Tag Archives: sockeye

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.

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.

WDFW Tweaks Salmon Regs Above, Below Tri-Cities For June 16 Opener

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

McNary Dam Pool and Hanford Reach summer salmon fishery changes

Action: Opens McNary Dam Pool and Hanford Reach recreational salmon fisheries.

Effective date:  June 16 through June 30, 2017.

Species affected: Chinook, sockeye and steelhead.

Area 1:  Columbia River from McNary Dam to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco (CRC 533).

Daily Limit: six (6), up to two may be adult salmon or one adult salmon and one hatchery steelhead. Release all salmon other than hatchery chinook and sockeye.

Area 2:  Columbia River from Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco to the Interstate 182 Bridge at Richland near Columbia Point (CRC 534).

Daily Limit: four (4) salmon, of which no more than one (1) may be an adult hatchery chinook and no more than two (2) may be sockeye. Release wild adult chinook.

Area 3:  Columbia River from the Interstate 182 Bridge to Priest Rapids Dam (CRC 535, 536).

Daily Limit: six (6) salmon, of which no more than two (2) may be adult hatchery chinook and no more than three (3) may be sockeye. Release wild adult chinook.

Other information: Anglers must use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon and must have a current Washington fishing license, as well as a Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement (CRSSE).

Reason for action: These changes were proposed and discussed during the North of Falcon salmon season rule-setting public process and will be adopted by permanent rule later this summer and be published in the 2017-18 sport fishing rules pamphlet.

Lake Washington Walleye Outfitted With Acoustic Tags For Study

Fishery biologists with a Seattle-area tribe are capturing a new predator species in Lakes Washington and Sammamish to monitor their movements and whether they cross paths with salmon.

It’s unclear how many of the illegally introduced fish are actually in the system, but concern is building and the Muckleshoot Tribe reports they have “successfully tagged and released multiple walleye” already this year.

STATE FISHERIES BIOLOGIST DANNY GARRETT DISPLAYS A 13-PLUS-POUND WALLEYE HE UNEXPECTEDLY CAUGHT IN 2015 NEAR MERCER ISLAND ON LAKE WASHINGTON. (WDFW)

A request for comment from the tribe had not yet been returned as of this writing, but details of the operation come from the LOAF, or list of agreed-to fisheries that was signed by WDFW and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission earlier this month as the parties reached an agreement at North of Falcon, and which was posted last week by the state agency.

Besides outlining all the treaty, commercial and recreational salmon fisheries over the coming 12 months, the 105-page document includes the Muckleshoot’s aims and methods for their two-year warmwater species study in the Lake Washington basin.

It builds on the scant information we were able to report earlier this year, when it began.

The tribe says it wants to catch up to 15 walleye to “assess their overlap with migrating juvenile salmonids in addition to locating areas these invasive predators may be targeted in subsequent fisheries.”

Tribal fishers are targeting one of seven zones in Washington and Sammamish at a time, using up to eight 300-foot-long gillnets with 31/2- to 6-inch mesh. The nets fish during the work week and are closely monitored to reduce the possibility of snagging the few if any ESA-listed steelhead in the basin.

Walleye are being implanted with acoustic devices that can be read by receivers stationed around the lakes that are otherwise used to track tagged returning adult Chinook and sockeye and young outmigrating coho.

Overlapping walleye movements with the coho will help model their potential to cross paths with Endangered Species Act-listed Chinook smolts.

The Muckleshoots say their effort “will benefit salmonid management in the Lake Washington basin,” as well as inform researchers on walleye diets and distribution.

Of note, a “second consideration” is to figure out if catch rates on walleye and bass are “high enough to result in an economically viable fishery … Data collected will inform managers of areas and times that a tribal net fishery could be economically viable as well as areas to avoid/target minimizing bycatch and optimizing harvest.”

According to plans, gear, locations and effort may be shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with details on any steelhead or Chinook caught, with the test fishery being shut down after a third and fifth of each species is encountered.

The data will add to a 2004-05 Army Corps of Engineers study that looked at movements of acoustically tagged Chinook smolts, smallmouth bass and prickly sculpins.

Walleye first turned up in Lake Washington in 2005, a small male, caught by University of Washington researchers, with anglers catching one or two in following years.

But in 2015, state and tribal biologists caught a dozen, mostly in Lake Washington between Mercer Island and Bellevue, including a 13.5-pound hen that was dripping eggs.

As the species is native to waters east of the Rockies, the only way they could have arrived in the urban lakes is in livewells. The nearest source populations are about 120 miles east on I-90 in the Columbia Basin.

The Lake Washington system supports important tribal and recreational salmon fisheries, though sockeye, which reside in the lake a year before going to sea, have not produced directed seasons for over 10 years, despite a new hatchery. WDFW’s Issaquah Salmon Hatchery produces Chinook and coho.

So far, the Muckleshoots have caught at least one northern pike in Lake Washington, as well as a handful of walleye in Lake Sammamish.

The LOAF also describes a plan to electrofish in spring and fall and gillnet in spring in select areas of Lake Washington and the Ship Canal, the idea being to figure out if removing bass, walleye, perch and other salmon predators can be effective.

One thing’s for sure, if you’re a bass tournament angler fishing nationally ranked Lake Washington, you’d want a map of where those efforts are planned.

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.

IDFG Will Move Sockeye Broodstock From Hatchery In Flood’s Way

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

Idaho Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologists today decided to move 4,000 endangered sockeye salmon from the agency’s Eagle Fish Hatchery, in order to protect the fish from possible flooding.  The sockeye will be moved in trucks to Fish and Game’s Springfield Hatchery in Eastern Idaho.

The Eagle facility is located near Eagle Island State Park along the south channel of the Boise River, which is running at flood stage.

SAND BAGS PROTECT A HATCHERY SPECIFICALLY TASKED WITH RECOVERING IDAHO SOCKEYE FROM RISING FLOODWATERS. (SUE NASS, IDFG)

Fish and Game crews have placed sandbags around buildings and electrical pumps that supply water to the hatchery.  However, if is power lost for an extended period of time, the hatchery’s sockeye could be in jeopardy.

Crews will begin loading and transporting the fish on Thursday, March 30.

Sockeye held at the Eagle Hatchery act as captive brood stock for sockeye that are spawned to produce young for release into Red Fish Lake and Pettit Lakes where they eventually migrate to the ocean.  Other offspring are kept in captivity at facilities like Eagle Hatchery to provide a genetic bank that acts as safeguard against natural catastrophes, such as lethal river conditions.

The Springfield Hatchery was completed in 2013 and is solely dedicated to rearing sockeye.  It is expected to produce a million sockeye smolts for release in 2018.

In 2016, 567 sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Valley, slightly below the 10-year average of 664 fish, but a huge improvement over previous decades.

In 1992, a single sockeye dubbed “Lonesome Larry” was the only fish to return to Red Fish Lake.  He was one of 16 adult sockeye along with juveniles used to help jump start the recovery of Idaho’s sockeye salmon.