Tag Archives: stillaguamish river

Yuasa: Silvers Are Gold In September

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

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

I wish there was a way to slow down how quickly summer comes and goes, especially with the memorable king salmon fishing we got to experience in some parts of Puget Sound.

And while we’re still relishing the “good old days” of the past few months, I can’t help but get geared up for silver being the gold medal winner in September and beyond!

AUTHOR MARK YUASA SHOWS OFF A NICE OCEAN-RETURNING COHO. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Coho salmon – often referred to as “silvers” for their distinct brightly metal-colored body – appear to have crossed the bridge of dire straits from the warm “blob” that plagued the North Pacific Ocean, and the drought-like conditions and warm water temperatures in river spawning grounds that led to a huge decline in salmon survival in late 2013 to 2015.

Puget Sound anglers who haven’t seen a viable early-fall silver salmon fishery since 2014 will be giddy to know that we’ve turned the corner and opportunities should be decent from the Strait of Juan de Fuca clear into southern Puget Sound.

WDFW biologists are predicting a coho return of 557,149 (249,174 wild and 307,975 hatchery) this season, which is down slightly from 595,074 (294,360 and 300,713) in 2017, but well above 2016 when coho runs tanked faster than the financial crisis in 2008.

Forecasts for the five Puget Sound wild coho stocks in 2018 that make or break our sport salmon seasons – Strait, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Hood Canal – are all up big time from years past.

The Skagit wild coho return forecast of 59,196 is up a whopping 350 percent over 2017’s return of 13,235 and up 564 percent of 8,912 in 2016. The Stillaguamish forecast of 18,950 is up 149 percent from 2017’s return of 7,622 and up 584 percent of 2,770 in 2016. The Snohomish will also see a big bounce back with 65,925 up 294 percent from a return of 16,740 in 2016.

When the salmon seasons were signed, sealed and delivered last April, the sport coho fisheries set by WDFW increased dramatically. In all, 30 weeks of total fishing opportunity was closed the past two years to address conservation issues of wild Puget Sound coho stocks and will reopen based on the stronger 2018 forecasts.

Some early indicators leading to this “happy face emoji” was the great June resident silver fishery in central Puget Sound (Area 10) that carried on well into August, and some early migratory coho began to show up in catches during the late-summer hatchery chinook fishery. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu was also seeing some decent early hatchery coho action in late August.

Hatchery coho are fair game Sept. 1-30 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sekiu to Port Angeles (Areas 5 and 6). It is a given at this time the “no vacancy” sign will be flashing at resorts in the Strait and marinas will be filled to the brim with boats as hordes of anglers pursue feisty, big ocean-run coho.

In the San Juan Islands (Area 7) anglers can keep all coho through Sept. 30. The northern section of Whidbey Island’s east side (Area 8-1) is open through Sept. 30 for all coho, and the popular southern portion (Area 8-2) – Ports Susan and Gardner – are open until Sept. 23. Popular fishing spots will be from the south part of Camano Island clear down to the Shipwreck and Possession Bait House areas.

Shore-bound anglers can also get in on the action at the Bait House where coho were present when it opened last month. Other “go to” locations from shore are west side of Whidbey Island at Bush and Lagoon points, Fort Casey, Point No Point, Marrowstone Island, Point Wilson near Port Townsend, and various piers, docks and shorelines from Edmonds to Seattle and as far south as Tacoma.
The two marine areas that will be glittering with silvers are northern (Area 9) and central (Area 10) Puget Sound. Hatchery coho salmon fishing will be open in Area 9 through Sept. 30, and in Area 10 anglers can keep all coho through Nov. 15.

South-central (Area 11) and southern (Area 13) Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Area 12) are all open for coho through Sept. 30, and then each location remains open beyond that date for salmon fishing. Anglers should consult the regulation pamphlet for what salmon species you can target in each area.

Marine locations like Sekiu in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca were good coming into the end of last month as was popular coho places like east side of Whidbey Island from Mukilteo south to Shipwreck; Possession Bar; west side of Whidbey Island from Bush Point to Fort Casey; Jefferson Head; Edmonds oil dock; and Meadow Point south to West Point near Shilshole Bay.

Lastly, anglers will also have a chance to fish certain sections of the Skagit and Snohomish river systems – closed in 2016 and 2017 – for coho salmon in September.

2018-19 coastal razor clam outlook is a mixed bag

This coming fall, winter and spring will see some highlights and lowlights for coastal razor clams depending on what beaches you choose to dig.

WDFW have finished summer razor clam population assessments and places like Copalis, Mocrocks and Twin Harbors while Long Beach looks somewhat dismal and Kalaloch is still in a rebuilding stage.

(MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Expect this to be a gap year for Long Beach where a loss of juvenile razor clams and poor digging success in 2017-18 will lead to another season of struggles where abundance levels are the lowest seen in the past 25 years.

One theory in the population decline is poor salinity levels on a good portion of Long Beach and freshwater run-off from the Columbia River aren’t favorable for young clams to thrive in.

Preliminary postseason estimates coast-wide from 2017-18 for 27 digging days showed 257,004 digger trips produced 2,731,461 razor clams for 10.6 clam per person average – the first 15 clams is a daily limit regardless of size or condition.

The good news is a marine toxin known as domoic acid – a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities – is very low.

The latest testing showed levels between 1 to 2 parts-per-million and the action level is 20 parts-per-million.

Fall and winter razor clam digs occur during evening low tides while spring-time digs occur during morning low tides.

Dates haven’t been determined by WDFW although looking at the calendar it appears the best low tides start date will occur on Oct. 26-29 and Nov. 8-10. Exactly how much digging time hinges on discussions between WDFW and tribal fishery co-managers.
State Fish and Wildlife plans to have the public comment review period should ready by the middle of September. For details, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

NW Salmon Derby Series culminates this month with boat raffle

It has been a very busy summer with the NW Chevy Dealer truck and KingFisher boat traveling across the Pacific Northwest!

Angler turnout and fishing success has been delightful in July and August at the Bellingham PSA Salmon Derby; Big One Salmon Derby at Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho; Brewster Salmon Derby; South King County PSA Derby; Gig Harbor PSA Derby; and Vancouver, B.C. Canada Chinook Classic.

SOME LUCKY ANGLER IS GOING TO WIN THIS BOAT THIS MONTH! (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Now it’s time to rev up the trolling motors for the PSA Edmonds Coho Derby on Sept. 8, and the biggest derby on West Coast – the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 22-23.

We’ll be drawing the lucky name at Everett on Sept. 23 to win a grand-prize $65,000 KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series boat powered with Honda 150hp and 9.9hp motors on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer. It is fully rigged with Scotty downriggers, Raymarine electronics, a WhoDat Tower and a Dual Electronic Stereo. Details: www.NorthwestSalmonDerbySeries.com.

I’m just as stoked about the weeks ahead filling the cooler with silvers like I was back in June for kings in Area 11 off Tacoma. I’ll see you on the water with a few cut-plug herring spinning fast off the stern of my boat!

 

Commissioner Calls For Snake Chinook-like Conservation Hatchery On Stilly

UPDATED AT BOTTOM WITH WDFW PRESS RELEASE ON TODAY’S COMMISSION TELECONFERENCE

Pointing to the successful restoration of Snake River fall Chinook from the edge of extinction, a Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioner called for a new conservation hatchery program on the Stillaguamish.

It would rear more kings as habitat work is done in the Snohomish County watershed where the stock is having trouble rebuilding itself despite fishery cuts over the decades and which has been identified as a major constraint in the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

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

It’s the brainchild of the newest member of the citizen panel, Hockinson’s Don McIsaac, the retired chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“Much more needs to be done outside of fishery restrictions,” McIsaac said during a commission teleconference this morning.

His plan would need funding from the state legislature and buy-in from the Stillaguamish Tribe, which already operates a facility on the river.

But commissioners are trying to show the angling public that there are ways to mitigate the feared impacts of the controversial 10-year plan that’s been in the news so much of late.

In a nutshell, McIsaac explained that after construction of the four dams on the lower Snake River, fall Chinook returns dropped to just 78 wild fish in 1990.

But through joint tribal-state-federal efforts — along with habitat and river flow improvements — the run has been rebuilt to as high as 60,000 hatchery and wild kings past Lower Granite Dam in recent years, and sport and tribal anglers have been able to fish for and harvest the salmon.

Basically, eggs were taken from Snake kings and reared at WDFW’s Kalama Falls Hatchery for a couple generations. The progeny of those were then returned to the Snake.

McIsaac termed it “a successful example of a conservation hatchery helping out while habitat is worked on.”

He acknowledged that building a larger conservation hatchery on the Stilly would take time, so he suggested using existing state facilities as bridges.

And he stressed that the Stillaguamish Tribe would need to be amenable to it.

Of note, the extirpation of the basin’s Chinook is a nonstarter for the tribe and Washington.

McIsaac also touched on the 900-pound gorilla in the room, the “severe” predation on Chinook in Puget Sound by increasing numbers of MMPA-protected seals and sea lions that is “not being addressed.”

He said that pinnipeds are picking off tens of millions of the salmon as they leave the rivers as smolts, swim through the estuaries and out of the inland sea before returning after several years as adults.

“So in some ways it’s no wonder we’ve seen no rebound in fish numbers,” McIsaac said.

And he challenged WDFW staff to come up with a “genuine habitat restoration plan” for the Stillaguamish Basin too.

Ultimately, it all gives the agency negotiating tools as work continues on the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan, etc.

McIsaac also said a better job needs to be done communicating with the angling public on the plan, and asked WDFW staffers to put out a press release following today’s teleconference that would in part put out “true facts” on the plan’s impacts and “dispel rumors and exaggerations.”

He said that allegations that Puget Sound would be closed for salmon fishing for 10 years “are just not true.”

That said, in years of low runs, both state and tribal fisheries could be restricted in places as federal overseers lower acceptable risks on the stocks.

But there have been some indications that the plan will not be used as a blueprint for designing 2018 fisheries, meaning the reduced impact rates may not have to be applied this season. NMFS has numerous problems with what the state and tribes have come up with for many basins and the plan may not be approved until the 2020 season.

WDFW has been hobbled talking about the plan to a degree because of the nature of the closed-door negotiations between the state and tribes in a federal court that left the commission and angling public out. They have made little effort to explain it to us, and so the plan has been picked apart by their own retired experts as well as radio show hosts and others.

“It’s important that we try to improve the communications as we go through this,” McIsaac urged.

At the commission’s meeting in Ridgefield on Friday, Ron Warren, the agency’s Fish Program Manager, acknowledged that public trust with WDFW had been “eroded” and he apologized to anglers in attendance and across the state for that.

Seven of the commission’s nine members were in on today’s conference call, and McIsaac’s proposals drew very strong support from Vice Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon.

“We have a crisis on our hands here and we have to show leadership on the issue,” he said.

Carpenter, who is a former owner of Master Marine, had lobbied for another teleconference earlier this month in hopes of being able to share “perhaps something positive” with stakeholders before the big upcoming Seattle Boat Show “so it’s not a total disaster.”

Others were in support of McIsaac’s ideas, though caution was expressed about certain facets, including sending a letter to the governor asking for $5 million for the new hatchery, whether $5 million was a realistic figure, the potential for litigation over pinnipeds from “protection organizations,” McIsaac’s “off ramp” for fishery restrictions if runs improve, and the fact that the Stilly isn’t the only Chinook basin with problems — there’s also the Nooksack, among others, so what about them?

But it’s a start.

Ultimately, the commission did not vote on any specific resolution as, according to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth, staff had enough direction to work with.

 

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

Commission advises WDFW on chinook plan that would guide Puget Sound salmon fisheries

OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission advised state fishery managers to strike a better balance between conservation and harvest opportunities as they work with tribal co-managers to revise a proposed plan for managing chinook harvest in Puget Sound.

During a conference call Tuesday, the commission – a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) – instructed state fishery managers to explore a variety of options as they revisit catch rates and other pieces of the updated Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

The plan defines conservation goals for state and tribal fisheries that have an impact on wild Puget Sound chinook salmon, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under that law, no fisheries affecting Puget Sound chinook can occur without a conservation plan approved by NOAA Fisheries.

“Ultimately, we would all like to see salmon runs restored in Puget Sound, but severely restricting fisheries isn’t the only path to achieving that goal,” said Brad Smith, chair of the commission. “For that reason, we advised WDFW staff to explore other salmon recovery options, including improvements to habitat and hatchery operations.”

State and treaty tribal co-managers initially submitted the proposed plan to NOAA Fisheries on Dec. 1, 2017. The plan would reduce state and tribal fisheries in Washington, especially in years with expected low salmon returns. For example, increased protections for wild chinook salmon returning to the Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers would likely restrict numerous fisheries because those fish are caught in many areas of Puget Sound.

Despite the restrictive nature of the plan, NOAA has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from many people who are concerned this plan could result in the closure of all Puget Sound sport fisheries, but that’s not the case,” Smith said. “Yes, the plan does call for reductions to some fisheries, especially in years of low salmon abundance. But we have an opportunity – given the need to revise the plan – to use various mitigation tools to offset impacts from fisheries when and where appropriate.”

Mitigation tools the commission asked WDFW to explore include:

  • Increasing habitat restoration efforts.
  • Improving hatchery operations, including increasing production to support salmon recovery efforts.
  • Reducing populations of predators, such as seals and sea lions.

NOAA has indicated its review process will take 18 months once the federal agency deems the plan is sufficient for a full review, making it likely the 10-year plan won’t be in place until the 2020-2021 fishing season. There will be opportunities for public comment during that review process.

State fishery managers believe that a long-term management plan will reduce uncertainty in the annual salmon season-setting process, providing more stability for recreational and commercial fisheries.

In the meantime, state and tribal co-managers are working on conservation objectives to guide this year’s salmon season-setting process. During its call Tuesday, the commission asked state fishery managers to continue to discuss the possibility of using the 2017 conservation objectives for this year’s upcoming planning efforts.

The commission directed state fishery managers to provide regular updates as the negotiations of this year’s objectives and the 10-year plan continue. State fishery managers will also provide updates throughout the process to citizen advisors during open public meetings.

The plan, along with feedback from NOAA, is available on WDFW’s website athttps://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.