Tag Archives: SEATTLE TIMES

As Lummis Pitch Increased Chinook Releases For Orcas, Hatchery Opponents Dig In

In what’s billed as “a simple idea to save orcas,” the Lummi Nation wants to rear and release Chinook from one or more sea pens in the San Juan Islands.

The salmon would be grown to provide more forage for the starving southern residents in a key feeding area for them.

AN ORCA BREACHES IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS. (BLM)

“The orcas eat hatchery fish. We eat hatchery fish. Not because it’s what we wanted — it’s something we’re forced into,” Jeremiah Julius, Lummi Indian Business Council chairman, told Bitterroot, an online magazine. “To think that wild salmon are going to come back in the next decade in the numbers that are needed to stop the extinction of orcas is foolish.”

A not unattractive likely side benefit would be more fish for fishermen who are also suffering the same fate as the whales, too few kings.

In the lengthy article, Jake Bullinger reports that the Lummis’ 2019 goal is to identify money for the project and places to park the pens.

The nation considers orcas to be their “relatives under the waves,” and the lack of Chinook is also being felt by tribal and nontribal fishermen alike.

If the Lummis’ idea seems vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s basically an echo of what WDFW and British Columbia anglers already do.

The state agency delays the release of some of its Puget Sound hatchery Chinook production to stave off the urge of the salmon to migrate to the North Pacific, providing the resident “blackmouth” fishery, while since 2017 the South Vancouver Island Angler’s Coalition in Sooke has released half a million smolts annually, and aims to put out 2 million in the coming years.

(Long Live The Kings also raises and releases 750,000 kings from Glenwood Springs on Orcas Island.)

“If there’s lots of fish out there, we’re not going to be fighting who gets the fish between commercial, recreational, and First Nations. And if we put more fish out there, there will be enough food for the killer whales to survive and thrive,” the coalition’s Christopher Bos told Bullinger.

How the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has become very invested in orca recovery, feels about the Lummis’ idea is unclear, as is whether there’s enough forage in the inland sea for more Chinook (though not in Deep South Sound, where anchovy populations are booming).

KAITLYN CAMPION SHOWS OFF A 22-POUND HATCHERY CHINOOK CAUGHT IN THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS 2014. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

But it’s all a more “proactive” approach, in Bos’s words, than what some are pushing at this moment:

To be brutally honest, allowing the orcas (and fisheries) to shrivel by keeping their thumb on their best short-term hope we have in our radically altered environment — boosting hatchery production — because it “could undermine recovery efforts for wild chinook and the needed rebuilding of runs throughout their historic range, their size and age structure, and the run-timing that the whales evolved with.”

Per the rest of that Vancouver Sun opinion piece by a Wild Fish Conservancy staffer and others last weekend, increasing Chinook would just lead to higher fishing intensity and catch of wild stocks, and they say that mixed-stock fisheries should be closed and foraging areas should be set aside instead.

And yesterday in The Seattle Times, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research argued, “The only real solution for reversal of the downhill trend in Chinook salmon size and abundance, and for the southern resident killer whale population, is to recover the natural wild runs of Chinook and their supporting ecosystems as soon as possible.”

Yet even as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on critically needed salmon habitat restoration, “At the pace we’re recovering estuaries, it will take 90 years to achieve the goals of the recovery plan,” tribal biologist Eric Beamer told KUOW last fall in a story focusing on Washington’s best, most intact watershed, the Skagit.

A PUGET SOUND ADULT CHINOOK SALMON SWIMS THROUGH THE BALLARD LOCKS. (NMFS)

Inside fisheries have also been reduced “at great cost” as much as 90 percent, but wild Chinook numbers are just not rebuilding because they are limited by their freshwater spawning and rearing habitat’s capacity to do so.

Don’t get me wrong, there will never ever be a morning I wake up and say, “You know what, to hell with fixing this gigantic ass mess we’ve made from the ridgetops to bathymetric depths.”

My dying breath will be, “It’s the habitat, stupid.” (And I won’t just be talking about salmon.)

But the Only-this-very-special-magic-pixie-dust-will-work approach of the anti-hatchery brigade just isn’t helpful or realistic.

Ideas like increasing Chinook abundance, done right, will provide a key bridge to when the habitat can once again support the kind of numbers J, K and L Pods need right now.

Let’s get to work.

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Stopping Salmon Fishing Won’t Save Puget Sound’s Orcas

The idea that we can save Puget Sound’s starving orcas by just stopping salmon fishing for a few years once again reared its misinformed head, this time in a big-city newspaper piece.

In a black-or-white summary of a very complex problem, the nut was that we humans were shamefully avoiding looking at our own consumption of the iconic marine mammal’s primary feedstock.

SALMON ANGLERS WORK POSSESSION BAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF THE CENTRAL PUGET SOUND HATCHERY CHINOOK FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Leaving that aspect out of the state of Washington’s recovery plan meant that, “We have decided, collectively though passively, to let the Puget Sound orcas go extinct,” it lamented.

We haven’t really, but nonetheless the prominence of the piece left leaders of the region’s angling community disappointed, as well as worried that it could lead to “knee-jerk” responses as Washington responds to the crisis.

And one has also asked the author to take another look at the issue with more informed sources to balance out the very biased one it primarily quoted.

THE ARTICLE IN QUESTION WAS a column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times last weekend in which he quoted Kurt Beardslee at the Wild Fish Conservancy.

“To cut back on fishing is an absolute no brainer, as a way to immediately boost food available for killer whale,” Beardslee told Westneat. “But harvest reductions are essentially not in the governor’s task force recommendations. We have a patient that is starving to death, and we’re ignoring the one thing that could help feed the patient right now. We’re flat out choosing not to do it.”

Columns are columns, meaning they’re not necessarily like a he said-she said straight news story, but what wasn’t mentioned at all was Beardslee’s complicity in the orca crisis.

So I’m going to try to shed a little more light on that and other things here.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS LAST SUMMER. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

AS IT TURNS OUT, WE HAVE BEEN cutting back on Chinook fishing.

Have been for years.

Ninety percent — 9-0 — alone in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, key foraging areas for the southern residents, over the past 25 years.

And yet so far J, K and L Pods appear to have shown no response.

In fact, they have unfortunately declined from nearly 100 members in the mid-1990s to 74 as of late 2018.

All while West Coast and Salish Chinook available to them actually saw nominal increases as a whole, according to state and federal estimates.

So I’m not sure what Beardlee expects to magically happen when he tells Westneat, “It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost.”

I mean, how is the 10 percent sliver that’s left going to help if the closure of the other 90 percent coincided with the cumulative loss of 25 percent of the orca population over the same period?

Don’t get me wrong, fishermen want to help too. Some of the most poignant stories I’ve heard in all this are angler-orca interactions.

But it’s not as cut-and-dried as not harvesting the salmon translating into us effectively putting some giant protein shake out in the saltchuck for SRKWs to snarf down.

“Each year the sport, commercial and tribal fishing industries catch about 1.5 million to 2 million chinook in U.S. and Canadian waters, most of which swim through the home waters of the southern resident orcas,” Westneat writes. “The three pods in question … are estimated to need collectively on the order of 350,000 chinook per year.”

Fair enough that 350,000 represents their collective dietary needs.

But not only do the SRKWs already have access to those 1.5 million to 2 million Chinook, the waters where they’re primarily harvested as adults by the bulk of fishermen are essentially beyond the whales’ normal range.

For instance, the Columbia River up to and beyond the Hanford Reach, and in terminal zones of Puget Sound and up in Southeast Alaska.

Pat Patillo is a retired longtime state fisheries manager who is now a sportfishing advocate, and he tells me, “If not caught, those fish would not serve as food for SRKWs — they wouldn’t turn around from the Columbia River, for example, and return to the ocean for SRKW consumption!”

“They already swam through the orcas’ home waters and they didn’t eat them,” he said.

WHILE BEARDSLEE IS TRYING TO COME OFF as some sort of orca angel  — “It’s like if you’re having a heart attack, your doctor doesn’t say: ‘You need to go running to get your heart in better shape.’ Your doctor gives you emergency aid right away,” he tells Westneat — he’s more like an angel of death trying to use SRKWs as  latest avenue to kill fishing.

Type the words “Wild Fish Conservancy” into a Google search and the second result in the dropdown will be “Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit.”

WFC is threatening yet another, this one over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversight of West Coast salmon fisheries through the lens of the plight of orcas.

It’s not their usual target, which is hatchery production.

Hatchery production, which is the whales’ best short- and medium-term hope.

After WFC sued WDFW over steelhead, a state senator hauled them before his committee in 2015 and pointedly asked their representative at the hearing, “Are there any hatcheries you do support in the state?”

“There are several that have closed over time,” replied WFC’s science advisor Jamie Glasgow. “Those would be ones that we support.”

That sort of thinking is not going to work out for hungry orcas, given one estimate that it will take 90 years for Chinook recovery goals to be met at the current pace of restoration work in estuaries.

And it leaves no place for efforts like those by the Nisqually Tribe to increase the size of those produced by their hatchery to provide fatter fare for SKRWs.

I’m going to offer a few stark figures here.

The first is 275 million. That’s how many salmon of all stocks that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produced at its hatcheries in 1989, according to The Lens.

The second is 137 million. That’s how many WDFW put out in 2017, the “lowest production year ever,” per the pro-biz online news source.

The third is 56 million. That’s how many Chinook smolts the agency released in 1989, according to figures from the state legislature.

And the fourth is 28 million. That’s how many were in 2016.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that 50 percent decreases in releases are due entirely to Beardslee et al — hatchery salmon reforms and state budget crunches play the strongest roles.

Nor am I going to suggest that they’re the sole reason that our orcas are struggling — pollutants and vessel disturbance have been also identified as affecting their health and ability to forage.

But with SRKWs dying from lack of Chinook to eat and Puget Sound’s wild kings — which are largely required to be released by anglers — comprising just a sixth to a twelfth of the Whulge’s run in recent years, surely the man must now have some qualms about his and similar groups’ anti-hatchery jihad, including against key facilities for SRKWs on the Columbia?

A FAR BIGGER PROBLEM THAN FISHERMEN for SRKWs is pinnipeds eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

Bloated numbers of harbor seals were recently estimated to annually eat an estimated 12.2 million Chinook smolts migrating out of Puget Sound, roughly 25 percent of the basin’s hatchery and wild output, which in the world of fisheries-meets-math science, translates to 100,000 adult kings that aren’t otherwise available to the orcas.

Unfortunately, managing those cute little “water puppies” is realistically way down the pipeline, at least compared to recent lightning-fast moves (relatively speaking) in Washington, DC, that finally gave state and tribal managers the authority to annually remove for five years as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries.

By the way, guess who fought against lethally removing sea lions gathered to feast on salmon at Bonneville?

Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy.

“Given the clamor surrounding sea lions,”they argued in defense of a 2011 federal lawsuit to halt lethal removals at the dam, “you might guess that sea lions are the most significant source of returning salmon mortality that managers can address. Guess again. The percentage of returning upper Columbia River spring Chinook salmon consumed by California sea lions since 2002, when CSL were first documented at Bonneville Dam, averages only 2.1% each year.”

Three years later, sea lions ate 43 percent of the entire ESA-listed run — 104,333 returning springers.

Whoops.

Those fish were recently identified as among the top 15 most important king stocks for SRKWs.

Double whoops.

WHILE LARGE NUMBERS OF SEA LION PUPS ARE STARVING ELSEWHERE ON THE WEST COAST, MANY ADULTS PACKED INTO THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE SMELT RUN LAST MONTH. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW)

So to bring some of the above sections together, as CSL, Steller sea lion, harbor seal and even northern resident killer whale consumption of Chinook in the northeast Pacific has risen from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970 and hatchery production has halved, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

We aren’t the problem.

No wonder that sportfishing rep told me, “We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing” for this blog and which Westneat included in his column (I do appreciate the link).

SO INSTEAD OF SHUTTING DOWN FISHING, what could and should we do to help orcas out in the near-term?

I think the governor’s task force came up with a good idea on the no-go/go-slow boating bubble around the pods. That protects them where they’re eating, and it doesn’t needlessly close areas where they’re not foraging for fish that won’t be there when they do eventually show up.

(GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

While I’ll be following the advice Lorraine Loomis at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission gave after similar sentiments came up last fall — “If you love salmon, eat it” — anglers can take voluntary measures themselves. Even if it’s probably already past the gauntlet of orca jaws, if it makes you feel better to do so, go ahead and release that saltwater king you catch this summer, like Seattle angler Web Hutchins emailed me to say he’s vowing to do.

Switch your fishfinder frequency from 50 kHz to the less acoustically disturbing 200 kHz for killer whales if they happen to show up in your trolling lane.

Pay attention to fish counts and if a hatchery is having trouble meeting broodstock goals, maybe fish another river or terminal zone, or species.

Follow Orca Network on Facebook for where the pods are so you can avoid them.

I also think Beardslee and WFC could, say, lay off their low-hanging-fruit lawsuit schtick (lol, fat chance of that) to give (furloughed) federal overseers time to process permits that ensure hatcheries and fisheries are run properly, instead of having to drop their work and put out the latest brushfire they’ve lit.

And I think boosting hatchery Chinook production is huge, and all the more important because of the excruciatingly slow pace that habitat restoration (which I’m always in favor of) produces results.

Yes, it will take a couple years for increased releases to take effect.

But the ugly truth we’re learning here is, we cannot utterly alter and degrade salmon habitat like we have with our megalopolis/industrial farmscape/power generation complex that stretches everywhere from here to Banff to the Snake River Plain to the Willamette Valley and back again and realistically expect to turn this ship by just pressing the Stop Fishing button and have orcas magically respond.

That’s not the answer.

In this great effort to save orcas, we the apex predator have in fact been forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, at what we’ve wrought, and it is ugly.

We have made a monumental mess of this place and hurt a species we never meant to nor deserved to be.

So we’re setting this right.

It is going to take time. We are going to lose more SRKWs. But we will save them, and ourselves.

Floor ‘Confused’ By End Of SeaTimes’ Regular Fishing Coverage, Offers Prawn Tips

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

If you’re a frequent reader of The Seattle Times, Washington’s largest newspaper, you may have caught a farewell writing from Outdoor Editor Mark Yuasa (click HERE for story) last week. Mark’s writing of the outdoors, featuring fishing, shellfishing and related outdoor opportunities in the Pacific Northwest have been enjoyed by readers for over the past 25 years.

The Seattle Times goes back a few years, dating to the late 1890s when the paper went into circulation. Outdoor editors include Enos Bradner, popular writer Brad O’Connor and now Mark Yuasa who have delivered readers wonderful coverage of our outdoors and related opportunities for nearly the last 80 years.

MARK YUASA BATTLING ONE ON THE SALT. HIS OUTDOOR REPORTING WILL APPEAR BIWEEKLY ON THE OUTDOOR LINE’S WEBSITE. (TONY FLOOR)

Mark’s departure is clearly a loss for readers who have enjoyed his stories. The conclusion of his career at The Seattle Times was the result of a management decision which chose to eliminate coverage of activities affecting hundreds of thousands and close to a million readers interested in the outdoors, based on WDFW license data.

It’s hard to conclude that sport fishing does not make the cut anymore in the eyes of The Seattle Times management while recent economic measurements of boating and fishing alone in Washington is estimated at a $2.9 billion dollar industry. Confused? So am I.

Seattle Times outdoor reporter Mark Yuasa is the latest casualty of employees at the newspaper as their outdoor coverage was recently eliminated. Mark will clearly be missed.

The outdoors in the great Pacific Northwest is one of the important reasons why people move to this region of the country. We are not Oklahoma, the South or the Midwest, where our Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound provide open arms to countless saltwater and freshwater fishing activities. Salmon, lingcod, albacore tuna and halibut fishing highlight the outdoors saltwater fishing menu. Steelhead, trout, and many warm water species also generate huge interest for anglers who love to drown a worm in freshwater when seasons allow. Crabbing, shrimping, razor clamming, and steamer clams has been an outdoor tradition for many families dating back to an era before The Seattle Times began publishing newspapers.

But don’t look for coverage of these fishing/shellfishing opportunites in today and tomorrow’s Seattle Times. The state’s largest newspaper is suggesting coverage of these activities is no longer important in our ever-changing Pacific Northwest society. I beg to differ.

Thank you, Mark, for your work and effort to enlighten the thousands of readers who have followed your writings. You will be missed.

Pass the prawn cocktail sauce, please

Speaking of prawns, the annual season began in early May during incredible soft tides on May 6. Accounts of the ka-woosh sound of shrimp fishers dropping their pots at 7 a.m. on opening morning could be heard from Bellingham to Olympia, including the San Juans, the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Hood Canal.

Reports from outdoor fishing stores such as Holiday Sports in Mt. Vernon, Cabela’s in Marysville and Lacey, along with Outdoor Emporium in Seattle, Sportco in Fife and Swain’s in Port Angeles suggest their cash registers were belching dark smoke as shrimp fishers bought new pots, shrimp pellets and related gear. May and June represent a peak time for this fishery as nearly 20,000 people invest time to pursue Washington’s largest shrimp species known as spot prawns. Spot prawn biologists suggest that people who actively pursue these yummy shellfish species (noted above) may run about 45,000 days or trips during the season. Seasons vary by area and knowing the rules in the area where a shrimper is considering fishing is very important. The basic limit is 80 prawns per person, however, in Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) and 7W (western San Juan Islands), the bonus limit of 120 prawns per day begins today (June 1), for the remainder of the season, seven days a week. Guess where I am?

PRAWNS BRIGHTEN A SHRIMP POT. (TONY FLOOR)

Fishing for prawns has been lights out in Puget Sound, the eastern Straits and the San Juan Islands during the past month. Expect more of the same in June!

From a table fare perspective, spot prawns are off the chart. Shrimp burgers, shrimp omelettes, shrimp appetizers, shrimp salad, shrimp pasta, shrimp toothpaste, shrimp, shrimp and more shrimp, get my drift? I love it!

And, it’s a fishery where very little skill is required to be successful. I look for soft tides where the exchange is minimal, or, around slack tides. I like water depths in the 260-320 range where I fish in the San Juan Islands which is considered on the shallow side for spot prawns. Some prawn fishers set their pots in considerably deeper water in the 350-450 range which can be tricky, especially if the currents flow at more than a foot an hour during peak flow. Adding weight to pots is critical, similar to deep water crab fishing. Shellfish biologists suggest that a weighted pot should tip the scales at 30 pounds or more.

There has been a trend in recent years to fish with bigger rectangular pots with more doors for prawns to enter the pot. I am a believer. Some prawn fishers like the web-mesh Ladner nesting style pots made in British Columbia. These pots are popular in commercial shrimp fisheries from California to Alaska and come in three sizes. The thirty-six inch Ladner weighs 28 pounds which is a recommended weight when fishing around 300 feet in moderate tides.

Finally, there are a number of theories on the kinds of bait to use in shrimp pots. Some long-time prawn fishers make their own prawn bait cocktail. I go the easy way and purchase prawn bait pellets along with a liquid attractant oil mixed into the pellets. Very simple and it produces slam-o-rama!

Excuse me while I pull my shrimp pots which have been soaking for nearly two hours. Perfect! Now where did I set that jar of cocktail sauce! Down the hatch, baby. See you on the water!

Tony