Tag Archives: sockeye

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.”

More Details On 2018 Columbia Summer, Fall Salmon Seasons

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

Oregon and Washington fishery managers have announced the 2018 summer and fall fisheries for the Columbia River.

MORNING AT “BUOY 10” …  (BRIAN LULL)

This year, anglers will see changes to daily bag limits and fewer fishing days for Chinook salmon due to lower harvest guidelines resulting from below-average salmon and steelhead forecasts.

For the summer season, adult Chinook retention will be limited to June 22 through July 4 from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam. From Bonneville Dam upstream to the Oregon/Washington border, the summer Chinook season is scheduled for June 16 through July 31. The daily adult bag limit for both areas is two hatchery salmonids, which may include up to two Chinook when retention is allowed. Due to projected low escapement, sockeye retention will be prohibited this year.

LOWER COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON ANGLERS FISH BELOW THE LONGVIEW BRIDGE, WHERE JOHN FIELDING SNAPPED THIS ON-THE-WATER SHOT.(DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

The fall seasons will start Aug. 1 based on a projected return of 375,500 fall Chinook, down from 476,100 last year. This year’s forecast includes 205,100 upriver bright Chinook, compared to a return of 296,500 in 2017. Based on this lower forecast, fisheries will be managed for a harvest rate of 8.25 percent, down from 15 percent in the recent years, resulting in shorter fall Chinook retention seasons.

“Through the recent season-setting process, we worked with the public to design fall fisheries within the upriver bright Chinook constraints,” said John North, fisheries manager for ODFW’s Columbia River Program. “Hopefully a run upgrade in mid-September will allow us to liberalize some fisheries and provide additional opportunity.”

COLUMBIA RIVER STEELHEADERS WILL HAVE A ONE-HATCHERY-SUMMER-RUN LIMIT STARTING AUG. 1. (CHRIS SPENCER)

Though improved from last year’s return, predicted steelhead returns remain below average. To reduce harvest, anglers will be limited to one steelhead per day from Aug. 1 to the end of the year.

For more information about upcoming Columbia River seasons, including regulation updates, visit ODFW’s online fishing reports at www.myodfw.com.

The following are detailed regulations for the 2018 Columbia River summer and fall salmon and steelhead seasons:

Summary of 2018

Summer/Fall Salmon and Steelhead Regulations for the mainstem Columbia River

All regulations may be subject to in-season modification

Summer Season (June 16-July 31)

  • Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam

o   Retention of adult hatchery Chinook (24-inches or longer) allowed June 22 – July 4 (13 days).

o   Retention of hatchery Chinook jacks and hatchery steelhead allowed June 16 – July 31. The daily adult bag limit is two hatchery salmonids. Sockeye retention prohibited.

o   All other permanent rules apply.

  • Bonneville Dam upstream to OR/WA border (upstream of McNary Dam)

o   Retention of adult hatchery Chinook (24-inches or longer) allowed June 16 – July 31.

o   Retention of hatchery Chinook jacks and hatchery steelhead allowed June 16 – July 31. The daily adult bag limit is two hatchery salmonids. Sockeye retention prohibited.

o   All other permanent rules apply.

Fall Seasons (Aug. 1-Dec. 31)

  • Buoy 10

o    Area definition: From the Buoy 10 line upstream to a line projected from Rocky Point on the Washington shore through red buoy #44 to red marker #2 at Tongue Point on the Oregon shore.

o    Aug. 1 – Dec. 31: Retention of adult hatchery coho (16-inches or longer) and hatchery steelhead allowed. Daily bag limits by time period are described below. All other permanent rules apply.

o    Aug. 1 – Aug. 24: Retention of adult Chinook (24-inches or longer) allowed. The daily bag limit is one adult salmonid (Chinook, hatchery coho, or hatchery steelhead only).

o    Aug. 25 – Sept. 30: Retention of Chinook prohibited. The daily bag limit is two adult hatchery salmonids (coho and steelhead only) and may include up to one hatchery steelhead.

o    Oct. 1 – Dec. 31: Retention of Chinook prohibited. The daily adult bag limit is two hatchery salmonids (coho and steelhead only) and may include up to one hatchery steelhead. Hatchery coho jacks may be retained.

  • Lower Columbia: Tongue Point/Rocky Point upstream to Warrior Rock/Bachelor Island

o    Area definition: From a line projected from Rocky Point on the Washington shore through red buoy #44 to the red marker #2 at Tongue Point on the Oregon shore upstream to a line projected from the Warrior Rock Lighthouse on the Oregon shore through red buoy #4 to a marker on the lower end of Bachelor Island.

o    Aug. 1 – Dec. 31: Retention of adult hatchery coho (longer than 20-inches), and hatchery steelhead allowed. Hatchery coho jacks may be retained. Daily adult bag limits by time period are described below. Each legal angler aboard a vessel may continue to deploy angling gear until the daily adult salmonid bag limit for all anglers aboard has been achieved. All other permanent rules apply.

o    Aug. 1 – Sept. 2: Retention of adult (24-inches or longer) and jack Chinook allowed. The daily adult bag limit is one salmonid (Chinook, hatchery coho, and hatchery steelhead only).

o    Sept. 3 – Dec. 31: Retention of Chinook (adults and jacks) prohibited. The daily adult bag limit is two hatchery salmonids (coho and steelhead only) and may include up to one hatchery steelhead.

  • Lower Columbia: Warrior Rock/Bachelor Island upstream to Bonneville Dam

o    Area definition: From a line projected from the Warrior Rock Lighthouse on the Oregon shore through red buoy #4 to a marker on the lower end of Bachelor Island upstream to Bonneville Dam.

o    Aug. 1 – Dec. 31: Retention of adult hatchery coho (longer than 20-inches) and hatchery steelhead allowed. Hatchery coho jacks may be retained. Daily adult bag limits by time period are described below. Each legal angler aboard a vessel may continue to deploy angling gear until the daily adult salmonid bag limit for all anglers aboard has been achieved. All other permanent rules apply.

o    Aug. 1 – Sept. 14: Retention of adult (24-inches or longer) and jack Chinook allowed. The daily adult bag limit is one salmonid (Chinook, hatchery coho, and hatchery steelhead only).

o    Sept. 15 – Dec. 31: Retention of Chinook (adults and jacks) prohibited. The daily adult bag limit is two hatchery salmonids (coho and steelhead only) and may include up to one hatchery steelhead.

  • Bonneville Dam upstream to OR/WA border (upstream of McNary Dam)

o   Aug. 1 – Dec. 31: Retention of adult coho (longer than 20-inches) and hatchery steelhead allowed. Coho jacks may be retained. All coho (adults and jacks) retained downstream of the Hood River Bridge must be hatchery fish. Each legal angler aboard a vessel may continue to deploy angling gear until the daily adult salmonid bag limit for all anglers aboard has been achieved. All other permanent rules apply.

o   Effective Aug. 1, retention of adult Chinook (24-inches or longer) and Chinook jacks allowed but will be managed in-season based on actual catches and the upriver bright fall Chinook run-size. The daily adult bag limit is two salmonids, and may include up to one Chinook and up to one hatchery steelhead.

New Paper: High Numbers Of Pinks, Other Species Could Be Impacting North Pacific Salmon Ecosystem

Along with the possible plight of pinks come potential problems with pinks.

A paper out yesterday suggests that the hundreds of millions of humpbacked salmon, along with chums and sockeye, out there in the North Pacific could be bucking the ecosystem something fierce.

“While it is good that abundance of sockeye, chum, and pink salmon is high, there is growing evidence that this high abundance, especially pink salmon, is impacting the offshore ecosystem of the North Pacific and Bering Sea,” said Dr. Gregory Ruggerone in a press release from the American Fisheries Society.

GRAPHS WITH THE PAPER SHOW ESTIMATED ABUNDANCE OF PINKS, CHUMS AND SOCKEYE IN TERMS OF INDIVIDUAL FISH AND OVERALL BIOMASS. (AMERICAN FISHERIES SOCIETY)

He’s the Seattle-based lead coauthor of “Numbers and Biomass of Natural? and Hatchery?Origin Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon, and Sockeye Salmon in the North Pacific Ocean, 1925–2015,” published in the Society’s journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science.

“This impact may be contributing to the decline of higher trophic species of salmon such as Chinook salmon in Alaska. Hatchery salmon are exceptionally abundant now and contribute to this impact,” Ruggerone says.

According to a press release on Ruggerone et al’s paper, there was an average of 721 million pinks, sockeye and chums in the ocean annually between 2005 and 2015, with 70 percent, or 504 million, of those being pinks.

Overall, chums represent the largest biomass, and are mainly produced in Japanese and Russian hatcheries, while Alaskan operations favor pinks and sockeye.

PUGET SOUND PINK SALMON RUNS EXPLODED IN THE EARLY 2000S, BUT THE LAST TWO RUNS HAVE NOT DONE SO WELL. 2017’S BUCKS WERE EASILY TWICE THE SIZE OF 2015’S. THAT DIFFERENCE MIGHT HAVE BEEN DUE TO THE BLOB, BUT COMPETITION FOR FOOD AT SEA WITH LARGE NUMBERS OF NORTHERN STOCKS PLUS CHUMS AND SOCKEYE THEORETICALLY MAY HAVE PLAYED A ROLE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The relative health of salmon populations all has to do with your perspective — down here in the Lower 48 and southern British Columbia, we’d likely argue the opposite — but Nanaimo, BC-based coauthor Jim Irvine wonders if there are now too many in our shared ocean.

“If the North Pacific Ocean is at its carrying capacity with respect to Pacific salmon, the large numbers of pink salmon and chum salmon may be having detrimental effects on growth and survivals of other species,” says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans researcher.

Ruggerone’s and Irvine’s article was published the same day that CBC reported two humpies last fall swam 161 miles further up the Mackenzie River than any others previously recorded, all the way to Fort Good Hope, more than 300 miles upstream of the Arctic Ocean.

It follows on possible Russian pinks colonizing United Kingdom rivers in 2017 too.

The press release from the American Fisheries Society goes on to say:

“High salmon abundances can lead to reduced body size and survival of salmon and lower survival of seabirds. The ocean carrying capacity for Pacific salmon may have been reached in recent decades. Research is needed to better understand the impacts of high salmon abundance on the offshore marine ecosystem, including depleted wild species such as Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout, and some populations of sockeye and chum salmon.”

The authors suggest making all hatchery fish identifiable, estimating catches and escapement for both hatchery and wild stocks, and making that data available to the public.

Western Washington 2018 Salmon Forecasts Out

UPDATED 4:51 P.M., FEB. 27, 2018 WITH WDFW PRESS RELEASE AT BOTTOM

North of Falcon is officially underway.

Well, it has been for a few weeks now as state and tribal salmon managers came up with their 2018 Western Washington Chinook, coho, sockeye and chum forecasts, and those were posted this morning.

KELLY CORCORAN SHOWS OFF A DEEP SOUTH SOUND CHINOOK CAUGHT LAST SEASON. THE 2018 FORECAST FOR PUGET SOUND KINGS IS UP OVER 2017, WITH OVER A QUARTER MILLION HATCHERY AND WILD FISH EXPECTED. (KELLY CORCORAN)

The short and sweet version is that more kings are expected back in Puget Sound compared to last year, and overall coho are on par with 2017.

According to WDFW, 255,219 summer and fall Chinook are expected back to streams between the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Mt. Baker and Olympia, up from the expected 193,962 last year.

Generally speaking, the figures are up across the board.

On the coho front, the forecast calls for a grand total of 1,114,104 to Washington, and that’s broken down as 557,149 to Puget Sound rivers, 270,756 to coastal streams and 286,199 to the Columbia.

That compares to 1,143,562, 559,045, 198,115 and 386,401 last year.

Notably, the wild-driven Skagit and Stillaguamish runs are up over 2017, though the Snohomish is down somewhat. Still, they’re much better than what was initially expected in 2016, which saw sharp fishery restrictions to get coho back to the gravel and eventually openers as it became apparent enough were inbound.

Puget Sound fall chums are forecast to again be in abundance, with 1.2 million expected, more than 130,000 more than the 2017 preseason prediction with was way off as far more returned.

Just 39,875 Lake Washington sockeye are expected, down from last year’s forecast and well below the actual return. Around 35,000 Baker River reds are predicted, also down.

More details and press releases as they arrive. In the meanwhile here is Mark Yuasa’s update.

Next steps are for the state and Western Washington tribes to craft proposed fisheries with constituents, negotiate a deal and send the package to federal fishery overseers for approval by mid-April.

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

Projected poor returns of several salmon stocks are expected to limit fishing opportunities in Washington’s waters this year, state salmon managers announced today.

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

The forecast meeting marks the starting point for crafting 2018 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The annual salmon season-setting process is known as “North of Falcon.” Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month.

Kyle Adicks, salmon policy lead for WDFW, said numerous salmon runs are expected to be lower this year compared to last season, including several key chinook and coho stocks. As a result, a number of fishing opportunities from Puget Sound south to the Columbia River will likely be restricted.

“We will definitely have to be creative in developing salmon fisheries this year,” Adicks said. “I encourage people to get involved and provide input on what they see as the priorities for this season’s fisheries.”

Adicks said the low salmon returns are the result of a variety of factors, including another year of poor ocean conditions.

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

Columbia River

Roughly 236,500 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That is down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.

An estimated 286,200 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, down nearly 100,000 fish from the 2017 forecast. About 279,300 actually returned last year to the river, where some coho stocks are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Some salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be more restrictive than last year, Adicks said.

Washington’s ocean waters

A lower return of coho and chinook to the Columbia River, combined with a poor forecast of coho returning to the Queets River, will likely mean further restrictions to Washington’s ocean salmon fishery as compared to last year, Adicks said.

This year’s forecast of about 112,500 hatchery chinook expected to return to the Columbia River is down more than 50 percent from last year’s forecast. Those hatchery chinook, known as “tules” are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

Puget Sound

The expected return of 557,150 Puget Sound coho is down about 6 percent from the 10-year average. Very low returns to certain areas, such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Snohomish River, could limit salmon fishing in those regions.

While the 2018 forecast of 227,400 Puget Sound hatchery chinook is up 38 percent from last year, continued low returns of ESA-listed wild chinook to some rivers will limit fisheries this year.

Conservation objectives

With the population of Puget Sound wild chinook in decline, salmon managers are working to finalize conservation goals for managing chinook fisheries in 2018.

“We’ll have a better idea of how restrictive Puget Sound salmon fisheries will be this year when NOAA provides its guidance in March,” Adicks said.

A 10-year management plan for harvesting Puget Sound chinook is being developed and will likely be submitted to NOAA Fisheries in late summer. More information on the plan can be found on the department’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/, where WDFW will also post NOAA’s guidance for this year’s fisheries.

NOAA also may ask for additional restrictions on fisheries as the federal agency weighs conservation measures for southern resident killer whales, whose population has been declining along with salmon. State, tribal and federal fish and wildlife managers, together with their Canadian counterparts, are discussing how to recover the whale population. Some options include limiting fisheries, increasing hatchery production for salmon, improving water quality, and reducing boating activities in key killer whale habitat.

Salmon managers will continue to discuss the issue at upcoming meetings.

Also at those meetings, state salmon managers plan to discuss with the public ways to simplify salmon-fishing regulations. Anglers are invited to share ideas for making salmon fishing rules less complex during public meetings or by using an online commenting tool.

Public meetings and comment opportunities

A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. An online commenting tool will be available on the website later this week.

Upcoming meetings include:

  • Ocean options: State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 9-14 in Rohnert Park, Calif., with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters 3 to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.
  • Regional discussions: Additional public meetings have been scheduled into April to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2018 salmon seasons.
  • Final PFMC: The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 6-11 meeting in Portland, Ore. The 2018 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is scheduled to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

More Upriver Columbia Springers Expected In 2018

Columbia River salmon managers are forecasting a better spring Chinook run in 2018.

They’re expecting 166,700 bound for tributaries east of Bonneville Dam, according to a Facebook post by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

SPENCER RHODES SHOWS OFF A WESTERN COLUMBIA GORGE HATCHERY SPRING CHINOOK CAUGHT THIS SEASON. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The prediction, which was made by the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee last week, is for almost 51,000 more than actually returned this year, 115,822.

This year’s original preseason forecast was for 160,400, which may provide a gauge for how 2018 recreational fisheries will shape up.

Snake River Chinook are expected to come in twice as strong as they did in 2017, with 107,400 forecast.

Upper Columbia summer kings are forecast to be about as strong as this year, with 67,300 expected.

Unfortunately, it looks like another bum sockeye year, with just under 100,000 returning to the Okanogan/Okanagan, Lake Wenatchee and Central Idaho.

With a similar sized run this year, managers had to scrub fisheries on the Columbia from the Tri-Cities area up to Chief Joseph Dam to get enough fish back on the gravel and for hatchery broodstock programs.

State fishery managers will meet with representatives from the sportfishing world this Wednesday at ODFW’s Clackamas office to go over the forecasts.

Idaho Water Chemistry Affecting Hatchery Sockeye Survival?

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game’s sockeye recovery program has overcome many challenges in preserving the species, and scientists are continuing to learn and improve as they transition from staving off extinction to growing Idaho’s sockeye population.

Fish and Game’s Assistant Fisheries Chief Paul Kline said F&G biologists think they’ve answered a nagging question about its relatively new sockeye hatchery in Springfield. The hatchery succeeded in raising lots of young sockeye, but the fish have survived poorly after being released to migrate to the Pacific.

IDAHO HATCHERY SOCKEYE PRODUCTION MAY BE HAMPERED BY WATER HARDNESS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WHERE ADULTS LIKE THIS 2017 RETURNER ARE HATCHED AND REARED AND WHERE THEY’RE RELEASED. (ROGER PHILLIPS, IDFG)

A hard journey made harder

Biologists found differences in water hardness between Springfield Hatchery in Southeast Idaho where the fish are raised from eggs and Redfish Lake Creek near Stanley where they’re released.  Differences in water chemistry between the two waters may be adding stress to fish that are already stressed from “smoltification” – a period when they migrate downstream and their bodies transition from freshwater to saltwater.

Biologists are investigating higher-than-expected mortality that started in 2015, the first year Springfield Hatchery’s sockeye were released for migration. That year, about 37 percent of the young sockeye survived the trip between Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles downstream from Lewiston and Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which is the last dam the fish cross enroute to the Pacific.

But the spring of 2015 was a low water year for migrating young salmon, which need high flows to flush them to the ocean. Upper Columbia River sockeye, Idaho’s closest geographic cousins, also had poor survival.

However, river conditions and survival of Upper Columbia River sockeye improved in 2016, but survival of Idaho’s sockeye dropped, signaling Idaho’s fish were facing other challenges.

Solving the mystery through science

Biologists explored potential causes and improved or eliminated some possibilities, such as additional stress associated with high levels of dissolved gas, and stress from loading fish on trucks and transporting smolts from the hatchery to the release site.

Unlike other salmon species that Fish and Game has decades of experience raising in hatcheries, sockeye production is relatively new. Sockeye hatcheries are common in Alaska and Canada, and over 20 years ago, Idaho biologists followed guidance from these programs to establish rearing and fish-health protocols for the Eagle Hatchery Sockeye Salmon Captive Broodstock Program. That program likely saved Idaho’s sockeye from extinction.

The same protocols are also being followed at the Springfield Hatchery.  Kline pointed out most of Alaskan and British Columbia hatcheries are in the same river systems where the fish are released, not raised off site with a different water source like at the Springfield Hatchery.

The water at Springfield comes from wells with a hardness of about 200 milligrams per liter of calcium carbonate, compared with Redfish Lake Creek at less than 20 milligrams per liter. Kline described Redfish Lake Creek as “almost like distilled water” Whereas, Springfield’s water is typical for Southeastern Idaho.

Kline pointed out water hardness is not an issue for raising sockeye from eggs, and the young fish do well in the Springfield Hatchery. There is little to nothing in the scientific literature regarding water hardness in relation to rearing sockeye in hatcheries, however big changes in water chemistry can spell trouble for any species of fish.

“We’re treading on fresh ground here,” he said.

Biologists theorized that when young salmon enter the smolt phase of their life and transition from freshwater to saltwater, the additional stress of going from hard water to soft water may contribute to higher-than-expected mortality.

Biologists at Idaho Fish and Game’s Eagle Fish Health Laboratory experimented with a few young sockeye, testing their response after being trucked and transferred to tanks filled with hard water from Springfield, soft water from Redfish Lake Creek or Salmon River water with hardness roughly between those two.

A smoking gun?

They found young sockeye transferred from Springfield well water to Redfish Lake Creek water had elevated cortisol levels, which is an indicator of stress, and those levels increased over time. Whereas fish that were transferred to water taken from Springfield’s well, or the Salmon River, quickly began to recover from the stress of the road trip.

Spreading the risk and learning

Biologists are developing several strategies to test their theory and ease young sockeye’s transition from hard water to soft water. This fall, some fish were released directly into Redfish Lake as pre-smolts, and they will spend the winter in the lake before naturally migrating downstream through Redfish Lake Creek and into the Salmon River.

Others will be raised at the Sawtooth Hatchery in raceways that would normally be used for young Chinook salmon, but a low 2017 Chinook return means there’s temporary space available.

The remaining fish will continue to be raised at the Springfield hatchery, and biologists are continuing to refine protocols to help 2018 releases go more smoothly, including gradual water softening during trucking, mixing water in trucks before fish are released, and acclimating fish for a few days in Sawtooth Hatchery’s moderately hard water before release.

Fish will be released in Redfish Lake Creek and the Salmon River near the Sawtooth Hatchery. Kline said if water hardness is the problem, the test groups should provide some answers without further endangering the entire group of young fish.

“We’re getting closer to long-term solutions, but in the mean time, we are spreading our risk,” he said.

Biologists want to solve the problem, but it’s a constant challenge considering there are many other variables in play beyond their control, including weather, river and ocean conditions. Young sockeye only migrate downstream once per year, and it takes another year to see how many return as adults.

“We want to be sure we’re checking off probable causes accurately,” Kline said. “Between 2018 and 2019, we’re going to learn a lot.”

Another bump in a long road

It can be a frustrating setback for Fish and Game biologists who’ve devoted their careers to saving sockeye from the brink of extinction, and then boosting annual adult returns from single digits, to dozens, and now to hundreds. Kline said the goal is to increase that to thousands of adult sockeye in the future.

He also tries to keep the current smolt survival in perspective. He remembers when Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, only four adults returned to the Sawtooth Basin. The total annual returns to Idaho between 1991 and 1999 were 23 sockeye, which included two years when none returned.

By comparison, 157 adult sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Basin in 2017, which was a down year. The 10-year average from 2008 through 2017 is 690 sockeye annually, which you can read about in this September sockeye article explaining the 2017 return.

Biologists expect more sockeye will return to Idaho each year if they can raise and release more young fish and improve their survival through the Salmon, Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific. If Springfield’s water hardness situation proves to be the culprit, Kline sees solving it as a hurdle, not a wall.

“It’s not a disaster, it’s part of what you experience when you open a new hatchery,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but we’re not going to let it get us down.”

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

Lake Washington Sockeye Count Tops 110,000, But Declining

The odds of a Lake Washington sockeye fishery this year — long to begin with — seem remoter still with today’s updated count unless somehow hesitant salmon managers acquiesce to a Hail Mary bid.

A total of 111,509 have passed through the Ballard Locks since the tally began June 12, and the year’s best days appear to be behind us.

IT’S BEEN 11 YEARS SINCE THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, AND DESPITE CALLS FOR AN “OLD TIMES SAKE” SEASON THIS YEAR, THAT’S INCREASINGLY UNLIKELY WITH THE LATEST BALLARD LOCKS COUNTS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Nearly 7,500 were counted July 4, with 21,740 in the three days before and day afterwards.

But since then daily counts have dipped to 2,772 Wednesday and 2,271 yesterday.

The run has typically peaked by now, though of note 2006 didn’t hit its midmark till mid-July.

If there’s good news, it’s that the forecast of 77,292 was wrong, and there does appear to be some softening on the standing escapement goal of 350,000 sockeye to trigger sport and commercial tribal fisheries.

According to a recent WDFW letter, talks have been ongoing with the comanagers about “a new abundance-based management framework that allows for some directed fisheries at run-sizes of 200,000 or greater.”

Written July 7, the communique from Director Jim Unsworth expresses cautious optimism that that figure might be reached.

But Frank Urabeck, a longtime recreational angling advocate who closely watches the counts, now estimates the run will come in somewhere north of 130,000, which is above the 100,000 that he hoped might trigger a “token, for old times’ sake” fishery on Lake Washington, where we haven’t seen a sockeye season since 2006.

Since then, an average of 78,000 — high: 2013’s 178,422; low: 2009’s 21,718 — have entered the locks with fewer still actually spawning.

By comparison, between 2006 and 1972, only three years saw 78,000 or fewer sockeye enter; even the bad salmon years of the mid-1990s were higher.

It’s believed that despite the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, young sockeye are suffering increasing and strong predation in the lake and as they make their way through the Ship Canal, which also appears to be a thermal block for returning adults, leaving them more prone to disease.

This year’s run would also have been at sea during the fish-run-destroying Blob.

Among Urabeck’s aims is to draw attention to what he considers to be a failing run, and he sees this year’s return as what amounts to a last-gasp opportunity to get anglers on the lake and rally support for what once was a wonderful salmon fishery in the heart of the state’s biggest metropolis.

If you never had a chance to partake in it, it was the absolute best kind of insanity going.

Urabeck wants one last go.

“I encourage sportfishing anglers to contact Director Unsworth and the MIT to encourage them to avoid losing this special opportunity to gain public support for our fisheries programs,” he said this morning.

Unsworth, who wrote that Urabeck’s call for a season if the count hit 100,000 “certainly caught my attention,” agreed that Lake Washington salmon aren’t faring well, but was more optimistic about the future.

“It will be a challenging task, but the restoration of clear, clean, and swimmable water to Lake Washington in the 1960s shows what can be accomplished with our engaged and supportive public,” Unsworth states in the letter to Urabeck.

The director says that his agency as well as the tribes, county and utilities are “now implementing and advocating for the actions necessary to improve salmon survival in the Lake Washington basin.”

“In this urban setting, we will need to think ‘out-of-the-box’ to find solutions that provide for salmon in the future. In part, this will likely require rethinking how we use our hatcheries. As you recall, we joined with you and others in the Year-15 Comprehensive Review of the City of Seattle’s Habitat Conservation Plan in recommending new supplementation techniques that maximize fry-to-adult survival through a combination of extended rearing and delayed release timing,” Unsworth states.

Meanwhile, the Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes are holding their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries, with goals of 1,000 and 2,500 sockeye each, and yesterday saw dipnetting in the ladder as tribal biologists in conjunction with WDFW collected salmon for a longterm biological sampling program.

What the longterm health of the sportfishery holds is anyone’s guess, but at the moment, it is on life support at best this year.

Lake Washington Sockeye Closing Fast On Forecast, Columbia Tally

More sockeye have now been counted at the Ballard Locks this year than in all of 2016 and 2015 combined.

According to the latest tally posted by WDFW this afternoon, some 62,587 of the salmon have returned to the Lake Washington system.

And with a 6,200-fish day yesterday, the count is rapidly closing in on this year’s forecast of 77,000-plus.

An angler is calling on WDFW to open a fishery on the lake should the count reach 100,000, and that bid got TV coverage late last week.

In response, a state fishery manager spoke carefully in the written version of KING 5’s interview with sport advocate Frank Urabeck.

Urabeck is hoping to highlight the plight of a run that once regularly produced enough sockeye to hold semiannual fisheries, but hasn’t since 2006 because no returns have come anywhere close to meeting the 350,000-fish escapement goal needed to hold sport and tribal commercial seasons.

Meanwhile, as Seattle celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Ballard Locks tomorrow, a pair of local tribes will be gearing up for their annual ceremonial and subsistence fisheries on either side of the structure.

The Suquamish have a target catch of 2,500 sockeye, the Muckleshoots 1,000.

Of note, the Ballard Locks count is poised to take the lead over Bonneville Dam, where only 67,621 have been counted and the run appears to be tailing off a bit.

Columbia River tribes are fishing as if the return will be half of the preseason forecast, according to a state factsheet out last week.

If trends continue, this will be the first year since 2007 that more sockeye will have entered Lake Washington than the Columbia River.

And on Washington’s other sockeye front, 1,631 sockeye have shown up at the Baker River trap, with 546 of those transported up to Baker Lake, where angling opens this Saturday, July 8.

Last Hurrah? Pessimistic Angler Wants To Open Lake Washington Sockeye One Final Time

A Washington sockeye angler is calling on WDFW to open Lake Washington this summer for a last-hurrah season if more than 100,000 of the salmon pass through the Ballard Locks.

We’re already nearly one-fifth of the way there, with 19,139 counted as of yesterday and the usual run peaks still ahead of us.

But it would be a sharp change from past fisheries, which haven’t been held until managers were sure 350,000 were entering the system, and would require tribal comanagers to sign off on.

IMAGES FROM THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Frank Urabeck, a long time fisheries activist, terms it a “token, for old times’ sake” opportunity in an email to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth and a number of agency honchos late this afternoon.

“Looking at the Cedar River wild and hatchery production data I am convinced this is last chance we will have for run to be this good and an opportunity to show what it once was like. Public deserves something given the significant imbalance in cumulative harvest as a result of the tribal C&S fisheries since 2006,” Urabeck writes.

He worries the system’s sockeye population may be past a “tipping point” to ever recover and host an opener at that higher return level.

It certainly feels like this is a fishery from bygone days, or at least the dawn of the Twitter and Facebook age.

While the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Tribes have had limited annual ceremonial and subsistence sockeye fisheries with a total catch Urabeck estimates at 30,000 to 40,000, it hasn’t been since 2006 that salmon mania has descended on the big water just east of Seattle.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Since then Urabeck and the rest of us have been on the sidelines, carefully watching the locks counts in hopes there might be enough, but always turning away disappointed, despite the promise of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, capable of cranking out 34 million sockeye fry.

Unfortunately, as they rear in the lake for a year, many if not most smolts are being eaten by piscivorous fish and other predators.

And returning adults are increasingly dying from disease after they pass from the locks to the lake through the too-warm, relatively shallow ship canal — 40 percent of Cedar-bound sockeye in both 2014 and 2015, according to the Muckleshoot Tribe.

Despite record hatchery fry production in 2012, which should have yielded as many as 500,000 adults, according to Urabeck, instead we saw one of the most abysmal returns on record, just 12,000 to 15,000 back to the Cedar.

But at the same time, recent years’ returns, including this one, were at sea through The Blob and most likely were affected like 2015’s pinks and coho, so it’s possible runs could bounce back with improving ocean conditions and increased control of freshwater predator species.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, hopes for slapping some homegrown sockeye on Seattle barbecues have been fizzling for some time.

So with the future looking grim in his eyes, Urabeck is calling for a couple days of fishing some time in late July or early August, and foresees a harvest of 10,000.

“The proposed special fishery would not have any significant impact on sockeye reaching the Cedar River and the sockeye hatchery operated by the City of Seattle, which has failed to meet expectations. Remember, the Cedar River sockeye were introduced from the Baker River and are under no ESA constraint,” he writes to Unsworth.

If the state and tribes get on board and enough sockeye actually arrive — the official forecast calls for 77,292 back to the locks and it’s hard to say whether 2017’s good start means the run is early or big or both — it could also give local tackle stores a much-needed shot in the arm after two deflating summers.

The 18-day 2006 season produced $8.6 million in economic benefits and a catch of 59,000 sockeye, according to WDFW.

We’ll fold in comment from the agency as it arrives.