Tag Archives: SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES

WDFW Commission Liberalizes Bass, Etc., Daily Limits On 77 Lakes

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

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission made decisions on several fishing rule proposals and a land transaction at their Dec. 13-14 meeting in Bellingham. The commission also heard updates on Southern Resident Killer Whales, Baker Lake and Skagit River sockeye fishery management, hatchery reform, non-toxic ammunition, and Columbia River salmon policy.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONERS INCREASED THE BAG LIMIT ON LARGEMOUTH BASS THIS SIZE ON 77 LAKES FROM FIVE TO TEN A DAY IN RESPONSE TO THE STATE LEGISLATURE’S DIRECTIVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT SALMON SMOLT PREDATION AND INCREASING CHINOOK, COHO, STEELHEAD AND OTHER FISH AVAILABILITY FOR ORCAS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

On Friday, the commission approved a 1.8-acre land acquisition for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in Asotin County. The property will be donated by Larry and Marilou Cassidy, as an addition to the Snyder Bar Water Access Area, located in the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. The new addition will improve public access for fishing and boating.

WDFW fishery managers briefed the commission on the department’s proposals to simplify forage fish, marine fish, and shellfish sport fishing rules. The commission adopted the department’s recommendations to modify rule language to be more concise and consistent with other regulations. More details on these changes are available on WDFW’s fishing rule simplification webpage.

The commission also approved regulation updates to simplify sturgeon fishing rules and improve conservation efforts. Rule changes include expanding spawning sanctuary areas in the Columbia River, shifting retention fisheries upstream of McNary Dam to catch-and-release only, closing night fishing for sturgeon in the Chehalis River, and defining oversize sturgeon as fish larger than 55 inches fork length. More details are available on WDFW’s sturgeon fishing rules webpage.

In addition, WDFW staff provided an update on the Joint State Columbia River Salmon Fishery Policy Review Committee’s work to recommend possible revisions to the Columbia River Salmon Management Policy. The commission asked the director to present information in January 2020 about the delegation of authority and to contact the director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to discuss possible options for fisheries in 2020.

The committee expects to hold additional public meetings in early 2020, with a possible recommendation to both Oregon and Washington commissions in spring 2020. Information and materials from previous meetings are available on the joint policy review committee webpage.

On Saturday, fishery managers briefed the commission on Baker Lake sockeye salmon management following poor returns in the last several years. WDFW staff provided updates on the harvest shares from the 2019 season and reviewed the department’s efforts to address management challenges, which focused on prioritizing Baker Lake sockeye harvest equity in the 2020 North of Falcon salmon season-setting process.

“We couldn’t have had better public testimony to illuminate the different perspectives on the Baker Lake sockeye salmon fishery,” said Ron Warren, fish policy director for WDFW. “Baker Lake is a beautiful and popular fishery that we want Washingtonians to continue to enjoy.”

Finally, fishery managers presented six options to liberalize limits on bass, walleye, and channel catfish in select waters throughout the state, a requirement passed by the state Legislature this spring as part of House Bill 1579. The bill’s intent was to implement task force recommendations to benefit the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population by increasing salmon availability.

WDFW conducted six months of public engagement on the proposal to change rules for bass, walleye, and channel catfish fishing, which included five public meetings around the state. After reviewing public feedback, 72% of comments supported a warmwater species rule change to reduce the risk of predation on salmon smolts.

All six options presented to the commission include removing size and daily limits on rivers. The options varied in the number of affected lakes, size limits, and daily limits. WDFW staff recommended “Option B” which would affect 77 lakes around the state containing bass, walleye, or channel catfish, and have public access.

The commission supported WDFW’s recommendation and adopted “Option B2”, which includes changes to size and daily limits of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and walleye in 77 lakes around the state:

  • Largemouth bass: Change from 5 to a 10-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 17 inches.
  • Smallmouth bass: Change from 10 to a 15-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 14 inches.
  • Channel catfish: Change from a 5 to a 10-fish daily limit.
  • Walleye: Change from 8 to a 16-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 22 inches.

A recording of the Dec. 13 meeting is available at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019121001 and the Dec. 14 meeting is available at https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019121002.

Yuasa Looks Back At 2019 Salmon Seasons, Towards 2020’s

Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.

By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association

The holiday “to do” list has pretty much taken priority over getting out on the water, but if you’re like me that also means it’s time to reassess salmon fisheries in 2019 and start thinking about what lies ahead in 2020.

I had a chance to chat with Mark Baltzell, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Puget Sound salmon manager, and Wendy Beeghly, the head WDFW coastal salmon manager, who provided insight about the future and a somewhat forgetful past.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

“I believe the best way to describe Puget Sound salmon fisheries overall in 2019 is a mixed bag,” said Baltzell. “We had some unexpected good salmon fishing and returns while others were as poor as the preseason forecasts had predicted.”

“Summer chinook fisheries were for the most part better than we expected despite the reduced seasons,” Baltzell said. “Early on we saw some really good chinook fishing in May and June in southern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 13 south of the Narrows Bridge).”

It wasn’t uncommon for Area 13 anglers during those months to hook into a limit of early summer hatchery kings, 10 to 18 pounds with a few larger, off Point Fosdick and Fox Island’s east side at Gibson Point, Fox Point in Hale Passage, northwest corner at the Sand Spit, Toy Point and Concrete Dock “Fox Island Fishing Pier.”
In the past few years, central Puget Sound (Area 10) starting in June has become a hot bed for resident coho – 2- to 4-pounds – and this past summer was no exception to the norm. On certain days you’d find hundreds of boats from Jefferson Head to Kingston and in the shipping lane.

“We had a coho fishery in Area 10 from June through August that was really good and has turned into a successful early summer salmon fishery,” Baltzell said.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The Tulalip Bubble Terminal Fishery within Area 8-2 opened in June and was another location that proved to be fairly decent for early summer kings in the 10- to 15-pound range.

When July rolled around the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6) opened for hatchery kings and was off and on for much of the summer.

The San Juan Islands (Area 7) had a brief hatchery king fishery from July 1-31, which saw plenty of fishing pressure and a much higher than expected success rate.

Preliminary WDFW data during the July Area 7 fishery showed 5,310 boats with 11,739 anglers kept 3,019 hatchery kings (10 wild fish were illegally retained) along with 451 hatchery and 982 wild chinook released. The best fishing period occurred from July 1-14. WDFW test fishing showed the Area 7 legal-size chinook mark rate was 84.6 percent and overall mark rate was 78.6.

The summer hatchery king fishery in northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 9 and 10), started off poorly from July 25-28 due to extreme low tides. Once the tidal fluctuation improved as more dates were tacked onto the fishery catch rates picked up rapidly.
During an 11-day fishing period from July 25 to Aug. 4, the success rate in Area 9 was a 0.23 fish per rod average with a total of 7,779 boats with 17,147 anglers keeping 3,446 hatchery chinook (six unmarked were illegally retained) and released 1,124 hatchery and 756 wild chinook plus 697 coho kept and 747 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 88.0 percent.

The Area 10 hatchery chinook fishery was open daily July 25 through Aug. 16 and a total of 7,606 boats with 15,900 anglers kept 3,200 hatchery chinook (17 wild were illegally retained) and released 994 hatchery and 1,579 wild chinook plus 2,013 coho kept and 463 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 50.0 percent.

Summer hatchery chinook action in south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) stumbled out of the gates when it opened July 1 and was peppered with a few glory moments until it closed Aug. 25 for chinook retention. In Area 11, an estimated 12,264 boats with 22,818 anglers from July 1-Aug. 25 retained 212 chinook and released 164 hatchery and 465 wild chinook.

“We saw a lot more legal-size chinook in Puget Sound than the FRAM (Fishery Regulation Assessment Model) had predicted and more legal hatchery fish around than we had seen in past years,” Baltzell said.

In general, the wild chinook stock assessment seemed to be somewhat better in some parts of Puget Sound. Places like the Tumwater Falls Hatchery in deep South Sound even had a few nice 20-pound females return.

Heading into late summer, the Puget Sound pink returns were off the charts good here and there while other pink runs were downright dismal. Salmon anglers chasing pinks managed to find some excellent fishing from mid-August through September.

“In some places it seemed like we had twice the abundance of pinks and others didn’t get as many as we had thought,” Baltzell said. “The Puyallup did really good and a decent number of pinks pass(ed) over the Buckley fish trap and was up into the historical day numbers. But, the Skagit and Stillaguamish weren’t so good for pinks and it was the same for coho too.”

“At this point were going to be OK in places like the Snohomish for coho,” Baltzell said. “Both the tribes and state did all the things necessary to help ensure we’d exceed our hatchery coho broodstock (goals), and that did eventually happen.”

Other locations like the Green River met coho broodstock goals although that didn’t occur until late last month. In Hood Canal, the Quilcene early coho return came back less than half the preseason expectation and the size of jack coho was much smaller.”

“There was a size issue throughout the Puget Sound area and the lower returns had us taking a precautionary move to a one coho daily limit,” Baltzell said. “It was the right move in retrospect and helped us move more coho into the rivers.”

The mid- and southern-Puget Sound and Hood Canal chum forecast of 642,740 doesn’t appear to be materializing and at this point WDFW downgraded the run to almost half the preseason expectation.

“It is really hard for us as fishery managers to pinpoint the cause for all of it,” Baltzell said. “We can point the finger to marine survival and conditions in the ocean like the warm blob that sat off the coast up to Alaska for a while. We also know the Canadian sockeye runs tanked this year and saw it in our own like Lake Washington that virtually got nothing back.”

The ocean salmon fisheries from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco between June 22 through Sept. 30 encountered a mixed bag of success.

“Fishing was pretty much what I expected it to be,” Beeghly said. “The chinook fishery was slow except up north off Neah Bay where it was pretty good this past summer. The majority of chinook we see in ocean fisheries are headed for the Columbia River and their forecasts were down so the poor fishing came as no surprise.”
Close to a million coho were forecasted to flood the Columbia River this past summer and that too was a downer.

“The coho fishing wasn’t quite as good as I had expected, but we saw some decent fishing at Ilwaco and Westport,” Beeghly said. “The Columbia coho forecast didn’t come back like we originally thought but better than the past three or so years. The hatchery coho mark rate was lower than anticipated.”

Coast wide only 51.1 percent of the hatchery coho quota of 159,600 was achieved, and 41.4 percent of the chinook quota of 26,250 was caught.

Areas north of Leadbetter Point saw a coho mark rate of somewhere under 50 percent and Ilwaco where data was still being crunched might come out to be a little higher than that.

Once the fish arrived in the Lower Columbia at Buoy 10 it appeared the catch of hatchery coho fell well short of expectations with a lot of wild fish released although some glory moments occurred early on.

Coastal and Columbia River chinook forecasts should come to light around the Christmas holidays. The Pacific Fishery Management Council preseason meeting will occur in mid-February. That is just ahead of when Oregon Production Index coho forecasts will be released.

As Baltzell rubbed the crystal ball looking into 2020 it still remains pretty foggy at this point but general expectations aren’t rosy.

“It would be fair for me to say that I wouldn’t expect anything much better in 2020 than what we saw in 2019,” Baltzell said. “We have no forecast information at this point but I wouldn’t expect a rosier outlook as far as chinook goes for next year.”

State, federal and tribal fishery managers in 2020 will be faced with a lot of same wild chinook stock issues as in recent past years like mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish. Add on top of that killer whale orca issues as well as the pending Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan that has been looming a dark cloud for the past three years with no end in sight just yet.

“If I had to gauge things out my gut reaction is we’ll likely have to take a more cautionary approach again next year,” Baltzell said.

The WDFW general salmon forecast public meeting will occur Feb. 28 at the DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia. The first North of Falcon meeting is March 16 at the Lacey Community Center and the second meeting is March 30 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites. Final seasons will determined April 5-11 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, WA.

Final summer ocean salmon sport fishing catch data

Ilwaco (including Oregon) – 44,297 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 4,018 chinook (56% of the area guideline of 7,150) and 53,377 coho (67% of the area sub-quota of 79,800).

Westport – 23,465 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 2,336 chinook (18% of the area guideline of 12,700) and 20,221 coho (34% of the area sub-quota of 59,050), plus 700 pinks.

La Push – 2,076 from June 22 to September 30 caught 449 chinook (41% of the area guideline of 1,100) and 1,752 coho (43% of the area sub-quota of 4,050), plus 206 pinks. Late-season fishery October 1-13 saw 240 anglers with 164 chinook (64% over the fishery guideline) and 16 coho (16% of the fishery quota).

Neah Bay – 10,116 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 3,895 chinook (75% of the area guideline of 5,200) and 6,223 coho (37% of the area sub-quota of 16,600), plus 869 pinks. Chinook retention closed July 14.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Dungeness crab fishery reopens in Areas 8-2 and 8-1

The east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) has reopened daily for Dungeness crab fishing through Dec. 31. WDFW says crab abundance remains good indicating that the quota could be increased in-season. Crab pots must be set or pulled from a vessel and is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

Dungeness crab fishing is also open daily through Dec. 31 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 4B, 5 and 6); San Juan Islands (Area 7); and northern Puget Sound (Area 9 except waters north of the Hood Canal bridge to a line connecting Olele Point and Foulweather Bluff).

NW Fishing Derby Series hits refresh button in 2020

After 17 wonderful years since the derby series began in 2004, we’ve decided it’s time for a change and rebranded it to the “Northwest Fishing Derby Series.”

Our hope is that anglers will like the direction as we diversify the fish species our events target while boosting the number of derbies to 20 in 2020 up from 14 events in 2019.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The highlight is a chance to enter and win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. One of our newest sponsors of the derby – Shoxs Seats (www.shoxs.com) – has provided a pair of top-of-the-line seats that are engineered for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas.

The good news is anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package!

A huge “thank you” to our other 2020 sponsors who make this series such a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Scotty Downriggers; Burnewiin Accessories; Raymarine Electronics; WhoDat Tower; Dual Electronics; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

First up are the Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2 (already 50 percent of tickets have been sold as of Nov. 13); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. A new website is currently being designed and will be launched sometime in mid-December but for now, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

In the meantime, take a break from holiday shopping and hit up a lake or open saltwater areas for a feisty fish tugging on the end of your line.

I’ll see you on the water!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get to work.

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NWIFC’s Loomis Pans Patagonia’s Anti-Hatchery Movie

A major voice in Western Washington’s salmon fishery management world says that Patagonia’s new Artifishal movie is a “misguided documentary full of misinformation about the role hatcheries play in salmon recovery.”

Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, adds that it doesn’t use “accurate science” to back up its claims that Chinook, coho and other stocks reared at state, tribal and federal facilities are the reason why wild stocks are declining, and because of that production at them must end.

LORRAINE LOOMIS, CHAIR OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION. (NWIFC)

“What we know for certain is that eliminating hatcheries would be the end of salmon fishing for generations. More than half of all the salmon harvested in western Washington come from hatcheries,” writes Loomis in her monthly “Being Frank” column distributed around the region.

It comes as backers of the 75-minute movie screen it across the Northwest and elsewhere, and it appeared in early June at the recent Seattle International Film Festival.

I didn’t go see it, but an article in The Guardian describes it as not just about salmon production but also is “a swerve into the metaphyscial (sic), framing the salmon emergency as a question about the human soul, about what it needs – about what we need – to survive.”

But even as the movie “explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction, threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, and our continued loss of faith in nature,” Loomis writes that hatcheries not only produce fish for harvest, including tribes’ reserved by federal treaties, but help reduce pressure on weak stocks and serve as gene banks for imperiled ones, and that all facilities are operated with management plans to protect unclipped salmon.

The release of the movie comes as efforts ramp up to save Puget Sound’s orcas, which are suffering in part because there’s no longer enough Chinook for them to eat.

That’s in part due to massive habitat degradation, from the mountaintops all the way down to the estuaries, that has reduced waters’ capacity for adults to spawn and young fish to rear, but possibly also the longterm decline of releases of fin-clipped Chinook at particularly state facilities due to hatchery reforms and budget issues.

While hundreds of millions dollars’ worth of work is going on to bolster rivers and the inland sea for salmon, it will take decades if not centuries to really boost numbers of wild fish, time that the southern resident killer whales may not have and which means they’ll be dependent on robust, well-executed hatchery production for the foreseeable future.

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

To that end, a Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner has called for the release of 50 million additional Chinook smolts.

Meanwhile, even as Loomis does find common ground over farming Atlantic salmon with the outdoor apparel company that’s made environmental issues a core concern, she disagrees that hatcheries are just like the floating sea pens.

“Patagonia could be doing a real service to the resource and all of us by advocating for habitat protection and restoration so that we are no longer dependent on hatcheries,” she states.

Instead, they appear to want to pick a fight on a bridge, burning it in the process.

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WDFW License Bills Moving Again As End Of Regular Legislative Session Nears

After hibernating for the past two months, WDFW’s fee bills have woken up and are moving again, but what will emerges from the den that is the Washington legislature remains to be seen.

Both the House and Senate versions include the 15 percent increase to fishing and hunting licenses and extend the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement, but also contain sharp differences that will need to be reconciled before the end of the session.

“This is pretty intense, from zero bills moving to two bills moving,” said Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison, this morning.

The upper chamber’s bill would sunset the angling fee hike after six years, extends the endorsement two years instead of four like the House, and would not allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to impose surcharges to keep up with rising costs.

That’s different from the Senate’s Operating Budget proposal, released earlier this month without any fee increase or the endorsement and which leaned on General Fund instead.

The lower chamber’s bill, which like the House Operating Budget proposal had the hike and endorsement, would limit the commission’s fee-raising authority to only cover costs lawmakers add to WDFW’s gig and no more than 3 percent in any one year.

Though the Senate version presents something of a fiscal cliff in 2025, the fee increase would produce $14.3 million every two years, the endorsement $3 million.

As for WDFW’s big hopes for a big General Fund infusion to pay for its myriad missions, improve its product and dig out of a $31 million shortfall, any new money it receives will likely be allocated for orcas instead, and that is putting the onus squarely on passing a license increase.

The sudden activity on the fee bills after February’s twin hearings comes with the scheduled Sunday, April 28 end of the session and follows a House Appropriations Committee public hearing yesterday afternoon and an executive session in the Senate’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee this morning.

During the House hearing on HB 1708, representatives from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Northwest Marine Trade Association and Coastal Conservation Association along with some anglers — all still smarting from the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia fishery reforms vote early last month, some at louder volumes than others — voiced opposition to the fee bill though generally said they wanted a fully funded WDFW.

NMTA’s George Harris was among those trying to “thread that needle,” saying he couldn’t support the increase because he didn’t believe the agency had followed through on the reforms or mark-selective fisheries.

SPEAKING IN OPPOSITION TO THE FEE BILL DURING THE HOUSE HEARING ON MONDAY APRIL 22 WERE JASON ZITTEL OF ZITTEL’S MARINA NEAR OLYMPIA WHO SAID THE BURDEN OF FUNDING WDFW COULDN’T CONTINUE TO BE PUSHED ONTO LICENSE HOLDERS WHEN THE PROBLEMS ARE STATEWIDE … (TVW)

… AND CARL BURKE, REPRESENTING NMTA AND NSIA, WHO SAID THAT WHILE ANGLERS PROVIDE SIGNIFICANT FUNDING TO WDFW, “THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER.” (TVW)

Speaking in favor of full funding, however, was Ron Garner, statewide president of Puget Sound Anglers, member of the WDFW budget advisory group that did a deep dive into the agency’s finances and part of the governor’s orca task force.

“This is not enough money for the agency, and one of the problems is, if we do take this $30 million hit or don’t get the $30 million, what hatcheries are going to get cut next?” Garner said.

WDFW has identified five that could be and which together produce 2.6 million salmon, steelhead and trout.

He said where other state agencies had recovered from General Fund cuts due to the Great Recession, WDFW hadn’t.

“To keep them healthy and the outdoors healthy, we really need to fund it,” Garner said.

RON GARNER OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS VOICED SUPPORT FOR A FULLY FUNDED WDFW DURING THE HEARING … (TVW)

… AND TOM ECHOLS OF THE HUNTERS HERITAGE COUNCIL SAID IT WAS THE FIRST TIME IN HIS SEVEN YEARS WITH THE UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION THAT IT WAS SUPPORTING A FEE BILL, SPECIFICALLY THE HUNTING SIDE, SAYING THEY BELIEVED IT WAS “TIME TO SUPPORT THE DEPARTMENT’S DIRECTION.” (TVW)

Both committees ultimately gave their versions do-pass recommendations after adopting several amendments, which overall mainly dealt with fallout from the Columbia vote.

The House bill now tells the citizen panel to work with Oregon’s to recover salmon and steelhead in the watershed and WDFW to “work to maximize hatchery production throughout the Columbia River, reduce less selective gear types in the mainstem of the Columbia River and improve the effectiveness of off-channel commercial fishing areas.”

“I support fully funding WDFW so that we can restore hatchery production and restore our fisheries,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) this morning.

And in his natural resources committee earlier today, Chair Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) substantially altered the Senate fee bill, SB 5692, to address those Columbia issues.

An effect statement says his amendments:

  • Specifies Columbia River fishery reforms including improving the selectivity of recreational and commercial fisheries, prioritizing main stem recreational fisheries, and transitioning gill net fisheries to enhanced off-channel areas.
  • Restricts main stem gill net fisheries, effective July 1, 2019, to not exceed six days per year for salmon and steelhead below the Bonneville dam.
  • Directs the DFW to establish an observer program to monitor at least 10 % of the nontribal gill net salmon and steelhead catch on the Columbia River.
  • Directs the DFW to fund activities that maintain or enhance current recreational and fishing activities with fees from recreational fishing and hunting, and expires the requirement on July 1, 2025.
  • Authorizes the DFW to approve trial fisheries for the use of alternative gear for the mark-selective harvest of hatchery-reared salmon and to establish permit fees by rule for alternative gear fisheries.
  • Authorizes the use of pound nets to harvest salmon on the Columbia River and sets the license fee at $380 per year for a resident and $765 for a nonresident

Without getting too wonky and in the weeds, the differences between the House and Senate fee bills must be concurred on, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor before any hike goes into effect. It would be the first since 2011.

WDFW’s Crosier forecasted some “tough conversations in the coming five days” as lawmakers will have to come to an agreement on outstanding policy issues including the Columbia, hatcheries, predators and more, and how to fund her agency.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” she said. “I think this is the closest we’ve gotten. There’s motivation (by legislators) to get something passed, and fees will be a big part of it.”

And without getting too high up on my stump, the end package will also need to show hunters and anglers that there is a better future ahead from the negative malaise currently gripping the state’s sportsmen as more than a century and a half of habitat loss, hatchery production reductions, increasing ESA listings and fishery restrictions, social media, and, simply put, other legislative priorities have come home to roost, most obviously in the plight of starving southern resident killer whales that might also symbolize today’s opportunities.

Canadian DFO Considering Larger Orca Measures In Strait, Islands

Canadian fishery officials are looking for input on a number of “recovery measures” being considered for orcas, including new no-go zones, voluntary no-fishing areas and expanded vessel slowdowns in waters directly across from Washington, and that has fishing interests worried.

The “online consultation” period opened today and highlights actions Department of Fisheries and Oceans took last year on the British Columbia side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Gulf/San Juan Islands and lays out scenarios “A” and “B” for the same areas for 2019 and beyond.

A DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS MAP SHOWS ONE OF TWO MANAGEMENT SCENARIOS FOR THE CANADIAN SIDE OF THE STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA. (DFO)

Maps outline newly designated “enhanced management areas” that DFO says are key foraging waters for southern residents, and inside and adjacent to those are proposed no-go/reduced use zones such as at Swiftsure Bank and on portions of the southern sides of Pender and Saturna Islands.

The Swiftsure boat ban would be bordered on its west and east sides by no fishing areas under one scenario, but not in the other, though both scenarios overlay a voluntary no-angling area on most of the western and central Strait.

Paraphrasing a member of the regional local government, the  Sooke News Mirror wrote that that would have “a devastating effect for Sooke and Port Renfrew.”

“I am asking all residents of the Juan de Fuca electoral area and the District of Sooke to read the proposals and, if you agree that some fishing should take place, e-mail DFO.SRKW-ERS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca and express your support for scenario A with an amendment to remove the No Go zone on the Swiftsure,” Mike Hicks of the Capital Regional District board of directors wrote in a letter to the paper.

Under both scenarios, those waters could also see “expansion of fishery closures to include additional recreational fisheries and/or commercial fisheries.”

It wasn’t clear what that meant, but for the Gulf Islands shellfishing — crabbing and shrimping — is listed as a possibility there.

In areas identified as critical foraging waters at the mouth of the Fraser River is another proposed voluntary no-fishing zone, next to areas that were closed last year and will be this year.

Earlier this week DFO announced large-scale changes to salmon fisheries in the Dixon Entrance, off Vancouver Island and in the Fraser itself to protect Chinook coming back to the river and benefit orcas.

Canadian managers are also proposing voluntary and mandatory changes for small boaters and commercial vessels in areas designated critical habitat, enhanced management and no-go zones.

Comments are open through May 1 for Canadians, First Nations and stakeholders, with meetings planned next week in Sooke, Victoria and Richmond.

Changes To BC Chinook Fisheries Rolled Out

Restrictions to Washington’s Chinook fisheries are being followed by meaty ones on the British Columbia side of the international border.

Canadian salmon managers yesterday announced a series of measures to protect Fraser River-bound Chinook, and by extension southern resident killer whales, and which will affect recreational and commercial seasons this year.

MATT LITTLE CAUGHT THIS 50-POUND CHINOOK WHILE FISHING OUT OF BELLA BELLA SEVERAL SEASONS BACK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans acknowledged they were “difficult,” but said with 12 of the big river’s 13 stocks at risk, the loss would “be disastrous not just for wildlife that depend on them as a food source, but also for the many BC communities whose jobs and ways of life depend on Chinook salmon. That’s why the Government of Canada has taken, and is taking, urgent and concrete actions to ensure that at-risk Chinook salmon are protected for future generations.”

But the Sport Fishing Institute of BC said it was “profoundly disappointed” by the actions.

“The plan … shows no consideration for impact on coastal and indigenous communities on the south coast of BC. The hope now is that in the long term these measures will be combined with other actions including predator control, mass marking, stock enhancement and habitat rehabilitation. In the near term we all brace for the impacts that will come from this decision,” the organization said.

BC is a popular destination for Northwest salmon anglers and others in the Lower 48 and beyond.

Of note, a large part of the province’s mainland west coast from Rivers Inlet to Prince Rupert and the Alaska border and the inland waters of western Vancouver Island will continue to see two-Chinook daily limits this season.

(DFO)

But as for other saltwaters, the restrictions are similar to some implemented last year on the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands, and around the mouth of the Fraser.

DFO lays out 2019’s changes thusly:

• Commercial fishing: Commercial troll fisheries for Chinook will be closed until August 20 in Northern BC, and August 1 on the West Coast of Vancouver Island to avoid impacting Fraser Chinook stocks and to support conservation priorities.

• Recreational fishing: The 2019 management measures for recreational fisheries where at risk Chinook stocks may be encountered are designed to maximize returns of these at risk Chinook to their spawning grounds. Opportunities to harvest Chinook will be provided later in the season to support the long-term viability of the recreational industry. The 2019 measures include:

• Non-retention of Chinook in, Johnstone Strait and Northern Strait of Georgia until July 14; a daily limit of one (1) Chinook per person per day from July 15 until August 29, and two (2) per person per day from August 30 until December 31.

• Non-retention of Chinook in the Strait Juan de Fuca and Southern Strait of Georgia until July 31; retention of one (1) Chinook per person per day as of August 1 until August 29, and two (2) per person per day from August 30 until December 31.

• West Coast Vancouver Island offshore areas will have non-retention of Chinook until July 14 followed by a limit of two (2) Chinook per day from July 15 to December 31. West Coast Vancouver Island inshore waters will remain at two (2) Chinook per day for the season once at-risk Chinook stocks have passed through, to support the long term viability of the salmon and of the recreational fishery.

• Fraser River recreational fisheries will remain closed to salmon fishing until at least August 23, and opportunities will be informed by any other conservation issues (coho, steelhead, etc).

• An overall reduction in the total annual limit for Chinook that can be retained per person in a season from 30 fish to 10. Recreational fisheries for other species will continue. Please see the Department’s web-site for local regulations.

• First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries: these fisheries, which have a constitutionally protected priority, will not commence until July 15 – concurrent with the opening of the recreational retention fishery.

(DFO)

Earlier this week, WDFW announced that the mainstem Columbia wouldn’t open for summer Chinook, that the ocean fall king quota is 26,250, just below last year’s, that Marine Area 7 would not be open in August, that the Area 9-10 marked-selective fishery would be delayed till July 25 with smaller quotas for both, and that fishing for blackmouth, or resident Chinook, would be closed in numerous marine waters in different months this coming winter.

If there’s good news from the north side of the border, it’s that the federal and provincial government announced a $142 million “British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund” and DFO said it and the US were “convening a forum to discuss and assess scientific evidence relating to population dynamics of seals and sea lions, their diet and their impacts.”

That is slated to occur this fall, according to a Vancouver Sun article out today, which also stated that “A group of First Nation fishers and hunters has approached Fisheries Canada with a plan to start a commercial seal and sea lion hunt to supply meat to restaurants in Canada and Asia, fat for supplements, and possibly as pet food.”

DFO also said it was “looking for additional recreational fishing opportunities for stocks like coho and halibut,” and “extending the current Commercial Troll voluntary licence retirement program to ease pressure on fish stocks.”

Environmental Groups Sue NMFS Over Orcas

Two environmental groups are suing federal overseers on the West Coast over orcas, saying salmon fisheries off Washington, Oregon and California need to be assessed and reduced to provide the struggling marine mammals more forage.

(WIKIMEDIA)

“West Coast orcas can’t afford another year without bold federal action based on sound science to reverse their decline,” said Julie Teel Simmonds of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity in a press release out today.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, follows on a midwinter threat from CBD and Wild Fish Conservancy to sue over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

It comes as state and tribal managers are actually nearing the end of the annual salmon season-setting process known as North of Falcon — orcas and Chinook were actually part of the discussions today at a WDFW meeting with anglers and others in Lynnwood that is also being livestreamed.

Last month as NOF cranked up, a guidance letter from NMFS regional director Barry Thom told the overarching Pacific Fishery Management Council that his agency wanted to reengage with the panel about this year’s salmon opportunities.

NMFS last did that in 2009 and found that the commercial and recreational fisheries the council authorized WDFW, ODFW and CDFW to hold didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales.

But since then the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined to a little more than six dozen, with lack of enough Chinook to eat, vessel disturbance, and pollution identified as the key reasons.

Thom said that for the coming years NMFS was also developing a “risk assessment” tool to possibly guide seasons based on their impacts on orcas.

But that apparently isn’t fast enough for CBD and WFC.

WFC’s Kurt Beardslee took up where he left off in his winter attack on fisheries, stating in the press release that NMFS needs to “acknowledge that starving killer whales and smaller and less abundant Chinook are merely symptoms of the problems created by harvest management that is fundamentally broken.”

But the problem isn’t that harvest management is broken.

The plight of orcas is because the habitat of Chinook — comprising 80-plus percent of their diet — in both freshwater and salt- has been inextricably altered over the past 175 years of settlement and development, and to expect prey specialists like SRKWs to cope with that is a pipe dream, especially when you’re also virulently against the only legitimate short- and medium-term bridge for the whales, sharply increased hatchery production, and wild king recovery is literally decades, even a century away at best.

In a time when cooperation is a far more productive path for endangered icons like our orcas, somebody needs to take these two outfits to task for their idiotic, recidivistic bomb-throwing tactics.

 

NOAA Sharpening Its Eye On West Coast Chinook Fisheries

Federal overseers could press for new Chinook fishing restrictions for select stocks at sea in the coming years to provide more salmon for orcas.

In a guidance letter earlier this week to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries off the West Coast, NOAA made known that it wants to reengage with the panel on season setting.

AN ANGLER SHOWS OFF A 28-POUND FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WESTPORT ABOARD THE CHARTER BOAT SLAMMER IN A RECENT SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The agency last did that in 2009 and found that the council’s commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington’s, Oregon’s and California’s ocean waters, didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales at the time, but the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined since then and last year an analysis identified important king stocks for the hungry marine mammals.

“Several of the high priority Chinook salmon stocks currently identified in the framework contribute substantially to Council fisheries, including lower Columbia River, Sacramento River, and Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon stocks [bolding in the original]. Identifying high priority Chinook salmon stocks for SRKW is an important step to assess impacts and prioritize management and recovery actions that will benefit the whales,” the March 6 letter from NOAA Regional Administrator Barry Thom to PFMC Chair Phil Anderson states.


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Lower Columbia stocks are key to Washington Coast salmon fisheries, while the other two runs are important off Oregon and California.

Puget Sound fall Chinook were found to be even more important to orcas, according to NOAA’s and WDFW’s joint review last year, but are not mentioned in the letter. Still, the state agency is developing seasons with an eye towards the species’ “dietary needs.”

The letter does say that the feds are developing a “risk assessment” for analyzing salmon fisheries past, present and future in terms of overlap with SRKWs, and how they impact orca prey availability.

“If adjustments are needed, this framework could guide fisheries actions to limit impacts to prey availability in specific areas and times that are believed to create the greatest benefit to the whales. We believe adaptive frameworks like this, or other equally protective tools, provide confidence that fisheries can respond to the highest risk conditions and help improve conditions for SRKW in the future,” the letter states.

While it says that the new tool won’t likely be available to apply to 2019 fisheries, NOAA still wants to get with PFMC about this year’s proposed seasons and their impacts on the aforementioned stocks.

Lurking in the background is the threat of a lawsuit against NOAA to look into fishery effects on orcas.

According to The Seattle Times, which broke the story yesterday afternoon, fishing interests involved in the process say fisheries aren’t to blame for the downfall of the “blackfish,” but seasons are an easy “knob” to try and turn, and that habitat issues in the spawning and rearing waters are the real problem for low Chinook numbers.

The letter goes on to say that efforts are also being made to reduce disturbance from boats in orca foraging areas.

A bill passed out of Washington’s House yesterday on a 78-20 vote expands the don’t-go distance around orcas from 200 to 300 yards, prohibits approaching closer than 400 yards from behind, and requires vessels to slow to 7 knots within a half-mile bubble around them. It now goes over the Senate.

Biop Says Corps Must Provide Downstream Salmon Passage At Upper Green River Dam

What goes up must come down, and in the case of King County’s Green River, that requires building downstream fish passage infrastructure at Howard Hanson Dam.

AN ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS HOWARD HANSON DAM ON THE UPPER GREEN RIVER. A BIOP REQUIRES THAT DOWNSTREAM FISH PASSAGE BE BUILT AT THE FACILITY TO AID ESA-LISTED CHINOOK, STEELHEAD AND ORCAS. (COE)

Earlier this month, federal fishery overseers issued a new biological opinion that found the Corps of Engineers had to help ESA-listed juvenile Chinook and steelhead get from the 100 miles of spawning and rearing habitat above the project to the waters below there.

That “Reasonable and Prudent Alternative” to collect the young fish would not only improve the viability of both populations but also help out the region’s starving orcas.


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“Because (Puget Sound) Chinook salmon are an essential prey base for Southern Residents … the higher (Puget Sound) Chinook salmon abundance provided by access to the upper watershed would also contribute to the survival and recovery of killer whales,” NOAA’s biop states.

Downstream passage would also build upon Tacoma Water’s existing facilities that can provide a lift for returning adult salmon and steelhead arriving at the utility’s diversion dam 3 miles below the reservoir, as well as link in with fish habitat work being done in the lower, middle and upper reaches of the Central Cascades river that drains into Seattle’s Elliott Bay as the Duwamish.

“Assuming 75% of the annual production upstream from (Howard A. Hanson Dam) would survive passage and be recruited into the adult population were safe and effective downstream passage provided, we estimate that an additional 644 natural origin spawners would return to the Green River from production areas upstream of HAHD. Adding the potential production from the upper Green River to the 1,288 spawners returning from production downstream from HAHD gives a total Green River escapement of 1,932 natural origin spawners returning to the Green River. About 36% of the Chinook salmon returning to the Green River are harvested,” the biop states.

In a press release, the Engineers’ Seattle District Commander Col. Mark Geraldi said that improving fish passage at its project is “a priority” for the federal agency.

“This is a project we’ve been working on. NOAA Fisheries’ BiOp provides us crucial guidance and design criteria to follow as we forge ahead,” Geraldi said.

WITH THE GREEN-DUWAMISH IDENTIFIED AS A KEY SOURCE OF CHINOOK FOR PUGET SOUND ORCAS, PLANS ARE IN THE WORKS TO NOT ONLY INCREASE HATCHERY PRODUCTION BUT PROVIDE ACCESS AROUND A PAIR OF DAMS FOR RETURNING ADULTS TO GET TO THE UPPER WATERSHED AND SPAWN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Essentially, the biop tells the Corps to get back to work on a project they began in the early 2000s after consulting with NOAA, spent tens of millions of dollars drawing up, but then “abandoned its commitment to construct them” as Congressional funding ran out in 2011 and wasn’t reauthorized.

That led to a reopening of consultations and downstream fish passage being left out of the Corps’ 2014 biological assessment for operating the project.

NOAA found that that was likely to harm kings, steelhead and orcas and instead came up with the biop’s RPA and a target of February 2031 for the Corps to have the new facility’s bugs worked out and be operating for that spring’s smolt outmigration.

“We’re optimistic that new fish passage at Howard Hanson Dam, with continued habitat restoration in the more developed lower and middle Green River, will boost fish populations toward recovery,” said Kim Kratz, a NOAA Assistant Regional Administrator, in a press release.

Congress will need to provide the funds for the Corps, which is also spending $112 million trap-and-haul facility at Mud Mountain Dam, in the next major watershed to the south of the upper Green.