still, there’s work to do, and Rees is willing to do it.
“As humans, we truly don’t know what is possible. We thought  that a human couldn’t run a 4-minute mile, but we are doing it. We never thought we would see salmon runs top 1 million fish, but  we’re doing it. How many fish is our ecosystem currently capable  of holding? Can we have 2 million fish this next fall? I think our next big step will be seeing a 12-month consumptive Chinook fishery on the Columbia – is it possible? I landed my first triple just this last fall. With good fishing like we’ve had, it feels like we are making progress. Oh, and let me tell ya’, a triple sure helps get a six-fish limit in a hurry!”
As much as he enjoys battling for the resource for all of us, fighting fish is just as important to Rees.
“I’m heading to the Wilson tomorrow to see if I can enjoy some of the great run we’ve been having. Work has been busy this winter and I haven’t been too disappointed missing the steelhead season so far, but I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
We all should be with angler-conservationists like Bob Rees  working for the fish and fishing opportunities. NS

Bob Rees, here with “Salmon” Sue Cody of The Daily Astorian and a Buoy 10 Chinook, says fish advocacy has been “the exclamation point on my career.” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Bob Rees, here with “Salmon” Sue Cody of The Daily Astorian and a Buoy 10 Chinook, says fish advocacy has been “the exclamation point on my career.” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)