Tag Archives: skokomish river

Baker, Skokomish Sockeye Issues Raised With Washington Fish Commission

Sockeye issues are boiling to a head in Western Washington.

Sportfishing representatives went to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in late October to ask for a more equitable share of one river’s salmon.

And they expressed opposition to the use of eggs from those fish so a tribe elsewhere can try and jumpstart a run but in the meanwhile are blocking recreational fishermen from accessing state hatchery-raised Chinook and coho.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“This egg transfer program needs to be put on hold until the sportfishing harvest inequities for the Baker Lake sockeye run is addressed and the sport salmon fishery is reestablished on the Skokomish River,” Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington told the commission in late October. “What’s missing here in the whole equation is opportunity — opportunity for us to get our fair share on the Skagit River and opportunity for us to fish on the Skokomish River.”

Ultimately, Senyohl and others are trying to use whatever leverage they can to get more state focus on reopening the Skokomish, which was closed in 2016 and this year, and where some 35,000-plus surplus Chinook have returned to WDFW’s George Adams Hatchery this fall.

Fishing advocate Frank Urabeck reports that with the Skokomish Tribe having harvested 55,000 Chinook this year, he figures that if the river had been open, anglers might have caught as many as 15,000.

The Baker sockeye eggs come from several hundred fish captured at Puget Sound Energy’s Baker River trap and are part of a broader, longterm enrichment of salmon runs in southern Hood Canal as Tacoma Power updates their dams there.

But anglers are leery that they will ever be able to access those fish following on the Skokomish’s use of a federal solicitor’s opinion to take over the entire width of the river.

“Why are we rewarding a neighbor who is behaving badly? Why?” asked Norm Reinhart of the Kitsap Poggie Club. “I understand that the (sockeye) may not belong to WDFW, but we most certainly are supporting that transfer with our science and our staff. Why are we doing that?”

(For the state’s position, go here.)

It has angler advocates looking around for options.

“We’re going to have to play hardball again,” Ron Garner, state president of Puget Sound Anglers, told the commission.

Back up on the Skagit River, as sockeye runs have increased to the Baker in recent years, North Sound tribes and recreational anglers have benefited, but in two of the past four summers, there’s been a sharp harvest inequity in favor of the former fishermen.

That’s due to returns that have come in lower than preseason forecasts. While tribes fish to that forecast, it can mean far fewer sockeye are hauled up to Baker Lake, a prime sportfishing opportunity.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff outlined several possible ways to address that for the commission.

One idea is to use a Columbia River spring Chinook-like 30 percent run buffer before an inseason run update, but the agency appears hesitant to do that because of perceived tribal pushback because of potentially not being able to harvest their share.

Staffers appear to prefer improving run modeling and increasing the sport fishing area on the Skagit River to better balance the harvest.

But Urabeck wanted the commission to get involved.

“Given the complexity, seriousness of the situation, and inability so far for the Department to adequately address the harvest imbalance issues, we ask that the commission have your Fish Committee work with us and the department to achieve the cooperation of the affected Skagit Basin tribes to secure harvest fairness and equity,” Urabeck asked commissioners. “It might be appropriate to have the Fish Committee also take a look at the implementation plan for the transfer of Baker sockeye eyed eggs to the Skokomish Tribe’s Salt-water Park Sockeye Hatchery. We ask that you also could encourage (WDFW) Director (Jim) Unsworth and Governor (Jay) Inslee to renew their efforts with the Skokomish Tribe to allow Skokomish River sport salmon fishing to resume in 2018.”

Members of the Fish Committee include Vice Chair Larry Carpenter, Bob Kehoe, Dave Graybill and Kim Thorburn.

At least two expressed interest in taking some of the issues up. Carpenter noted that without other fishing opportunities on the Skagit in recent years, sockeye’s all that anybody — tribal and recreational alike — have really had.

Next Thursday, November 16, Tacoma Power is hosting a public meeting on Skokomish River salmon restoration. It will be held at the Cushman Fire Hall (240 North Standstill Drive) and begins at 6 p.m

WDFW, Utilities Holding Meeting June 29 On Baker-Skokomish Sockeye Egg Transfer

State fishery managers and utility officials are holding a special meeting later this month to shed more light on a project using North Sound sockeye to seed a Hood Canal watershed.

It’s being held the evening of June 29 in Sedro-Woolley to address the continued transfer of fertilized eggs from the Baker Lake system to the Skokomish River.

That’s drawing concern from anglers who object to providing the eggs while the Skokomish Tribe uses a federal solicitor’s opinion to block access to a popular salmon fishery fueled by a state Chinook and coho hatchery.

A PLAN TO SEED LAKE CUSHMAN AND THE SKOKOMISH SYSTEM WITH SOCKEYE FROM THE NORTH SOUND IS GETTING A FROSTY RECEPTION FROM SOME ANGLERS. (JOEL NOWACK, USFS)

Fishermen would also like more surety that, if the egg program that’s literally still in its infancy is successful, nontribal fishermen will be able to access returning harvestable salmon in Hood Canal and Lake Cushman.

In late April we wrote about the Steelhead Trout Club’s request for WDFW to hold a public meeting before signing an agreement with the Skokomish Tribe, Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy to continue supplying eggs from Baker fish, and this past Saturday morning, it was the subject of a segment on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line.

“The [Skokomish] should reopen the river to recreational fisheries as a prerequisite for giving them any eggs from the Baker because it will have some impact, it will have some impact on our (Baker Lake) fishery,” maintains Frank Urabeck, a sportfisheries activist.

As part of the federal relicensing of its dams on the North Fork Skokomish River, Tacoma Power is upgrading fish passage around them as well as building a pair of hatcheries to rear as many as 2 million sockeye and 375,000 spring Chinook, plus some steelhead and coho.

The red salmon eggs are coming from 400 adults collected at the Baker River trap and which are supposed to represent an equal split between state and tribal shares. That pencils out to around up to 500,000 eyed eggs annually, though Tacoma Power states it was incubating 250,000 for release into Lake Cushman this year.

Last year was the first year, and Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe are footing the entire bill for the egg transfer, according to WDFW.

The agency’s Edward Eleazer says the program will initially run for five years to see if sockeye actually rear in and return to Cushman before a long-term agreement is implemented.

He says that Tacoma Power is modeling fish passage at Cushman on Puget Sound Energy’s successful juvenile collector at Baker Lake.

With dams on other watersheds around Pugetropolis, the program could also serve as a model for building sockeye runs elsewhere, but the equipment is not inexpensive and could be a tough sell to utility managers and ratepayers unless dam relicensing is at stake.

In comments about the egg-transfer implementation agreement prepared for WDFW several months ago, Urabeck found vague terminology that “… fishery opportunity would likely be provided in Marine Area 12, north of Ayok (sic) Rock and possibly in Cushman Lake” “unacceptable” and said it shouldn’t be signed unless it specifically guaranteed sport access to salmon.

And he said that broodstock collection at the Baker River trap shouldn’t begin until after Aug. 1 to minimize impacts to the Baker Lake fishery, and that if inseason updates peg the run at 30,000 to 40,000 only 100,000 eggs should be provided, nothing if the return is under 30,000.

Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner is urging organization members to attend the June 29 meeting, which will be held at Sedro-Woolley High School, 1235 3rd St., starting at 6 p.m.

He and others also want WDFW to move back the Baker Lake sockeye opener from July 8 to July 6, when it opened last year thanks to good early numbers. The lake had otherwise been opening on July 10 in recent years, July 1 in 2012, and varying dates in the two prior Julys based on run timing and strength.

Urabeck says July 6 should be the opener regardless of how many sockeye have been trucked up to the lake, leaving it up to anglers whether or not to participate.

My Steelhead Smolt Did Not ‘Survive The Sound’

Blitz just got nixed.

Not the Seahawks mascot — the Seahawks mascot-themed wild Nisqually steelhead.

A day after my green-blue-and-silver-colored smolt set off down the river on its grand journey out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I got the bad news that Blitz had made it just 6.83 miles before going belly up.

AN UNFORTUNATELY FAMILIAR POSITION, AS IT TURNED OUT, DURING THE SHORT LIFE OF BLITZ THE WILD STEELHEAD SMOLT, MAY THE FISH GODS HAVE MERCY ON HIS (OR HER) SOUL. HERE HE (OR SHE) WAS BEING IMPLANTED WITH AN ACOUSTIC DEVICE TO TRACK ITS PROGRESS THROUGH PUGET SOUND, BUT NOT 6.83 MILES INTO ITS JOURNEY, A DIGITAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ACTUAL STEELHEAD MET ITS DEMISE IN THE NISQUALLY RIVER. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Let us pause now for a moment of silence.

They can’t tell me why my little Blitzy died, but the river sometimes known as the Nasty has high enough levels of PDBEs — the stuff that makes products more flame resistant — to mess with the health of steelhead, increasing their risk from predators.

That’s according to the organizers of Survive The Sound, an interactive challenge that on Monday launched four dozen digital fish replicating the swims of actual radio-tagged steelhead as part of an effort to draw attention to the plight of the state’s fish in Puget Sound waters.

“Your fish didn’t survive the Sound,” commiserated Lucas Hall at Long Live The Kings, which put together the campaign with help from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

BLITZ THE NISQUALLY STEELHEAD SMOLT. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Yesterday morning Hall said his email was blowing up after some of the game’s 1,100 participants learned their fish had succumbed on the first day of their 12-day journey from the Nisqually or Skokomish Rivers to the open ocean.

Blitz lived through day one, as would 47 percent of the smolts in reality, but on day two that percentage dropped to 42, sacking Blitz, among others.

The road won’t get any easier for those survivors, which have many challenges ahead, including hungry harbor seals.

As the faux smolts make their trip, LLTK programmed text boxes to talk about the perils beyond pinnipeds and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and which have grown as Pugetropolis has developed.

Yesterday’s informed me that where in 1917 we would have likely seen at least 325,000 to possibly as many 800,000 adult steelhead returning annually, today only 13,000 do, and the stock is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“The reality is, steelhead are dying, and that’s something to be mad about,” says Hall. “If people are mad, good.”

He said what happens to each fish is a computer-randomized outcome. A “ghost fish” will continue to make the journey, keeping me informed of other perils.

A MAP SHOWS THE PROGRESS MY SMOLT HAD MADE BEFORE MEETING ITS DOOM HALFWAY TO THE MOUTH OF THE NISQUALLY RIVER. (SURVIVE THE SOUND)

I got to wondering about just how many Puget Sound smolts might have made this annual spring journey 100 years ago, so I asked state fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull.

He gave me a range of possibilities, based on LLTK’s estimates and survival rates varying from a high of 20 percent down to today’s 2 percent. They suggest production of just 1.625 million smolts to produce 325,000 adults under the very best of conditions to 40,000,000 needed to yield 800,000 under the worst.

Barkdull says a 10 percent survival rate would “make sense” to him, so 3.25 million smolts producing 325,000 returners.

I’m cranky Blitzy got killed so early in his (or her) outmigration, but through Survive the Sound’s 48 smolts, I hope people outside of our fishing and hunting world also get pissed enough to learn more about how to get more young steelhead out and safely back as adults.

Meeting Asked For On Baker-Skokomish Sockeye Egg Transfer

Washington’s oldest fishing club wants WDFW to hold a public meeting before more North Sound sockeye eggs are sent to Hood Canal, where a boundary dispute is keeping state anglers off a popular salmon river.

The Steelhead Trout Club says the agency needs to detail the program before signing an agreement with the Skokomish Tribe, Tacoma Power and others to continue supplying fertilized eggs from Baker River fish.

“Given the Skokomish tribe’s (sic) hard line anti-sport fishing stance we oppose any further sockeye egg transfers, especially as the brood stock used to secure the eyed eggs is likely to come from fish that should have been placed in Baker Lake for the recreational fishery — as happened last year,” STC president Al Senyohl wrote in an April 19 letter to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. “We ask that the department stand up against the tribal assault on sport fishing opportunities.”

Senyohl says 2016’s initial egg transfer added “insult to injury” — the closure of river fishing for plentiful hatchery Chinook and coho returning to the state’s George Adams Hatchery on the Skokomish, which led to an angler protest in late July.

It was closed after a federal solicitor issued an opinion that the entire width of the river was part of the Skokomish Reservation. The tribe posted no trespassing signs on trees above the south bank and WDFW advised anglers to heed the closure of the state fishery on the river.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Fast forward to 2017 and nontribal anglers will again not be able to fish the river, as the Skokomish and WDFW were unable to reach an agreement during this year’s North of Falcon salmon negotiations.

That has left Senyohl, whose club traces its origins back to the 1920s, and others like longtime fishing advocate Frank Urabeck believing that for all intents and purposes, the recreational fishery on the Skoke is now “gone forever,” leaving them very disappointed.

Kyle Adicks, a salmon manager at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, sounds more optimistic.

He said the agency was disappointed there wasn’t a resolution through NOF, but it “does not signal we’re walking away from the issue.”

With help from Governor Jay Inslee’s office, WDFW says it plans to continue working with the Skokomish Tribe to “resolve the matter.” A well-informed source has told Northwest Sportsman they believe there’s hope in 2018.

Meanwhile, Adicks says WDFW is trying to keep the river boundary dispute and sockeye egg issues separate, and it does not sound like a meeting in Mt. Vernon, as STC is calling for, is being planned.

He says that continuing to help build new salmon runs in southern Hood Canal will benefit not just the tribes but other fishermen.

“The state’s been supportive of the program and wants to see it move forward,” Adicks says.

As part of licensing its dams on the North Fork Skokomish River, Tacoma Power is upgrading fish passage around them as well as building a pair of hatcheries to rear as many as 2 million sockeye and 375,000 spring Chinook, plus some steelhead and coho.

Eggs for the sockeye program are coming from 400 adults annually collected at the Baker River trap and which represent an equal split between state and tribal shares. Last year, over 24,000 returned to the trap, with more than 16,000 lifted into Baker Lake for fishing and spawning needs.

Eggs for the spring Chinook program are coming from WDFW’s Marblemount Hatchery.

Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe are footing the entire bill.

48 Steelhead Smolts Set To Go On Very Public, Perilous Journey Through Puget Sound

Think you could survive swimming out through Puget Sound? Think you could do it if you were a steelhead?

If so, you might be interested in signing up for a new interactive challenge debuting this spring that will allow the public to track smolts as they try to make the journey.

HOOD CANAL AND SKOKOMISH RIVER STEELHEAD HAVE BEEN STRUGGLING IN RECENT DECADES DUE TO HABITAT LOSS, BUT BIOLOGISTS ARE BEGINNING TO SEE THAT SMOLTS ARE HAVING A MORE DIFFICULT TIME THAN EXPECTED OUTMIGRATING. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

It will pit 48 actual acoustic-tag-bearing young winter-runs from the Nisqually and Skokomish Rivers against pollutants, harbor seals, long bridges, hungry birds and other challenges as the ESA-listed fish outmigrate through Hood Canal and the South and Central Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca to the North Pacific.

If they even make it that far.

According to Long Live The Kings, which designed “Survive The Sound” with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., fewer than 20 percent of young steelhead make it out of Puget Sound these days.

The idea behind the experience is to bring that awareness to an audience beyond you, me and other steelheaders (we’ve written about it here and in the magazine), as well as raise money for research on our favorite species, and along the way have a little fun.

“Survive the Sound is a new way for people to interact with and learn about our Washington State fish,” Long Live The Kings posted in announcing the challenge. “Steelhead are magical: their behavior can signal deeper issues within the surrounding ecosystem, they are prized by chefs and anglers alike, and their presence is critical to sustaining tribal culture and treaty rights. Unfortunately, the Puget Sound steelhead population has declined dramatically over the past century —to less than 10% of its historic size— and they’re now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Today, there is serious concern that this iconic fish will slip into extinction.”

Here’s how to play:

Go to Survivethesound.org and pick one or more of the four dozen smolts that have been given all sorts of crazy names and avatars.

Northwest Sportsman is sponsoring Blitz, one of several Seahawks-themed steelhead, who’s looking for “a lot of support from the 12th man.” (Look for “Russell Wilswim” next year.)

BLITZ THE NISQUALLY STEELHEAD SMOLT. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Drag your pick(s) into the little box at left and then fill out the credit card billing info to make a $25 donation per smolt to Long Live The Kings, a venerable organization looking into declining salmon and steelhead stocks in the Salish Sea and what can be done to support fisheries for them here.

After submitting the info, you’ll get a confirmation email and a link to a page that will allow you to see your smolt’s pace and distance covered, plus where it is on a map.

Blitz — a Nisqually smolt — hasn’t gone Beast Mode yet, but starting May 8 he and the rest of the young steelhead will begin their journey.

OTHER AVATARS INCLUDE A TASTY SWEDISH FISH, AND A NOT-SO-HEALTHY LOOKING SALMON ELLA. (LONG LIVE THE KINGS)

Their tags will be read (or not if they’re eaten or otherwise die) by sonar stations at key places in the saltwater.

Along with progress updates, you’ll also get briefings on problems facing Puget Sound steelhead, which were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007.

Then, NMFS said the “principal” reason was loss of habitat, but also “noted that predation by marine mammals (principally seals and sea lions) and birds may be of concern in some local areas experiencing dwindling steelhead run sizes.”

That’s become more and more of a concern, what with high numbers of pinnipeds and how many young Chinook they may be eating, but there are also suggestions that steelhead smolts just can’t get past the Hood Canal Bridge and that also makes them easy pickin’s.

To, er, hook lots of people into playing Survive The Sound, organizers have a variety of prize categories, including biggest “school” and fastest fish, and if you sign up before April 5, your name will go into a raffle for a stay at Alderbrook Resort, near the hook of Hood Canal.

It will be interesting to see if Blitz gets sacked himself (or herself for all I know) or rushes past the pinnipeds and cormorants and is able to reach the ocean’s feeding grounds.

It will be even more interesting to know if this vehicle delivers the plight of Pugetropolis’s steelhead to the masses, getting more people on board to do something about it.

Editor’s note, March 30, 2017, 2:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this blog mistakenly reported that the steelhead smolts had been radio-tagged. The fish in this research bear acoustic tags, according to Long Live The Kings.