Tag Archives: SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES

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.

North Of Falcon Salmon Season Setting Begins Feb. 27; Meetings Scheduled

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

State fishery managers have scheduled a variety of opportunities for the public to participate in setting salmon fishing seasons for 2019, starting with the annual statewide salmon forecast meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE 2018’S POTENTIAL SALMON FISHERIES TO THE PUBLIC AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will present initial forecasts compiled by state and tribal biologists of the 2019 salmon returns at the meeting scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., Olympia.

That meeting is one of more than a dozen sessions scheduled at various locations around the state as part of this year’s salmon season-setting process. A list of the scheduled meetings can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

State fishery managers rely on input from anglers, commercial fishers, and others interested in salmon as they work to develop this year’s fisheries, said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

“It’s important for us to hear what the public has to say about salmon fisheries,” Warren said. “We’re trying to make that easier this year by making video of some of the major public meetings available online. And we’ll again take public input electronically on our fishery proposals.”

Additionally at the upcoming meetings, fishery managers will discuss steps to protect southern resident orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic and ways to consider the whales’ dietary needs in the fishing season-setting process.


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The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” Warren said. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

In addition to attending meetings, other ways the public can participate include:

  • Plenary session: State and tribal co-managers plan to hold an informal discussion during the public meeting, Wednesday, April 3, in Lynnwood. Details will be available on the webpage listed above. 
  • Meetings on video: The department intends to provide video of several public meetings. More information will be available online soon.

The annual process of setting salmon fishing seasons is called “North of Falcon” and is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The council is responsible for establishing fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2019 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is also expected to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Washington Bass, Walleye, Channel Cats Would Remain Game Fish But With Liberalized Regs Under Bill Amendment

Walleye, bass and channel catfish would not be declassified as game species in Washington, but the Fish and Wildlife Commission would need to liberalize limits on them in all waters where sea-going salmonids swim.

STATE LAWMAKERS RECOMMENDED THAT LIMITS ON LARGEMOUTH BASS, LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT AT A NORTHWEST WASHINGTON LAKE, AS WELL AS SMALLMOUTH BASS, WALLEYE AND CHANNEL CATFISH LIMITS BE LIBERALIZED IN WATERS BEARING SEA-GOING SALMONIDS LIKE CHINOOK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee this morning voted 8-6 to amend HB 1579 to that effect.

The bill mostly deals with enforcement of hydraulic codes, but targets the nonnative smolt eaters as part of its suite of changes meant to help out struggling orcas and their key feedstock.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) said during a public hearing last week.

There already are no size or catch limit restrictions on smallmouth, largemouth, walleye and channel cats in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and Snake and both of their tribs, a move WDFW implemented in 2016 following ODFW’s lead.

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But as written the change would liberalize regulations for the species on Lakes Washington and Sammamish and a host of other stillwaters connected to streams that serve as spawning and rearing habitat for not only Chinook but also coho, sockeye, steelhead, bull trout and other anadromous species.

For instance, Cottage Lake near Woodinville, Big Lake near Mt. Vernon, and Lake Sawyer east of Auburn.

WDFW’s SalmonScape illustrates the scope of other potentially affected waters.

And it also shows ones that may not, at least under the bill as it’s currently written — important spinyray lakes such as Banks, Billy Clapp, Moses, Potholes, Scooteney and Sprague in Eastern Washington, along with Seattle’s Green, Snohomish County’s Goodwin and Roseiger, and Bellingham’s Whatcom.

The state mapping product shows those have not been documented to have salmon present in or above them.

But eventually Rufus Woods and Lake Roosevelt could, if efforts to reintroduce Chinook to the Canadian Columbia go through.

Walleye and smallmouth are primarily in the Columbia system and largemouth are ubiquitous in lakes across Washington, and all can spawn naturally, but channel cats, which tend to only be able to spawn in the warmest of our relatively cool waters, have been planted in select lakes when funding has been available to buy them from other states.

While the issue of how to classify fish that are from the Midwest and elsewhere east of the Rockies is of concern to WDFW and the state’s warmwater anglers and guides, the bill has primarily elicited pushback for the elements strengthening how the agency permits work around water, including repealing all but automatic approvals for residential bulkheads on the saltwater, which can impact forage fish spawning habitat.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Republican from eastern Yakima County, called the bill “an imposition of changes that really apply to Puget Sound.”

Chairman Brian Blake, a Democrat who represents Washington’s South Coast, termed it a “work in progress,” but nonetheless asked fellow lawmakers to move it forward.

All eight Democrats voted for a slate of amendments to the bill, while six of the seven Republicans voted against, with the seventh absent.

The bill also would require anglers who fish for smelt in saltwaters to buy a license, a move that would annually yield an estimated $37,400, according to a legislative analysis.

A version in the Senate, SB 5580, had a public hearing yesterday. It was supported by WDFW and tribal and environmental groups, and opposed by building and business associations, with concerns from the state farm bureau.

To go into law, they would have to pass both chambers and be signed by Governor Inslee, and then, at least as far as bass, walleye, and channel cats go, the Fish and Wildlife Commission would need to make the changes to the regulations, though it could be also be done via an emergency rule.

Editor’s note: An earlier version reported HB 1579 received a do-pass recommendation out of committee. In fact, the vote was whether to amend the bill, which occurred. It remains to be given a recommendation.

WDFW Fish-Hunt Fee Hike, Other Bills Introduced In Olympia

The Olympia Outsider™ almost didn’t file an update this week after — true story — messing up his shoulder really bad while swiping his bus pass on the card reader as he boarded the 41.

The pain!!!!!!!

But duty calls, and so with the muscle relaxants kicking in, here are fish- and wildlife-related bills that Washington lawmakers have introduced this week, as well as a pair three (good grief) that he totally missed from earlier in the session.

Bill: HB 1708 / SB 5692
Title: “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses.”
Sponsors: Reps. Blake, Fitzgibbon, Springer, Irwin, Chandler, Robinson, Riccelli, Lekanoff, Dye, Jinkins, Tarleton / Sens. Rolfes, McCoy, Takko, Wellman
Note: By request of WDFW
Bill digest: Not available, but this is the agency’s fee increase bill and while it would add 15 percent to the base cost for resident fishing and hunting licenses, by request of the Fish and Wildlife Commission it also includes a cap on how much more you’d end up paying overall. “It’s $7 on any combination of fishing licenses,” says Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison. “No fisherman will pay more than $7 more and hunter more than $15 more.” It pushes the age that kids first have to buy a fishing license from 15 to 16 and gives the commission authority to institute small surcharges after two years “to fund inflationary and other increased costs approved by the legislature in the biennial budget.” That could potentially mean “more frequent but smaller adjustments” to the cost of licenses compared to the effect of this bill, which would increase prices for the first time since 2011.

OO analysis: This is the second fee bill WDFW has floated since 2017 and Crosier is optimistic this one will do better than the last one. “It’s getting a lot more positive reach, at least in Olympia,” she notes, adding that some Republicans have even consponsored it this go-around. Overall, the agency is looking for a $67 million budget bump from lawmakers, with about three-quarters of that coming from the General Fund to make up for cuts from it since the Great Recession that haven’t been fully restored. It will be interesting to watch who testifies and what they say when the bills make it to a public hearing.


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Bill: HB 1784
Title: “Concerning wildfire prevention.”
Sponsors: Reps. Kretz, Blake
Bill digest: None available but essentially adds “wildfire fuel breaks” to the tools land managers have for preventing catastrophic blow-ups on public ground.
Olympia Outsider™ analysis: Can’t say the OO is against taking better care of areas that also function as critter habitat. A recent DNR blog highlighted how tree thinning and preventative burning on WDFW’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area and elsewhere nearby helped keep parts of last summer’s Boyds Fire on the forest floor instead of crowning out as it did elsewhere in burning over 4,000 acres.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Bill: HB 1824
Title: “Addressing the impacts of pinnipeds on populations of threatened southern resident orca prey.”
Sponsors: Reps. Young, Kloba, MacEwen, Vick, Irwin, Chambers, Lovick, Tarleton
Bill digest: None available, but requires WDFW to file a permit with federal overseers “for the maximum lethal take of sea lions in order to enhance the survival or recovery of salmon species protected in Washington,” meaning ESA-listed Chinook which are a key feedstock for starting orcas.
OO analysis: The bill has cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including the woman who represents the Ballard Locks, where Herschell et al et all of Lake Washington’s steelhead — see what I did there? California sea lions are at their habitat’s capacity, and a recent analysis estimated that the marine mammals as well as harbor seals and northern orcas have increased their consumption of Chinook from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970. Between that and decreased hatchery production, there are fewer salmon available for SRKWs, not to mention fishermen. While thanks to recent Congressional action, WDFW is already applying for authorization to take out sea lions on portions of the Columbia and its tribs, this appears to call for a broader permit and without all the bother of RCW 43.21C.030(2)(c), something something something about big reports on environmental impacts something something. (Sorry, the Methocarbosomething something is kicking in pretty nicely.)

Bill: HB 1662 / SB 5696
Title: “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes.”
Sponsors: Reps. Dent, Springer, Kretz, Blake, Dye, Tharinger, Chandler, Fitzgibbon, Peterson, Fey, Corry, Dufault, Young /  Sens.
Bill digest: None available but according to Crosier it essentially would mirror the way DNR pays counties through the state treasurer, allowing WDFW to more fully compensate counties for the million or so acres it has taken off local tax rolls as it has purchased farms, ranches and timberlands for wildlife areas. Crosier says it sets “a more consistent methodology and pay rate.”
OO analysis: If your eyes are as glazed over as the OO’s, we don’t blame you because this PILT bill is boring as hell, but could be helpful in restoring peace in counties where WDFW land ownership has caused friction and more critter habitat is needed.

THE 4-O WILDLIFE AREA IN ASOTIN COUNTY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Bill: HB 1261 / SB 5322
Title: “Ensuring compliance with the federal clean water act by prohibiting certain discharges into waters of the state.”
Sponsors: Reps. Peterson, Fitzgibbon, Stanford, Tarleton, Ortiz-Self, Lekanoff, Doglio, Macri, Pollet /  Sens. Palumbo, Carlyle, Wellman, Hunt, McCoy, Hasegawa, Kuderer, Nguyen, Saldaña
Bill digest: “Specifies that a discharge to waters of the state from a  motorized or gravity siphon aquatic mining operation is subject to the department of ecology’s authority and the federal clean water act.” Per a press release from Trout Unlimited, which is supporting the bills, the bills would “ban suction dredge mining in Endangered Species Act-designated Critical Habitat for listed salmonids.” Those watersheds include most of Puget Sound; the Cowlitz and other Lower Columbia tribs; Middle and Upper Columbia tribs in Eastern Washington; and Snake River tribs, so, much of the state outside the OlyPen and South Coast river systems.
OO analysis: We’d blame the muscle relaxers for overlooking this pair of bills, but they were actually dropped well before the OO suffered his grievous muscle something something. They’ve been routed to House and Senate environmental committees, where they will have public hearings early next week. Even with mining in my family history, the OO tends to side with fish these days — if the stocks need protection from even catch-and-release angling, they should probably have their habitat protected a little more too.

IMAGES FROM AN INTENT TO SUE NOTICE FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO ILLUSTRATE TWO ORGANIZATIONS’ CLAIMS THAT WASHINGTON’S SUCTION DREDGING REGULATIONS WEREN’T ENOUGH AT THE TIME WHEN IT CAME TO PROTECTING ESA-LISTED FISH SPECIES.

Bill: HB 5597
Title: “Creating a work group on aerial pesticide applications in forestlands.”
Sponsors: Sens. Rolfes, Saldaña, McCoy, Conway, Hasegawa
Bill digest: Unavailable, but per the bill, it would establish a work group comprised of representatives from various state agencies, timber and environmental interests, among others, “to develop recommendations for improving the best management practices for aerial application of pesticides on state and private forestlands.”
OO analysis: Another bill from a couple weeks ago that the OO totally missed (possibly because he was enveloped by a cloud sprayed on the clearcut he reports all this stuff from), but will be an interesting one when it has a public hearing Feb. 7.

AS FOR OTHER BILLS THE OLYMPIA OUTSIDER™ HAS REPORTED ON so far this session, here’s a snapshot of those that have moved one way or another.

HB 1036, South Coast hatchery salmon production — hearing today in House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

HB 1061, Designating razors as the state clam — an open-and-quickly-closed public hearing was held by the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations .

HB 1230, Making more disabled sportsmen eligible for discounted licenses — hearing held and executive session scheduled today by House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources.

SB 5100, Restarting a pilot hound hunt for cougars in select counties — public hearing held by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks with varying support, opposition and neutralness.

SB 5320, Nonlethal hound training program — hearing held, received widespread support and now scheduled for executive session by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks today. House version set for public hearing later in February.

SB 5404, Fish habitat enhancement projects definitions — hearing scheduled next week in Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.

HB 1579 / SB 5580, Chinook habitat protections and declassifying select game fish — public hearing held earlier this week before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources with strong support from fishermen, tribes, others for major portion of bill addressing hydraulic approvals, but with angler concerns about designation drops for walleye, bass, catfish. Senate version set for hearing next week.

HB 1580 / SB 5577 Vessel disturbance and orcas — public hearing before House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources next week.

SB 5617, banning nontribal gillnets — officially, this bill hasn’t been given a public hearing date since being introduced late last week, but rumor is it will get one before Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks in February.

SSB 5148, OKing hunters to wear pink clothing during certain big, small game seasons — hearing held, received good support and was given a do-pass recommendation by Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. Now in Senate Rules Committee for a second reading

AND AS FOR THE REST OF THE BILLS WE’RE FOLLOWING but which are awaiting committee assignments before the Feb. 22 deadline, those include:

Writing fishing and hunting rights into the state Constitution by a vote of the people — would be nice to get on the ballot, if only Washingtonians could be trusted to vote the right way

Estimating Northeast Washington whitetails — would be nice to get more refined data on the region’s flagtails

Studying human impacts on streambeds — would be nice to know

Turning Bainbridge Island (The Wolfiest!) into a wolf sanctuary — would be nice to visit, but bill not going anywhere

Barring WDFW from lethally removing livestock-depredating wolves — ironically, bill was shot and it limped off and died somewhere on Bainbridge

Banning hounds from being used to track down timber-depredating bears — unlikely to get a hearing

And asking Congress to open hunting seasons on sea lions — not going to happen, even if CNN seems ready to go.

Strong Salmon Habitat Bill Would Also Declassify Popular Fish Species

Washington fishermen and others spoke yesterday in Olympia in support of an orca bill that primarily would increase salmon habitat protections, but concern was also expressed over one part that targets popular game fish.

Under House Bill 1579 and similar legislation introduced in the Senate, walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass and channel catfish would be removed from the list of regulated species in Evergreen State waters.

A TRI-CITIES ANGLER HAD A T-SHIRT MADE OF COLUMBIA RIVER WALLEYE AND CHINOOK HE’S CAUGHT AND THAT HAVE APPEARED ON THE COVER OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE. (JERRY HAN)

The idea came out of Governor Jay Inslee’s orca task force last year, and citing the plight of southern resident killer whales and the lack of Chinook as one of the limiting factors for the state’s J, K and L pods, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon called removing limits on the species a “common sense” solution.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” the Burien Democrat said during a public hearing before Rep. Brian Blake’s Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee.

The four nonnative warmwater species and Chinook primarily overlap in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and in much of the Snake, but also occur in other places such as Lake Washington and portions of warmer rivers such as the lower Yakima and Grande Ronde.

No data was referenced during the hearing, which was televised on TVW, but a 2017 paper by federal researchers found Chinook smolts to be the second largest component of the diets of shoreline-running Snake River smallies between April and September from 2013 to 2015. Idaho kings are among important SRKW feedstocks, according to federal and state biologists.

But the removal of bass, walleye and whiskerfish from game fish status worries some anglers, even as they support the rest of the bill.

Ryley Fee of Puget Sound Anglers said that restoring and protecting habitat is the best long-term hope for recovering salmon and that the bill had “big teeth” in that regard.

We must give the state agencies the effective tools and civil-regulated authority to dissuade anyone from illegally damaging the remaining environment that we have,” he said.

However, Fee asked lawmakers to modify the broad-brush declassification of the four species.

For instance, he suggested only removing the game fish designation in habitats where ocean-going salmon occur and “not in lakes where there are valuable recreational fishing opportunities.”

RYLEY FEE OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS SPEAKS BEFORE A STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON A BILL THAT WOULD ADD “BIG TEETH” TO SALMON HABITAT PROTECTIONS BUT WOULD ALSO DECLASSIFY FOUR FISH SPECIES POPULAR WITH ANGLERS. (TVW)

He proposed two options, listing them as “exotic species” in select watersheds to make the regs more clear, or retaining the game fish designation but liberalizing the bag limits where need be.

Currently in the Columbia and its tributaries below Chief Joe there are no minimum size or daily limits on walleye, bass or catfish, but elsewhere the species generally fall under statewide rules with certain size and bag restrictions.

The bill comes as walleye are increasingly popular to fish for in the big river, with anglers flocking from as far away as the species’ Upper Midwest home waters to try and land the next world record, while local fishermen hope to best John Grubenhoff’s 20-pounder.

And bugeyes, as they’re also known, were among the hits at last weekend’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup.

After the hearing, WDFW legislative liaison Raquel Crosier said that the agency was working on tweaks to the game fish designations.

“We want to make sure anglers are a part of the solution, so we are working with the sponsor to see if we can amend that section of the bill to liberalize bag limits without removing those species from the game fish list,” Crosier said. “Hearing lots of concerns from bass anglers and want to see those concerns addressed. The sponsor is eager to work on addressing these concerns.”

As for the rest of the bill, agency assistant director Jeff Davis expressed support, calling it “really darn important” for protecting SRKWs, salmon recovery investments and comanaged fisheries.

HB 1579 primarily addresses state hydraulic codes and enforcement and among those also speaking in favor were representatives from two tribal organizations and Jacques White of Long Live The Kings.

A SUMMARY OF HB 1579 BY NONPARTISAN LEGISLATIVE STAFF LAYS OUT THE CURRENT BILL’S IMPACTS ON GAME FISH SPECIES AND HYDRAULIC CODE ENFORCEMENT. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

White spoke to how armoring of Puget Sound’s shorelines has affected forage fish spawning areas and that 50 percent fewer Chinook smolts make it out of the inland sea than they once did.

It turns out that the forage fish are a critical element in the health of those juvenile Chinook,” he told lawmakers. “Juvenile Chinook populations 10 or 15 years ago relied heavily on herring in their diet and now they’re relying on crab larvae. Now, I like crab larvae better than I like herring, but apparently our salmon really want to see herring in the water column and in their diet.”

He said forage fish like herring also represent an alternate food source for harbor seals that are otherwise having to prey on Chinook.

“So this bill, I think, is a critical step in us protecting this important habitat,” he said.

However, a representative from the Association of Washington Businesses expressed concerns about the bill’s Hydraulic Project Approval provisions, while another from the Farm Bureau reminded lawmakers that it would affect operations across the state, not just in Puget Sound, and a third from the building industry association was opposed because it impacts how streamlined the process for putting in bulkheads currently is.

Former WDFW Director, NWIFC’s Chair Take Aim At SeaTimes Salmon-Orca Column

You know you’ve done something bad when Phil Anderson has to get involved.

Phil, in case you haven’t heard of him, is the retired director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and currently chairs the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

PHIL ANDERSON. (WDFW)

One day several years ago now when he was still WDFW’s chief head honcho I got an unexpected call from Mr. Anderson about an agency budget blog I’d inadvisedly written. Very shortly thereafter we agreed to a mutually beneficial solution; I’d spike my misinformed post.

This week it’s The Seattle Times that Phil’s reaching out to.

He and Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, have published an opinion piece in response to that column earlier this month entitled “In the great debate to save the orcas, the apex predator is missing.”

In it, author Danny Westneat and his primary source Kurt Beardlee of the Wild Fish Conservancy essentially argue that salmon fishing should be shut down to provide as many Chinook salmon to starving southern resident killer whales

“It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost. Bigger than anything else we could do short term,” Beardslee told Westneat.

Lack of Chinook is a key reason our orcas are struggling, but it’s not as simple as that black-and-white take on how to help the “blackfish.”

Respond Anderson and Loomis: “If recovering chinook salmon were as easy as drastically cutting or eliminating fisheries, we would have achieved our goal a long time ago.”

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST APRIL ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They point out that “at great cost,” state and tribal fisheries have already been cut as much as 90 percent and that shutting down fishing would “at best result in a 1 percent increase of chinook salmon available for southern resident killer whales.”

Loomis and Anderson point to a better approach than Beardslee’s kill-the-goose-laying-the-golden-eggs manifesto — cooperation across all sectors via the newly formed “Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition.”

“There are no more easy answers,” they write. “We are left with the hard work of restoring disappearing salmon habitat, enhancement of hatchery production, and addressing out-of-control seal and sea lion populations.”

If you’re a cheapskate like myself, you only get so many views of Fairview Fannie pieces a month, but Anderson and Loomis’s response is worth burning one on.

And then check out what Puget Sound Angler’s Ron Garner posted on his Facebook page about this as well.

They’re both highly educational as we fight to save orcas, Chinook and fishing.

(For extra credit, I also took on that column here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have been for years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy.

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

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

Whoops.

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

Double whoops.

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

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

We aren’t the problem.

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

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

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

(GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not the answer.

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

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

So we’re setting this right.

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

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part II

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and below are what we reported during the next four, June through September.

JUNE

One of the region’s biggest fish of the year was hooked in late spring in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, a 254- to 265-pound halibut. It was fought and caught by Tom Hellinger with help from son Caleb in late May, but word didn’t begin to hit the mainstream until early June. Though no official measurement was recorded, the 61/2-foot-long flattie was within 25 to 35 pounds of the Washington state record. “I was just really thankful and grateful,” Hellinger told us. “You don’t really realize how rare that is. Big fish are rare. To be an hour from my home and catch something like that is special.” His fish had a 42-pound head, and produced 140 pounds of filets and 1.5 pounds of coveted cheek meat.

ALEISHA, TOM AND CALEB HELLINGER AND LUKE REID POSE WITH TOM’S EASTERN STRAITS HALIBUT. (TOM HELLINGER)

Speaking of big fish, June 21 proved to be a very active day for state records in Washington, where not only was a new high mark set for redbanded rockfish — John Sly’s 7.54-pounder caught off Westport — but arrowtooth flounder — Richard Hale’s 5.93-pounder, landed out of Neah Bay. As 2018 came to a close, there were a total of eight new state record fish caught this year in the Northwest, twice as many as 2017, with seven coming from Washington and nearly all of those caught in the Pacific — three off Westport alone.

ISABELLA TOLEN AND HER 41-POUND TOPE SHARK, THE FIRST EVER SUBMITTED AS A WASHINGTON STATE RECORD. (VIA WDFW)

While mountain goats are meant to hang out in the mountains, federal wildlife managers issued a final record of decision that most of the progeny of those that were introduced by hunting groups in the Olympics in the late 1920s would be captured and taken to the North Cascades, while those that proved too hard to catch would be shot by, among others, “skilled public volunteers.” The two-week-long joint NPS-USFS-WDFW-tribal operation ultimately moved 68 nannies and 30 billies to the other side of Puget Sound, with six kids taken to Northwest Trek and 11 others either dying in the process or deemed “unfit for translocation.” Crews will return to the Olympics in 2019 for another round of removals.

THREE MOUNTAIN GOATS ARRIVE BY HELICOPTER AT A RENDEZVOUS POINT DURING SEPTEMBER’S TWO-WEEK-LONG CAPTURE AND TRANSLOCATION OPERATION. (NPS)

In an “anti-climactic” move, the Supreme Court left a lower court ruling stand that the state of Washington must continue to fix fish passage barriers. While the 4-4 decision was billed as a win for Western Washington treaty tribes, it also saw some sport angler interests side with native fishermen, a turnaround from the Boldt era. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Association of Northwest Steelheaders, among others, filed a friends of the court brief that stated, “With salmon populations hovering at such precariously low levels, the significant increase of spawning and rearing habitat that will result from removal of the state’s barrier culverts would be a lifeline for salmon and fishing families alike.”

There’s a lot of grim news out there about Puget Sound these days — drugged-up mussels and Chinook, starving orcas, too much shoreline armoring, etc., etc. — but spring aerial photos from the state Department of Natural Resources revealed some good: the striking return of anchovy to the waters of the Whulge in recent years. WDFW biologist James Losee said it was part of some “exciting things” happening here from “a prey resource point of view.” In May, the Northwest Treaty Tribes blogged that an anchovy population boom in 2015 might have helped more Nisqually steelhead smolts sneak past all the harbor seals.

A SCREENSHOT FROM A DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY PDF SHOWS SCHOOLS OF BAITFISH OFF THE PURDY SPIT WEST OF TACOMA. (DOE)

Half a decade to the month after first proposing to declare gray wolves recovered across the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere outside the Northern Rockies in the Lower 48 — a process subsequently derailed through lawsuits — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly put out word it had begun “reviewing the status of the species” again. The initial hope was to get a delisting proposal onto the Federal Register by the end of the year, but that did not occur and so the long, slow process will continue into 2019.

After narrowing the director candidate field of 19 to seven and then three, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously chose the Department of Ecology’s Kelly Susewind as the new WDFW chief head honcho. A lifelong hunter and lapsed fisherman, Susewind was hailed as a good choice by members of the sporting world, with Rep. Brian Blake of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and fellow Grays Harbor resident calling him “a force for positive change at DFW.” Susewind took the reins Aug. 1 and had to immediately deal with multiple wolf depredations in the state’s northeast corner.

WDFW’S DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND AT HIS NEW DESK. (WDFW)

For years I’ve reported on the weird wanderings of Northwest wildlife, and June provided two more bizarre examples — a wolverine that visited a very, very non-wolverinelike part of King County in late spring, the woods just outside the lowlands town of Snoqualmie before being found dead along I-90 20 road miles away; and a pair of bull elk that swam over to Orcas Island and gave Uncle John Willis quite a start — “Well, this morning I planned on going to town, but chose not to do that. I looked out my window at my sister’s house and here are two bull elk eating leaves off of a filbert tree in front of her house,” he told us. “I was not quite ready to see two elk this morning.”

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATIONS OF WHERE THE WOLVERINE TURNED UP ON A TRAIL CAM AND WHERE THE SAME ONE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK ON I-90. (WDFW)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelhead in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes came up with a plan to replace the strain in the Skykomish River with Tolt summers instead. The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity and appears to be progressing. Later in the year and in Oregon, a study found “little evidence to suggest a negative effect of hatchery [Skamania] summer steelhead abundance on [wild] winter steelhead productivity.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER’S SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

JULY

In a year of generally poor salmon returns to the Columbia, sockeye came back stronger than expected and that allowed for an unexpected opener on the upper river. And the shad run topped more than 6 million, thoroughly stomping the old high mark of 5.35 million.

SHAD SWIM THROUGH THE FISH LADDER AT BONNEVILLE DAM IN 2017. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

Washington steelheaders again have access to a coveted section of the middle Wynoochee with the opening of a new put-in just below the 7400 Line bridge, thanks to a five-year agreement between WDFW and Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns the land. The river is one of the most productive on the Westside, with over 1,200 winters and nearly 2,100 summers kept during the 2016-17 season, and it’s known for good fishing for wild fish too. But the agreement does come with a caveat, that “access is contingent on good citizenship of those who visit,” according to WDFW.

A MAP PUT TOGETHER BY WDFW SHOWS THE 7400 LINE ACCESS IN THE WYNOOCHEE VALLEY. (WDFW)

July marked the 10-year anniversary of when it became abundantly clear that wolves weren’t just moving through Oregon and Washington anymore, they were settling down and having families. In the subsequent years and along with all the accompanying angst, livestock depredations and poachings, this month also saw an unusual incident in North-central Washington, where a Forest Service stream surveyor was forced to twice climb a tree when she came across the rendezvous site of the very protective Loup Loup Pack. After initial WDFW hesitation about sending in a state helicopter, a DNR bird was dispatched to extract the woman. She was debriefed by a game warden whose after-action report procured through a public records request stated that “(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid.”

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON THE RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). PHOTO/DNR

WDFW began unveiling a new $67 million proposal to fill a large budget gap and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities. It would raise license fees but also puts the onus on the General Fund for three-quarters of the money. The latter is a fundamental shift from the agency’s previous increase pitch that leaned entirely on sportsmen and failed in the state legislature, but also reflects the feeling that the public at large has a larger role to play in helping pay the bills for WDFW’s myriad missions, especially following cuts due to the Great Recession that have not been restored. The Fish and Wildlife Commission initially balked at a 12 to 15 percent fee hike and wanted 5 percent instead, but at the urging of numerous sporting members of the agency’s Budget and Policy Advisory Group and others, went with 15. It’s now up to state lawmakers to approve.

A WDFW GRAPHIC SHOWS WHERE ITS BUDGET GOES, WITH FISH PRODUCTION AND MANAGING ANGLING OPPORTUNITIES ACCOUNTING FOR LARGE CHUNKS. (WDFW)

A new analysis by federal and state biologists showed the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas. Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha Rivers were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs. It led to more calls to increase hatchery production.

The summer of 2018 will long be remembered for what felt like months and months of choking smoke that settled in the Northwest, but the heat was notable too, with Maui-warm waters forming a thermal block at the mouth of the Yakima that forced WDFW to close the Columbia there to prevent overharvest of Cle Elum-bound sockeye, and low, 79-degree flows that led ODFW to reinstate 2015’s trib-mouth fishing closures on the lower Umpqua to protect returning steelhead and Chinook. A couple weeks later Oregon added hoot owl closures on the North Umpqua to protect wild summers that came in well below average.

A FLY ANGLER WORKS THE NORTH UMPQUA (BLM, FLICKR, CC 2.0)

Speaking of well below average and too-warm water, the Ballard Locks count for Lake Washington sockeye came in as the second lowest since 1972, but the grim news only got worse between there and the spawning grounds and hatchery on the Cedar. An “all-time low” entered the river, just 23 percent of how many went through the locks, likely victims of prespawn mortality caused by fish diseases that are “becoming more prevalent/effective with the higher water temperatures” the salmon experience as they swim the relatively shallow Ship Canal to the lake. “Now just about everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” lamented longtime metro lake angler and sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who earlier in the year had helped organize a meeting on how to save the fish and fishery.

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)

The Center for Biological Diversity got a Thurston County Superior Court to temporarily block WDFW from taking out one member of the Togo Pack for a string of cattle depredations, earning the out-of-state organization a strong rebuke from in-state wolf advocates as well as representatives of the hunting community on the Wolf Advisory Group, which helped craft the lethal removal protocols that CBD wants to derail. “Sadly it is all about cash flow,” said WAG member Dave Duncan. A judge ultimately denied CBD’s bid, sending relief — good for some, bitter for others — through Washington’s wolf world and greenlighting WDFW to kill the breeding male, though the group’s underlying beef will still have its day in court.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

Unlike the other end of the wildlife spectrum, sportsmen conservationists don’t often go to court, but hunters heralded a federal judge’s preliminary decision against a plan to build 137 miles of new offroad trails in a Central Oregon national forest. “We fought for elk, and won,” said Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, among several parties that filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service bid to put in the off-highway vehicle trails through critical habitat in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville. They argued that the forest plan violated road density standards and didn’t adequately consider how it would affect calving and rutting elk.

With one of the worst returns of steelhead in dam counting history underway, state managers closed the Deschutes River coolwater plume to all fishing — even fall Chinook — then shut down steelhead retention on 300-plus miles of the Columbia and portions of the lower John Day, closed Drano Lake and Wind River at night, and dropped limits from three to one a day in the Snake watershed. It’s the second season in a row of such strong measures to ensure enough return for spawning needs.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THIS YEAR’S STEELHEAD RUN (RED LINE) AT BONNEVILLE DAM AS IT COMPARES TO LAST YEAR’S LOW RETURN (BLUE LINE) AND THE TEN-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK LINE), A DECADE THAT SAW A RECORD 604,000 IN 2009. (FPC)

There were a number of large-scale poachings in 2018 — the three people who’d dug 37 times their daily limit of clams, for instance — but one of the most jaw dropping was the de facto commercial fishing operation a 74-year-old Kitsap County resident was running in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu. When his 23-foot Maxxum was boarded, a state game warden and sheriff’s deputies found he had five more lines out than allowed, six barbed hooks and was in possession of eight more fish than permitted — including five off-limits wild kings and wild coho. The consensus was that this was not the guy’s first rodeo, given the complexity of fishing five commercial flasher-lure combos off bungees behind two downriggers. The boat, which was seized, is now the property of the state of Washington as its forfeiture was not contested, along with the gear, and the man has been charged by county prosecutors with 10 criminal violations.

WDFW OFFICER BRYAN DAVIDSON POSES WITH THE 23-FOOT MAXUM CABIN CRUISER, TRAILER, DOWNRIGGERS, FISHING ROD AND COMMERCIAL FLASHER-LURE COMBOS SEIZED FOLLOWING AN AT-SEA INSPECTION THAT TURNED UP EGREGIOUS FISHING RULES VIOLATIONS. (WDFW)

SEPTEMBER

Just a week after ODFW lifted the Deschutes plume fishing closure, allowing anglers to target fall Chinook there as the Columbia’s upriver bright run got going, Oregon and Washington salmon managers shut it and the rest of the big river from Buoy 10 to Pasco due to lower than expected returns and catches of Snake River wild kings that were subsequently in excess of ESA mortality allowances. Not long afterwards, the limit in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia above Tri-Cities was also reduced to one. It all felt like a stunning U-turn from just three Septembers before, when managers had adjusted their fall Chinook forecast upwards to a staggering 1,095,900 — ultimately 1.3 million entered the river — to cap off three successive gargantuan runs. But on the bright side, late October’s King of the Reach live-capture derby brought in a record number of fish — over 1,200 — to fuel a hatchery broodstock program.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

As if wolf issues weren’t hot enough in August, things really heated up in September when what was eventually named the Old Profanity Territory Pack killed one calf and injured three others. While WDFW built its case, key groups balked at going lethal though the protocol had been met because of the fast, repeated nature of depredations there. As more occurred, Director Susewind ultimately gave the go-ahead to kill a wolf or two to head off more livestock attacks, and after histrionics on Twitter, in superior court and at the steps of the state capital, the next week WDFW took out a juvenile.

US and Canadian salmon managers reached a new 10-year West Coast Salmon Treaty on Chinook harvest and conservation, one that must still be approved in the countries’ capitals but calls for reduced northern interceptions when runs are poor. Fisheries off Southeast Alaska would be cut as much as 7.5 percent from 2009-15 levels in those years, those off the west coast of Vancouver Island up to 12.5 percent, while Alaska salmon managers report that Washington and Oregon fisheries could see reductions from 5 to 15 percent.

In a great-news story, Boggan’s Oasis, the famed waystation on the Grande Ronde River that burned down in November 2017, reopened and was again serving up its famous milkshakes and more to hungry and thirsty steelheaders, travelers and others along lonely Highway 129 in extreme Southeast Washington. “The layout’s about the same, but it’s a bigger building,” said coproprietor Bill Vail, who added that he and wife Farrel were “happy to start the next chapter in our lives.”

(BOGGAN’S OASIS)

With a win-win habitat project mostly wrapped up, Oregon’s Coquille Wildlife Area reopened in time for the start of fall waterfowl seasons. Restoration of the Winter Lake Tract will provide young Endangered Species Act-listed coho salmon with 8 miles of winding tidal channels and will also help local cattle ranchers stay in business. “The tide gates, working with reconnected channels and new habitat will provide the best of both worlds,” said the National Marine Fisheries Service, which stated that 95 percent of the Coquille’s best salmon habitat has been lost since settlement.

AN AERIAL IMAGE SHOWS NEW CHANNELS FOR FISH HABITAT CREATED AT WINTER LAKE, PART OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE’S COQUILLE VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA. (CBI CONTRACTING VIA NMFS)

And in what certainly was the Northwest poaching case with the highest fine, Hoon Namkoong of Orient Seafood Production of Fife was sentenced to pay Washington and Westside tribes $1.5 million in restitution for buying and selling 250,000 pounds of sea cucumbers illegally harvested by tribal and nontribal divers in Puget Sound in recent years. The activities came at a time that concerned fishery managers were lowering quotas for legal harvesters due to declining numbers of the echinoderm, but the illegal picking was actually increasing. “It is no wonder, then, that we have failed to see signs of recovery as a result of the work of sea cucumber managers and the sacrifices of the lawfully compliant harvesters,” said a WDFW manager in presentencing documents. Namkoong was also sentenced to two years in prison.

Editor’s note: OK, this was supposed to be just a two-part YIR, but I gotta catch my breath now so I can try to put together the events of October, November and December in a couple days.

Governor’s Budget Proposal Includes ‘Unprecedented’ $1.1B For Orcas, Salmon

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is touting an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his just-released 2019-21 budget proposal.

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

It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts to increase returns by 186,000 fish, potentially a key bridge for starving orcas — and fishermen — as habitat work comes on line in the coming years and decades.

“Salmon hatcheries can play an important role in increasing prey abundance for Southern Resident orcas in the near term,” the next three to 10 years, a statement from Inslee’s office on Medium states.

Besides increasing SRKWs’ prey base, the governor’s multipronged approach includes a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, opening up more salmon habitat as well as to abide by this year’s Supreme Court decision to let a lower court’s ruling on fixing culverts to stand.

There’s a much-needed $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries, $17.8 million to incentivize voluntary habitat work by landowners and $4.7 million to “collect additional population information and develop management options for pinnipeds in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River.”

This week, Congress sent President Trump a bill that helps on the latter waterway, giving states and tribes more leeway to remove sea lions in parts of the big river and its tribs.

Another line mentions reducing salmonid predation by nonnative fish.

The budget also calls on DOE to allow more spill at dams in the Columbia Basin to aid outmigrating Chinook and other smolts.

“Increased spill will speed travel of smolts out to the ocean and help cool the water,” the governor’s Medium page story states.

Inslee’s also calling for go-slow zones around J, K and L Pods and a three-year moratorium on watching those particular whales.

Those and many of the other proposals unveiled today came out of the SRKW Task Force that the governor formed last March in response to decreasing numbers of southern residents. Since 1996’s high point, their population has dropped 24 percent to 74 animals, with several recent high-profile deaths spurring things on.

Of course there’s far, far more to Inslee’s proposed budget, including proposed fishing and hunting license fee increases.

And it all must first be passed or modified by state lawmakers during next year’s session.

But today’s rollout was a start to a better focus on the health of salmon runs, orcas and our fisheries and waters.