Tag Archives: SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES

Washington Bass, Walleye In Crosshairs For Orca Recovery?

Smallmouth, largemouth, walleye and other popular but nonnative gamefish species might one day be reclassified as invasive in Washington, a proposal meant to help out the prey of struggling killer whales but one that would further alienate warmwater anglers who already feel like the state’s redheaded stepchildren.

A POTENTIAL RECOMMENDATION BY WASHINGTON’S ORCA TASK FORCE COULD PUT A CHILL ON WALLEYE, A NONNATIVE SPECIES THAT ALSO CONSUMES CHINOOK AND OTHER SALMONID SMOLTS WHILE PROVIDING EXCELLENT FISHING OPPORTUNITIES IN FALL, LATE WINTER AND SPRING ON THE COLUMBIA NEAR TRI-CITIES. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

A Seattle TV station got ahold of that and other draft recommendations that Governor Jay Inslee’s state orca task force has developed ahead of their Monday, Sept. 24 release for public comment.

According to KCPQ, “Prey Potential Recommendation 27” calls on Inslee to support adding bass, walleye, catfish, perch and more to a list that includes northern pike, several species of carp and northern snakeheads.

The idea is “to allow and encourage removal of these predatory fish in the waters containing salmon or other ESA-listed species,” according to documents that reporter Brett Cihon cites.

The papers state:

“Walleye in the Columbia River are reported to consume more than two juvenile salmon daily while bass are reported to consume more than one juvenile salmon per day. There are likely millions of these non-native predatory fish in Washington waters, including Lake Washington and other water bodies, containing salmon. Twenty-four million salmon smolts are consumed by these non-native species between McNary Dam and Priest Rapids dam.”

It wasn’t clear where the reported figures originated, but walleye do now occur throughout much of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as many Columbia Basin reservoirs and lakes.

These waters are so rich with forage – and not just salmonid smolts but young shad, perch, catfish and squawfish, according to guides quoted in a Northwest Sportsman article during last winter’s trophy fishery period – that anglers come from the home of walleye, the Upper Midwest, to try and catch fish into the high teens if not set a new state or world records, or at least personal bests.

Bass are simply everywhere, in lakes and slower, warmer rivers across the state, and support a number of fishing tournaments.

A 2011 paper KCPQ cited captured the dichotomy between the species’ value to anglers and fisheries and its danger to native fish. Researchers said there were 75,000 smallmouth bass anglers in Washington in 2006, or 14 percent of the state’s fishermen, and they spent 1.1 million days afield to the tune of $32.6 million in economic activity.

Those figures were also mostly below 1996 levels in not only Washington but Oregon and Idaho. The paper suggested site-specific regulations for areas of known salmonid smolt concentrations.

Since it came out, Washington and Oregon have moved to liberalize walleye, bass and catfish regulations, dropping size and daily limits on the Columbia and its tributaries, after pressure from federal overseers to show the states are doing something to reduce predation on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead smolts.

But now the focus is on orcas and their prey. Fall Chinook from the Lower Columbia and its tribs, as well as the Hanford Reach and Snake River, along with spring and summer king stocks from the Cowlitz, Kalama and Idaho rivers were found to be among the most important to southern resident killer whales, according to a new analysis out earlier this summer.

Anglers are being paid to remove northern pikeminnows, a native but numerous species that have benefited from the damming of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and they’re also getting cash to cut off the heads of northern pike in Lake Roosevelt.

KCPQ also reported that among other potential recommendations, the task force suggests removing three smaller dams on the Middle Fork Nooksack, Pilchuck and Naches Rivers; support efforts in Congress to make it easier to remove sea lions from more Lower Columbia Basin waters; establish a “no white-water wake” within half a mile of orcas; and develop a new limited-entry whale-watch boat permit program.

Some observers of the process are reported to feel that the measures aren’t strong enough or that their effects are too short-term.

Fish Commissioner Calls For Sharp Increase In Chinook Production For Orcas

Fifty million more Chinook would be released for southern resident killer whales under a plan being pitched by a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and which would also provide “shirttail benefits” for salmon anglers.

Don McIsaac wants to release 30 million kings in four areas of Puget Sound, and another 20 million from hatcheries in the Columbia River system to help feed the starving pods.

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

Their plight has gripped the region this summer and this past March led Governor Jay Inslee to sign an executive order directing state agencies such as WDFW to do all they can to help save the species.

The retired longtime director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, McIsaac’s been active on the commission working towards those goals and he detailed his latest proposal on The Outdoor Line on Seattle’s 710 ESPN this past Saturday morning.

“These (smolts) would be released in carefully selected areas where negative impacts to the genetic strains of wild Chinook salmon would be minimized and using genetic strains for hatchery production that have migration patterns that take them to the areas where the killer whales are so they can feed on them,” he said.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

“The intent is to make a significant difference, a big difference, in the number of adult Chinook available to killer whales and tag along some significant fishery improvements,” said McIsaac.

Lack of prey is one of the primary factors in why local orcas are doing so poorly.

Fellow commissioners heard McIsaac’s proposal earlier this month and deferred action on it until September, and now he’s looking for support from anglers.

Under his plan, the Puget Sound smolts would be released from “dead end bay areas,” places like Olympia’s Deschutes River (10 million), which has a waterfall near its lower end.

“This is the kind of excellent area where you could enhance the number of Chinook salmon released and not cause problems with wild salmon but gain the benefits of these salmon swimming up through Puget Sound, hanging around Puget Sound, which can be done by manipulating when you release the fish,” McIsaac said.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

Others include East Sound between two lobes of Orcas Island (10 million), Agate Pass (5 million) and southern Hood Canal (5 million).

Chinook from the Deschutes and Hood Canal were identified as two of the most important current stocks for orcas, according to a recent analysis.

So too were spring Chinook from Lower Columbia tribs, and McIsaac’s plan would increase production of them and other king stocks.

“There will be some shirttail benefits of all these fish swimming around, and whenever a fishing season is open, then this would benefit fisheries,” McIsaac acknowledged. “So this is intended to be kind of a win-win scenario. They don’t come around that often … but that’s what is intended.”

But his plan primarily aims to test whether increasing prey availability will help reverse orcas’ decline over the decades.

A recent paper suggests that harbor seals and sea lions are now consuming six times as many Puget Sound Chinook as recreational and commercial fisheries — and twice as much as SRKWs.

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

McIsaac and the commission recently passed a policy statement that advocates a “goal of significantly reducing pinniped predation on salmon” in the Columbia and Puget Sound. On the radio show he cautioned that that shouldn’t be exaggerated into a call for a “huge lethal removal effort,” rather behavior oriented.

As runs have declined due to longterm habitat issues and other factors and state hatchery production has been cut in half from 56 million in 1989 to 28 million in 2016, angling seasons have also been pruned way back, yet there are rumblings more might be coming.

“Closing back fisheries isn’t going to put enough in front of them,” McIsaac told Outdoor Line cohosts Tom Nelson and John Martinis. “And if you just look at closing these fisheries in Puget Sound alone, the number becomes even smaller. People say just close things off of this side of that island or that side of the other island, (but) the numbers are so small they just won’t make a difference.”

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO THE RACEWAYS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS COHO, SUMMER CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Anglers are being rallied to an orca task force meeting tomorrow at the Swinomish Casino over fears that salmon fishing will be scapegoated instead of dealing with the big issues.

It’s not clear how long it would take to collect the necessary number of eggs, how much new infrastructure might be needed and whether McIsaac’s plan would be challenged — some are scorning the idea that hatchery production might be a real bridge.

And for his part, McIsaac openly admitted that increasing Chinook production will take a lot of money and said some should come from the federal government.

“I think it’s time for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to make a strong policy statement, to go big and try to address this situation.. The revenue situation in the state of Washingotn is very positive. We’re not in a recession … There’s a lot of tax money that’s out there for the legislature to think about spending and we hope that they think about the killer whales, they think about the fishing industry. Again, this seems like a win-win proposal and it’s money well spent,” he said.

Host Nelson urged anglers to support his idea by emailing the commission@wdfw.wa.gov.

And McIsaac asked them to also talk with “friends in the conservation community” to increase awareness of the issue.

Study Shows Importance Of Puget Sound Chinook Production To Starving Orcas

A new analysis is showing the importance of Puget Sound Chinook for the inland sea’s orcas.

Fall kings from the Nooksack to the Deschutes to the Elwha were ranked as the most important current feedstocks for the starving southern residents, followed by Lower Columbia and Strait of Georgia tribs.

A JOINT STATE-FEDERAL ANALYSIS IDENTIFIED THE SNOHOMISH RIVER BASIN AS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCERS OF CHINOOK FOR LOCAL ORCAS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

For the analysis, NOAA and WDFW sampled orca doots to “assist in prioritizing actions to increase critical prey for the whales.”

Nutritional stress has been identified as among the chief causes of their declining numbers, and the news comes as officials report a newborn calf died off Victoria yesterday. Just half of the 28 reproductive-age “blackfish” have produced calves in the last 10 years, another report said.

“Ramp up the hatchery production. Do it now. It’s the only way,” says Tom Nelson, co-host of Seattle outdoors radio show The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN.

He was reacting this morning while fishing for coho at Possession Bar to a Seattle Times scoop on the findings.

Reporter Lynda V. Mapes writes that from the standpoint of federal overseers, “In some instances, it might make more sense to focus on habitat restoration rather than increasing hatchery releases, [NOAA’s Lynn] Barre said. “It has to be evaluated on a watershed level … It’s not just ‘let’s make more fish to feed the whales,’ hold on, there are a few things to consider.’”

A MATRIX FROM THE NOAA-WDFW RANKS THE MOST IMPORTANT CHINOOK STOCKS FOR SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES BY BASIN.

Nelson, who has a degree in fisheries biology, acknowledges that the problems salmon and orcas face are highly complex, with few if any single-faceted answers, but with J, K and L pods down to just 75 animals, action is needed right now, and not just restricting already restricted salmon seasons.

“A significant increase in hatchery releases has to happen. Anything else is a long-term fix. The killer whales don’t have time,” Nelson says.

With nine out of every 10 adult Puget Sound Chinook born at, reared in and released from hatcheries, the state is planning on bolstering prroduction, with the Fish and Wildlife Commission making moves towards that, along with adding  protections for orcas from vessels, another key factor in their struggles. Pollutants also play a role.

Both the salmon stock and marine mammals are listed under the Endangered Species Act, which NOAA is charged with enforcing.

But to achieve a meaningful increase in wild Chinook numbers, you have to have better habitat, Nelson says, and that’s unlikely to occur any time soon in our densely populated region.

“If you think you’re going to get everyone to move out of the Central Sound and get it back to presettlement days, you’re dreaming,” Nelson says.

A lot of habitat work is occurring in estuaries, side channels and elsewhere, but results are painfully slow, and that pace could impact the region’s interest in continuing with the much-needed work.

Meanwhile, 89 percent of this year’s forecast of 255,219 fall kings expected to return to Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and Hood Canal rivers are hatchery fish.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO AN UNUSED RACEWAY AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER KINGS. CHINOOK PRODUCTION IN WESTERN WASHINGTON IS HALF OF WHAT IT WAS IN 1989 AS HATCHERY PRACTICES HAVE BEEN REFORMED TO HELP WILD STOCKS RECOVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The importance of Puget Sound Chinook — both wild and adipose-fin-clipped hatchery ones — to SRKWs is otherwise obvious because of where they hang out, off the Washington Coast, in the Straits and in the San Juans, where those salmon stocks return through on the way to their home rivers.

Upper and Middle Columbia and Snake upriver brights, and Fraser, Lower Columbia trib and Fraser springers were also highly important stocks, the analysis found.

But they also fed to a degree on Chinook from as far away as the Sacramento and Southeast Alaska.

“We can use this information as a guide, based on the best science, to help inform decisions about how we spend recovery dollars for both salmon and Southern Resident killer whales,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, in a NOAA news story on the analysis. “We remain committed to recovery of all West Coast salmon stocks, and this helps us understand where we can maximize our resources and partnerships to help killer whales too.”

In the words of one close observer of the salmon world, the whales don’t care if kings have an extra fin or not, yet hatchery production has and probably will face more legal challenges.

With harbor seals and sea lions identified as eating large numbers of Puget Sound Chinook before they can mature into orca fodder, Nelson also called for reducing pinniped numbers, which he says could show results in as few as three years in terms of salmon prey availability for killer whales.

A HARBOR SEAL STEALS A SAN JUANS CHINOOK LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

That and hatchery production would also yield more fish for anglers and help WDFW sell more licenses, easing its budget issues.

With Orcas In Mind, WA Salmon Hatchery Reform Policy Under Review

Three principles dictating salmon hatchery operations in Washington have been suspended by the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a policy review, a move in part reflecting a “change in attitude” about production practices.

It comes as the state begins to respond in earnest to the plight of southern resident orcas — one of which was reported missing and presumed dead over the weekend, bringing Puget Sound’s population to its lowest point in 30 years.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT PEERS INTO THE RACEWAYS AT THE WALLACE SALMON HATCHERY NEAR GOLD BAR. THE FACILITY REARS SUMMER CHINOOK, COHO AND STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I’m afraid that a lot of potential sites where there could be Chinook enhancement to increase the prey base for killer whales will be disqualified by our own policy,” said Commissioner Don McIsaac of Hockinson, in Clark County, during Friday’s meeting of the citizen panel.

In mid-March, Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing WDFW to increase hatchery production of king salmon, the primary feedstock for resident orcas and the lack of which could be leading to their low reproduction rates.

Vessel traffic and pollution have also been identified as problems.

Saying that after 10 years it was time for a review, McIsaac made the motion to suspend the first three tenets of the commission’s CR 3619, Hatchery and Fishery Reform Policy, including using guidance from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, and prioritizing broodstock from local watersheds.

He noted that genetic protections for wild Chinook would still be in place through Endangered Species Act restrictions.

“What I wouldn’t want to have anyone to believe is that this would be going back to what was characterized as the Johnny Appleseed days before of no hatchery constraints on operations,” McIsaac said. “We’re looking for good hatchery operations, and so what this is more about is just some slight differences here over the course of the next six months to allow for a good look at this and not to squelch any killer whale initiatives that are out there.”

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

He termed it “a change in attitude about our salmon hatchery policy” and indeed, his six- to 12-month review will look at results of those reforms, updating scientific knowledge and could include “changing language tone about the positive value of hatchery programs,” as well as consider adding mitigation facilities.

While Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane expressed some concern about suspending portions of the policy, Commissioners Jay Holzmiller of Anatone and Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon voiced their support of it.

“I don’t want to blame anybody here, but what we’re doing now, and I’m not just speaking to HSRG … across the board simply isn’t working. It’s not working for businesses, it’s not working for individuals, it’s not working for state government. The money’s drying up, the salmon are drying up,” said Carpenter.

In 1989, the state, tribes, feds and others released 71 million Chinook; in 2016, just 33 million were, due in part to WDFW budget cuts over the years.

Yet even with ESA listings,  hatchery reforms and millions upon millions spent on habitat work, wild king numbers are still poor, suggesting something different is at play — perhaps density of harbor seals, according to a just-released paper, not releases of clipped Chinook.

“I simply have a forecast in my view that if we don’t make a change in our programs and methodology, that we don’t have more than 10 years left to have a salmon fishery of any kind — of any kind — in this state,” said Carpenter. “Let’s figure something out and get going on it.”

“Of any kind” surely was a reference to tribal fishing, and in a June 14 letter to Inslee, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission lent their considerable weight to the issue.

NWIFC Executive Director Justin Parker wrote that his organization wanted to work with the governor’s office to “develop an appropriate and accountable co-manager scientific review process at the same time that the HSRG’s role is phased out of the State budget language and process.”

Certain elements in WDFW’s appropriations are tied to HSRG.

He suggested that it lacks accountability and process, doesn’t undergo enough peer review scrutiny, diminishing its “credibility,” and is scientifically stagnant.

Where the 1970s’ Boldt Decision split the two fleets for decades, more and more, tribal and recreational fishermen are finding common cause. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association supported the tribes and feds side against the state of Washington in the culvert case that came before the Supreme Court, and Puget Sound Anglers president Ron Garner recently had the extremely rare honor for a nontribal member — let alone a sport fisherman — of being invited to an NWIFC meeting.

“Over and over I was told, ‘It took some courage for you to come here today.’ It didn’t take courage,” said Garner during public comment last Friday afternoon on HSRG. “It took us running out of fish. We are running out of fish … We are so aligned on our problems it’s nuts. We understand them. It’s going to take us and the tribes to fix them.”

DON PITTWOOD SHOWS OFF A HATCHERY CHINOOK CAUGHT OFF WHIDBEY ISLAND’S POSSESSION POINT DURING THE SUMMER MARK-SELECTIVE FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Despite being the newest member of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, it’s the second major salmon-related shift McIsaac’s been involved with this year.

This past winter, with WDFW honchos folding to pressure from the National Marine Fisheries Service on Puget Sound Chinook management and which could have sharply curtailed already-reduced fisheries, he called for a conservation hatchery on a habitat-constrained river system, an example of thinking outside of the box rather than going along for the ride to ruin.

“Much more needs to be done outside of fishery restrictions,” he said at the time.

On Friday afternoon, in a voice vote on McIsaac’s salmon hatchery reform motion, no nays were heard. Afterwards, clapping from the audience could be.

Salmon Fishing Closures Announced In BC Waters Across From Washington

Canadian salmon managers have announced a series of closures and reduced Chinook limits in British Columbia saltwaters across from Washington and up the coast, bids to help out orca whales and conserve fish stocks.

A large swath of the northern half of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Renfrew — opposite Neah Bay — to just west of Sooke — across from the Joyce area west of Port Angeles — will be closed to all salmon and finfish angling from June 1 to September 30.

(DFO)

Waters northwest of Orcas Island in the Gulf Islands and off the mouth of the Fraser River will also see Chinook closures.

(DFO)

“These measures include closures that will help increase the availability of this critical food source for southern resident killer whales,” the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement. “The closures will take place in three key foraging (feeding) areas.”

While the goal is to reduce fishing boat traffic, it wasn’t clear what might be being done about all the other vessels using the same waters.

DFO also announced that daily limits are being chopped in half on the north coast.

Overall, Canada’s two-pronged move aims to reduce commercial and recreational catches by 25 to 35 percent to boost numbers of kings returning to southern BC’s Fraser River and northern BC’s Skeena, Nass and other streams.

On the former front, it’s part of an international effort to help out struggling orcas.

(DFO)

It follows Washington’s closure of Chinook retention in the San Juan Islands in September, a good month to fish for Fraser-bound fish that are also preyed on by orcas.

WDFW also implemented new voluntary go-go zones along the west side of San Juan Island, a key feeding area for the giant marine mammals, but which were panned by a local angler as a feel-good move that doesn’t address root causes of the orcas’ plight — too few Chinook anymore.

DFO’s moves were also met with skepticism from the Sport Fishing Institute of BC.

“It is clear to see that decisions have been made to appear as though they will make a significant difference to the recovery of SRKW although there is little or no evidence of this,” the organization said in a statement. “While the recreational community has indicated a willingness to participate in measures that can lead to recovery of Chinook (and SRKW), the measures announced today are much more restrictive than the department itself explained was necessary to satisfy conservation objectives.”

SFI said that habitat, predator and “strategic enhancement” work for Fraser Chinook has “gone no where (sic)” and asked whether DFO really thought it could restore runs through the “now tiny exploitation rate associated with recreational fishing? Chinook and all those that depend on them deserve solutions and investment.”

Reacting to the developments, Nootka Marine, located further up the west coast of Vancouver Island from the closure zone, tweeted out a link to regulations for Nootka Sound and Esperanza Inlet.

DFO says the Straits, Gulf and Fraser mouth closures will be monitored “to assess the effectiveness.”

A WDFW official says besides the state’s closing of September Chinook retention and the voluntary stay-away areas, no more fishing measures to benefit orcas are anticipated to be implemented this year.

 

San Juan Islands Angler Leery Of Voluntary No-boat Zone For Orcas

Kevin Klein has done his part to feed starving southern resident killer whales in Puget Sound.

As he fought a very big Chinook in the San Juans a few summers ago, a bull from J-pod swam over from a quarter mile away and chomped off the meatiest bits of the salmon.

“I THINK ALL OF US WANT THE BEST FOR THE ORCAS. THAT’S NUMBER ONE,” SAYS SAN JUAN ISLANDS ANGLER KEVIN KLEIN, HERE WITH ALL THAT WAS LEFT AFTER A KILLER WHALE SNARFED A BIG CHINOOK OFF HIS LINE IN JULY 2013. (KEVIN KLEIN)

The encounter left Klein temporarily deflated and holding a 5-pound fish head, but also gave him a new appreciation for the “giant marine super predator.”

That might help explain why he’s not too crazy about WDFW’s request yesterday for boaters to voluntarily avoid a quarter- to half-mile-wide strip along much of the west side of San Juan Island, prime feeding and fishing grounds for orcas and anglers alike.

The goal is to reduce human activity there and follows federal overseers’ call to do more to protect the endangered pods in Washington waters.

But Klein says it won’t do a bit of good to help out the killer whales and instead is just a “feel-good ‘win'” for the species’ enthusiasts.

“They did something. Picked some low-hanging fruit so now the grant money can keep coming in. If there is no problem with the killer whales, then professional orca advocates don’t have funding or jobs. So it’s in their best interests to perpetuate a problem rather that actually addressing the tougher issues that would help the whales,” says the Anacortes-based angler and yacht brokerage employee.

Lined up against fixes such as increasing hatchery salmon production and reducing pinniped and fish-eating bird predation are groups like the overly litigious Wild Fish Conservancy and PETA, which Klein claims are ready to sue the state as well as “take on even the Puget Sound tribes and boycott casinos if you start culling cuddly seals and sea lions.”

Other challenges include northern fleets’ interception of salmon bound for Northwest rivers, which in some cases have severe habitat issues.

He says he doesn’t want people to chase whales and notes that there are laws against that already.

The state legislature passed a measure in 2008, and a 2011 rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bars “vessels from approaching any killer whale closer than 200 yards and forbid vessels from intercepting a whale or positioning the vessel in its path” in Washington’s inside waters.

But NOAA has been pushing for more and more action, and earlier this year Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order directing WDFW and other state agencies to do all they could to help out the killer whales.

That included bumping hatchery production, though it will take several years for those fish to become available, and pruning salmon seasons in some areas.

When we posted WDFW’s press release on its “difficult request” to San Juan Islands fishermen Tuesday afternoon, anglers generally reacted against it.

They’ve already kicked us in the teeth taking September Chinook away. So … no,” wrote Bellingham angler Rory O’Connor, referring to the closure of the popular Chinook fishery that time of year in the islands.

Besides seven likes of the post, there were no supportive comments, though there was more on the agency’s version.

According to WDFW, the voluntary no-go zone — a quarter-mile strip of shoreline from Mitchell Bay to Cattle Point, with a half-mile bubble around Lime Kiln Lighthouse — is the “most frequently” used feeding and lounging area for southern residents.

(WDFW)

“This step will help support killer whale recovery and prevents a potential delay in federal approval for our salmon fisheries throughout the entire Sound,” Fish Program chief Ron Warren said in a press release.

He takes the long view, adding that recovering orcas “will mean more salmon returning to Puget Sound each year, which will benefit anglers” too.

Ultimately, the request is another straw on the usual camel’s back, sportfishermen, who are already bearing the burden of Washington’s failure as a whole to stem the loss of salmon.

Is it one straw too many this time, or the wrong straw?

“Really, we all know that the orcas aren’t bothered one bit by our 20- to 30-foot rec boats trolling at 2 mph,” says Klein. “The best thing a small rec boat can do is just keep trolling and let the whales react to you on a predictable path. If anything, they are attracted to us and curious. I think they know exactly what we are doing and might even think it’s funny.”

“They are highly advanced super predators. Top of the food chain, with sonar and perceptions of their world that we can’t begin to fathom,” he says. “Give them some credit. They’ll thrive with more fish in the water.”

Inslee Directs State Agencies To Increase Salmon To Help Puget Sound Orcas

Harkening back to fishing in the San Juan Islands as a lad and hearing the booming breath of orcas in the fog, Washington Governor Jay Inslee today launched a new initiative to save the imperiled species.

He issued an executive order that in part calls for increased hatchery production of Chinook — the primary feedstock for southern resident killer whales.

A SCREENSHOT FROM TVW SHOWS WASHINGTON GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE SPEAKS BEFORE SIGNING AN EXECUTIVE ORDER ON ORCAS AND CHINOOK TODAY. (TVW)

But since it will take several years before those salmon make it to saltwater, he also asked the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to tweak this year’s recreational and commercial fisheries to make more available in key orca foraging areas and called on the region’s other salmon managers to help towards that goal.

It remains to be seen how 2018 seasons might be affected by the governor’s directive, signed at a tribal cultural center at Discovery Park moments ago, but in the short term, it could restrict salmon fishing in some parts of Puget Sound, though in the long term might boost it overall.

Inslee’s order also asks for more and sharper focus on habitat and fish passage work that directly benefits Chinook, as well as increased policing of waters where boaters and orcas cruise.

The just-passed state operating and last year’s Capital Budgets provide funding for the hatchery ($1.5 million) and enforcement ($548,000) pieces of that puzzle.

But the governor also gave WDFW a deadline of January 2019 to figure out the most important habitats for orcas and their prey, with an eye towards guiding the overall effort to bring orca numbers back up from their three-decade low of 76 and improve their health.

That could help fill in the blanks about which actions actually might be the most productive over the long haul.

Earlier this month, in a guidance letter to West Coast fishery managers, regional National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Barry Thom wrote that recent studies have linked killer whales’ low reproduction rates of late to “nutritional limitations.”

Part of Inslee’s executive order is for more focus on cleaning up Puget Sound contaminants, which get into the flesh of salmon as they feed on other fish and organisms and is passed up the food chain to long-lived killer whales.

Another strategy will be to do as much as can be under federal laws to manage the increasing bite that sea lions and harbor seals are taking out of Puget Sound orcas’ breakfast, lunch and dinner.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS PIC IN FEBRUARY 2015 OF A HARBOR SEAL STEALING A RESIDENT CHINOOK OFF THE LINE OF A SAN JUAN ISLAND ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

A task force will make further recommendations.

Inslee said that the fate of orcas, Chinook and Washingtonians are intertwined, and said the order committed the state to actively recover killer whales.

Other speakers today included Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe who called the effort a “vital and important mission” that would take “some pain” and sacrifices to ensure its success.

During the signing ceremony, Inslee pointed outside and jokingly said that J-pod was swimming past at just that moment, then told a phalanx of agency directors and others to “Get to work.”

Olympia Update: Fishermen Support Boosting Salmon Production For Orcas; More Bills In Play

Top Washington fishing organizations lent strong support to a bill that would raise 10 million more Chinook and other salmon a year — for orcas.

Leaders and representatives from Puget Sound Anglers, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Fish Northwest and Coastal Conservation Association, the salmon fishing ports of Ilwaco and Westport and commercial fleets all spoke in favor of House Bill 2417, which provides $1.55 million in General Fund revenues for the bid to benefit the state’s struggling killer whale population.

A MEMBER OF A SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALE POD FLICKS ITS TAIL. (CANDACE EMMONS, NMFS, FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/)

It’s one of two major proposals this session to ramp up salmon production, the other being in Governor Jay Inslee’s budget, which also features fixing up hatcheries to support the goal and increased patrols to protect the marine mammals.

During yesterday’s public hearing on HB 2417 before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, PSA’s Ron Garner called orcas “one of the neatest animals in the world” and shared up-close encounters as the whales chased salmon against his fishing boat to catch their dinner.

“I think this is a time when all of us to come together — the tribes, the commercials, the recreationals — all of us can come together because we need to save our precious orcas,” said Garner. “It’s a way of life, our fishing, and if we’re able to fish more with it, that’s great, but we can’t let our orcas go extinct on our watch. I think that’s an important thing. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t support helping our orcas out.”

Butch Smith, representing both the Ilwaco and Westport Charterboat Associations, said, “The ocean salmon fishermen do not want the orca to go extinct, especially when we have the ability to produce salmon to help the orca whale.”

Steve Westrick, skipper of the Westport-based Hula Girl, said that diminishing hatchery production had put orcas close to a tipping point.

“The whole world’s watching us,” said Greg King of Friends of the Cowlitz. “Are we going to let these orcas die and have that blood on our hands? I don’t think we want that, and I support two four one seven.”

The bill also drew support from two representatives from the commercial fishing industry, Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association and Dale Beasley of the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries.

But some like NSIA also called on prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake, Democrat of Aberdeen, to expand it to include hatcheries in Puget Sound and bump up production goals.

And Garner pointed out that strong harbor seal predation on Chinook smolts also needs to be addressed.

Under the bill’s initial version, the salmon would be raised at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kalama Falls, Beaver Creek, Naselle, Humptulips, Skookumchuck, and Lake Aberdeen hatcheries.

Penny Becker, WDFW diversity manager, said her agency was in favor of HB 2417.

“We’re committed to ramping up hatchery production to try and deal with this issue of prey availability for southern residents as possible,” she said.

Becker said WDFW was working with Blake on production goals and cautioned that Endangered Species Act issues, Hatchery Review Scientific Group recommendations and broodstock requirements needed to be considered.

Some of those concerns were echoed by retired WDFW Director Phil Anderson, who now sits on the Pacific Salmon Commission and is chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and who also called the bill a “great start.”

“As we’re putting these packages together, looking at all available resources and facilities, that we keep in mind there can be multiple benefits coming from this additional production,” said Anderson. “Orcas is the primary and we ought to be looking and selecting stocks that are most likely to increase the prey base for southern resident killer whales. But we can also build into that strategy looking for economic opportunities in terms of reinforcing recreational and commercial fisheries as we make those selections.”

Nobody spoke against the bill.

Rep. Vincent Buys, a Republican who represents most of Whatcom County outside of southern Bellingham, asked WDFW Hatchery Division Manager Eric Kinne if the state still had the facilities to ramp up production.

“We have taken out some of the infrastructure but most of that infrastructure still exists,” Kinne said.

AGENCY-REQUEST LEGISLATION

As you might expect, HB 2417 isn’t the only fish-, wildlife- and habitat-related bill active in Olympia. Between state legislators and Department of Fish and Wildlife-request bills, there is a host of other proposals out there to flesh out.

Raquel Crosier, who is WDFW’s very busy legislative liason, provided a rundown on three bills the agency has asked for state representatives’ and senators’ help on.

They address sportsman recruitment, ADA accommodations, and a bill that would “fix” another from last year that delivered a “disproportionate” impact on instate guides.

Through the lens of our old friend the Olympia Outsider here’s a look at those and others in play:

Hunting and Fishing Recruitment Bill: With Washington sportsmen aging dramatically, House Bill 2505 and its companion in the Senate, SB 6198, aim to increase participation in fishing and hunting through a multi-pronged approach.

“It raises the youth age for fishers to 16, provides a hunter education graduate coupon of $20 on your first hunting license, and provides the department authority to develop bundled discount license packages (like multiyear or family packages),” Crosier says.

It would also let anglers buy a temporary license to fish during April’s lowland lakes opener instead of requiring a more expensive year-round one.

Recruitment is a big problem for fish and wildlife agencies, and WDFW is no different. According to handout Crosier forwarded, the average age of the state’s hunters and anglers has increased from 46 for both groups in 2007 to 52 and 54, respectively in 2015.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast, Sen. Dean Takko, D, South Coast

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Anything that makes it easier and cheaper to get more people on the water in the woods, thereby helping conservation and, yes, our industry, is a good thing.

ADA Accommodations Bill: HB 2649 aims to make it “easier for disabled hunters and fishers to get into the sport and (improves) the department’s service delivery and accommodations process,” Crosier reports.

“(It) condenses multiple disabled hunting and fishing licenses and permits into one special use permit and expands who can sign disabled hunter and fisher reduced rate and accommodation forms,” she explains.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Andrew Barkis, R, Pierce County

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Another good bill to pass.

Fishing Guide Fee Fiasco Fix Bill: While Washington hunters and anglers were spared fee increases last year, not so with fishing guides. Instate operators saw their license costs more than double, while out-of-state guides received a dramatic price break.

HB 2626 and SB 6317 aim to reverse that.

“The fishing guides got a disproportionate increase compare to other commercial license types,” says Crosier. “Also, we were tracking a court case on nonresident rates as session was going and didn’t quite get the nonresident commercial rates in line with the court-approved model. We are looking at increasing the nonresident rates to set them at the court-approved rate ($385 above the resident rates) and using that savings to reduce the resident fishing guides rates.”

Under the bill, a resident food fish guide license would be reduced from $280 to $210 (it was $130) while the corresponding nonresident fee would go from $355 to $595 (it was $630).

A resident game fish guide license would drop to $305 from $410 while the nonresident one would increase from $485 to $690.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Brian Blake, D, South Coast; Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Public hearing at 8 a.m. Jan. 17 before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Math has never been the OO’s strongest suit, but it should cost much more for nonresident guides to benefit from the state’s fish stocks. This corrects last year’s error.

ALSO PERCOLATING

Beyond those three agency-request bills, there are many more bills prowling the halls of power, including:

HB 2771: “Managing wolves using translocation”

Effect: Directs WDFW to immediately begin capturing and moving wolves from areas where they’re causing livestock depredations — for instance, Northeast Washington — to areas they’re not (yet).

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joel Kretz, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: It’s clear Northeast Washington is bearing the brunt of wolf problems, but translocation bills haven’t moved much in recent years, and it’s possible this one won’t either.

HB 2276, SB 6315: “Concerning notification of wildlife transfer, relocation, or introduction into a new location”

Effect: Requires WDFW to hold a public hearing before moving critters to different parts of the state, and there must be 30 days advance notice of that hearing in the communities most affected.

Prime sponsors: Rep. Carolyn Eslick, R, North Cascades; Sen. Ken Wagoner, R, North Cascades

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Inspired by word that the National Park Service and WDFW would like to move mountain goats from the Olympics to North Cascades, the bill still needs better definition so it doesn’t squelch releases of, say, pheasants or butterflies to state wildlife areas, or suburban-garbage-raiding bears into the woods.

SB 6127: “Improving the management of the state’s halibut fishery”

Effect: WDFW would need to “advocate” for halibut fishing openers to be on consecutive days instead of the opener’s Thursday, Saturday setup. Also sets the price of a halibut catch card at $5, which would go towards monitoring and managing the sport fishery.

Prime sponsors: Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: The senator from the Straits has been itching to address halibut fishing for awhile, and now can as the chair of the committee that can hear this bill.

SB 6268, “Creating the orca protection act”

Effect: Requires WDFW to add extra marine patrols to protect baby killer whales, orca feeding areas and pods during the busiest whale-watching weeks of the year.

Prime sponsor: Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands

Bill status: Referred to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: Just so long as it’s funded and, say, everyone is policed evenly.

HB 2337: “Concerning civil enforcement of construction projects in state waters”

Effect: Would allow WDFW to issue a stop work order if hydraulic code or other rules were being broken and levy fines of up to $10,000 overall, up from $100 a day.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County

Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 11; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

Olympia Outsider’s off-the-cuff analysis: From a salmon-friendly perspective, not a bad idea to put a little enforcement behind the rules.

HB 2175, “Concerning natural resource management activities”

Effect: Allows WDFW to sign off on a range of land management activities — brush cutting, grazing, firewood gathering and others — without having to prepare a state environmental impact statement.

Prime sponsor: Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R, Northeast Washington

Bill status: Bill status: Public hearing Jan. 9; subject of Jan. 18 House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee executive session.

OTHER BILLS

In the wake of the Cypress Island netpen failure that led to the escape of upwards of 160,000 Atlantic salmon, a few of which are still turning up, three bills take on aquaculture in Puget Sound.

They would (HB 2418) study existing facilities and report back to the legislature before authorizing more to be built, bar the “cultivation” (HB 2260) of Atlantics in the state’s saltwaters, and prohibit DNR (SB 6086) from signing new or extending existing leases, effectively ending the farming of nonnative fish by 2024.

Of those, the last — sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D, San Juan Islands — has moved the furthest. It’s now in Senate Ways and Means.

An unresolved issue from last year’s lengthy legislative session, the Hirst Decision and its potential effect on rural landowners as well as salmon-bearing waters is the subject of two bills, HB 2740 from Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D, westernmost King County HB 2740 and SB 6091 from Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D, Olympic Peninsula.

The latter has made the most progress; a substitute bill was sent to the Senate floor and there were long negotiations with the legislature’s four main caucuses.