Tag Archives: the blob

Managers Look For Ways To Reopen Lower Columbia For Coho

Don’t put those lures away just yet, Columbia salmon anglers.

Washington managers say they’re looking to see if they can reopen a large section of the lower river for coho, but it depends on Snake-bound Chinook getting out of the way first and federal buy-in.

COHO RETENTION HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO CONTINUE DEEP INTO FALL ON THE COLUMBIA BUT WILL CLOSE EARLY DUE TO CONCERNS ABOUT LOW RETURNS OF CHINOOK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

The good news comes after a sharply downgraded fall king forecast earlier this month put nontreaty fisheries on that ESA-listed stock over allowable impacts by half a percentage point, leading to the big river being shut down to salmon fishing all the way from Buoy 10 to the Tri-Cities.

Yet as Idaho Chinook begin to clear the Lower Columbia, angling has already been greenlighted in side channels at the mouth starting this coming Monday, and more water below Bonneville could be reopened as well.

“We know there are healthy numbers of harvestable coho returning to the Columbia over the next month that could be harvested, so we are making every effort to explore the options,” said WDFW Fish Program head Ron Warren in an unusual statement posted to the agency’s website yesterday.

He added that while managers will be going over all of the fisheries, he didn’t anticipate that the river above the dam will be reopened.

October does produce coho below Bonneville, but not like above there as late stocks return to east Gorge tribs like the Klickitat River next month and in November.

This month’s “rare” closure of the Columbia displeased anglers who have otherwise enjoyed stellar salmon seasons this decade.

And they want to raise our fees for next year?” Timothy Hermsen posted on our Facebook page in response to the news.

But they [just] opened the mouth of the Deshutes … makes sense … SMFH,” added Troy Broders.

And Jamie N Travis Larson theorized, Hanford Reach is going to get a whole lot busier.”

Yes, but even there the limit has been reduced to one adult king a day.

The upriver bright run, which returns to the Reach and Idaho, was originally forecast to come in at 205,060, but last week was downgraded to 122,600 fish, “60% of the preseason forecast,” and it potentially could end up as “the lowest return since 2007,” according to a fact sheet.

Accrued impacts by recreational and nontreaty commercial fishermen on Snake wilds hit 8.73 percent; the allowable rate at this runsize was 8.25 percent.

Warren said that keeping the river open, even under rules requiring kings to be released, would have been a violation of the Endangered Species Act because of potential additional mortalities.

“It is a rare event to exceed an ESA impact limit, and we take this apparent overage very seriously,” he said in what also reads in part as a mea culpa, the second offered by top salmon managers for the fall season on the Columbia. “Fishery managers take great care to plan fisheries that remain within the federally allowed ESA limit, and we will be considering changes to our management to avoid repeating this situation. After all, we expect project proponents and others whose actions affect salmon to adhere to ESA requirements, and we have the same expectations for our own areas of responsibility.”

This year’s preseason prediction was a far cry from recent ones, when as many as 954,100 fall Chinook were counted at Bonneville and over 1.3 million entered the Columbia.

Warren blamed the low numbers on 2015’s drought and the Blob, the effects of which lingered as this year’s fish were in the North Pacific, and he said that 2019 could see poor returns too due to the age structure of the run, comprised largely of 4-year-old fish.

But in the meanwhile, there’s a chance anglers will be able to get back on the lower river this fall as late coho roll upstream.

“For that to happen, fishery managers must be able to demonstrate that ESA-listed Snake River wild fish are no longer likely to be caught or handled in the fishery,” Warren explained.

Coded-wire tag data shows that angling near the mouth of the Columbia has “virtually no impact” on listed upriver kings after September’s third week, allowing for SAFE zones to reopen to recs and comms.

He said that WDFW and ODFW will coordinate with federal overseers to open “individual fisheries” where appropriate as number crunching shows it’s possible.

It Wasn’t That Long Ago …

Man, what a difference three years makes.

On this day in 2015 I posted* that Columbia River salmon managers had upped their fall Chinook forecast to a staggering 1,095,900.

ANGLERS ENJOYED SUPERB FALL CHINOOK FISHING ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 AS A RECORD 1.3 MILLION RETURNED, BUT THIS YEAR WE ARE SEEING THE OPPOSITE END OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SALMON CYCLE SWING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They were off by a mile — 210,000 miles.

The final estimate is that 1,305,600 upriver brights and tules made it to Buoy 10 that year.

Of those, 954,140 were counted at Bonneville, the most on record.

And more than all but two other entire annual returns of Chinook — i.e., springers, summers and fall fish — at the dam since counts began in 1938.

The fishing was preposterous — 36,535 kings kept at Buoy 10, 41,525 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395. Treaty and NT comms got their shares.

We were all smiles — our smiles couldn’t have been any wider or we would have broken our faces.

“These are the good ol’ days for Chinook, ladies and gentlemen,” I wrote later that month.

CRITFC FISHERIES TECHNICIAN AGNES STRONG HOLDS A COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK TRAPPED PRIEST RAPIDS HATCHERY DURING THE 2015 RUN. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AGNES STRONG)

Looking back, it was the culmination of three outstanding years of salmon fishing, but there were troubling signs, other blogs I wrote that month show.

Sept. 23: Columbia Early Coho Forecast Reduced Sharply; Snake King Return On Record Pace: “Even as what could be a record return of Snake River fall Chinook heads for Idaho, Columbia salmon managers took the fishbonker to this year’s prediction for early-run coho, smacking it hard from an expected 140,000 to just 27,000 past Bonneville.”

Sept. 15: Clearwater Coho A No-go, IDFG Announces: This year’s run of coho up the Columbia is not living up to expectations, at least not yet.”

Sept. 11: No Plans To Halt State Humpy Fishery On Skagit: “Initial netting by the Upper Skagits turned up just 10 percent of the expected catch during what is typically the peak of the run of the odd-year fish.”

Earlier that summer hundreds of thousands of sockeye died as they migrated up the too-warm Columbia, as did dozens of oversize sturgeon.

Summer streams were bone dry due to the previous winter’s snowpack failure. Many waters were closed or under restricted fishing hours. Forest fires roared in the mountains and hills.

The Blob was hungry in 2015, though the high numbers of Columbia kings and relative snappiness of starving coho and pinks initially hid it from us, and we foolishly didn’t consider how long the North Pacific’s hangover would last.

Now in 2018 we’re at the other end of the salmon cycle.

ODFW’s Tucker Jones said that if the fall king run continues tracking as it has, it will be the lowest return since 2007, when 220,200 limped into the mouth of the Columbia.

I wonder if it won’t ultimately come in at lows not seen for two and a half decades — the 214,900 in ’93.

Funny how that number and the offage between the mid-September 2015 runsize update and what it ultimately came in at are so close.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER SHOWS THE 2018 FALL CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

There is some hope, though. Last year’s run spiked unexpectedly after the usual high-count days, so we’ll see.

But in the meanwhile Chinook as well as coho and steelhead fishing have been closed from Buoy 10 all the way to Tri-Cities, and the steelie bag reduced to one hatchery a day in the Snake River basin.

CRITFC postponed a gillnet opener decision, though platform fisheries remain open, and nontreaty commercial fishing in the SAFE zones were shut down.

In the usually productive free-flowing Hanford Reach, the adult URB limit has been cut to one a day.

Just three falls ago, we harvested a record 33,885 in the Reach, and that November I wrote, “What a year!!!!!!!! Remember this one — it truly is The Good Ol’ Days.”

There were warning signs, but to hit the bad old days after such highs so fast is a reminder that the runs do ebb and flow.

Hopefully the closures and restrictions WDFW and ODFW have announced help rebuild the stocks and get us out of this hole and back on the water sooner.

*Editor’s note: Hat tip to Mike Fisenko who brought back this memory on Facebook.

Ocean Biologists Excited By Early Arrival Of Coldwater Copepods Off NW Coast

“Friendly faces” turned up earlier this year than last and for only the second time in the past four years off the Northwest coast, a “dramatic shift” that might be good news for salmon and other fish stocks.

FEDERAL BIOLOGISTS CALL IT “A WELCOME ARRIVAL,” THE RETURN OF COLDWATER COPEPODS TO THE NORTHWEST OCEAN. (NWFSC)

Federal biologists say offshore samples they’ve been collecting in recent months have been “full” of three different species of coldwater copepods, and they report “healthy” numbers of adult krill are also being seen.

“These are all good indications that the zooplankton community is transitioning back to a more ‘normal’ state,” writes Samantha Zeman on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s always interesting Newportal blog.

It’s been all out of whack since The Blob began to affect the northeast Pacific beginning in 2013, with the “hangover” from the humongous pool of too-warm saltwater continuing into last year.

“These coldwater copepods are lipid-rich and represent a productive food chain for higher trophic levels,” explains Zeman.

Their arrival also marks a “biological spring transition” that is key for coho and Chinook, with the earlier they’re seen translating to higher survival for silver salmon.

“This is especially exciting because in recent years (2015 and 2016) we never saw the copepod community transition from a warm winter community to a cold summer upwelling community, and in 2017 the transition occurred very late in the season,” Zeman writes.

An NWFSC chart showing transition dates since 1970 simply says “Never” for both 2015 and 2016.

In the former year, the annual June survey of juvenile salmon at sea was marked by emaciated coho.

A SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON OF JUVENILE COHO MADE IN 2015 BY THE NORTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER SHOWS A HEALTHY ONE AT TOP AND A SAD-EYED ONE IN POOR CONDITION AT BOTTOM. (NWIFC)

Sampling also began turning up pyrosomes, a tubular organism that feeds on plankton and is generally found in more tropical waters, but the numbers of which exploded last year, fouling fishing gear from Oregon all the way to Alaska. A new study suggests they may be adapting to our cooler ocean and could become a permanent part of the biome.

PYROSOMES CLING TO A WESTPORT ANGLER’S DOWNRIGGER BALL DURING 2017’S SALMON SEASON. (SALTPATROL.COM)

NWFSC’s chart also shows that coldwater copepods have otherwise been present for as long as 263 days in 2007 and 252 in 2009 to as few as 29 in 1983 and 57 in 2005.

The spring transition has begun as early as March 4 in 2008 and around the first day of spring in 1970, ’71, 2007 and ’09, to as late as July 21 in 1983 and June 28 in 2017.

Meanwhile, we’re waiting to learn more about results from this June’s juvenile salmon sampling.

Last year’s turned up some of the lowest numbers of juvenile Chinook and coho seen in the past two decades, which federal biologists could translate into “lean times” this year and next for some rivers’ stocks, including the Columbia.

But with the earlier arrival of copepods, hopefully this year’s fish are faring better.

Survey Finds Good Krill Numbers Again Off Oregon, But Even More Pyrosomes

An annual spring survey off the Northwest Coast came up with some good and bad news for key stocks.

Krill — hugely important near the base of the ocean food web — and young Dungeness crab numbers were as high as they’ve been in some time, but there are even more pyrosomes off Oregon’s Central Coast and to the south than last year.

RESEARCHERS CALLED THE RETURN OF KRILL TO THEIR SAMPLING NETS “A WELCOME SIGHT SINCE THESE IMPORTANT FORAGE HAVE LARGELY BEEN ABSENT OVER THE PAST COUPLE YEARS SINCE THE ANOMALOUS WARMING” FROM THE BLOB. (NWFSC)

Jennifer Fisher, fresh off a 10-day survey between San Francisco Bay and Newport, reported the findings on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center blog.

“These are the most Dungeness larvae and juveniles we’ve collected in a long time, and we have not seen krill numbers like this since before 2015,” Fisher followed up via email.

That year, 2015, was the height of The Blob — the huge pool of warmer than usual water in the Northeast Pacific that messed things up at sea and on land — and it was also a year after pyrosomes first began to be found in our coastal waters.

By last year, the tropical gelatinous, sea-pickle thingies that are actually colonies of organisms were clogging fishing gear off our coast and even turned up as far north as the rim of the Gulf of Alaska, also a first.

While rockfish were observed feeding on pyrosomes, it’s not clear how their numbers will affect the food web. Another NOAA blog from last October states, “At this point, there are more questions than answers.”

But the May survey answered the question whether they’re still out there.

“The pyrosome catches appear slightly larger and the colonies are larger compared to last year,” reports Fisher.

They can be found starting about 10 miles off the coast, living on the bottom during the day and rising to the surface at night.

PYROSOMES FILL A COOLER ABOARD THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION’S VESSEL, THE BELL M. SHIMADA. (NWFSC)

The Science Center will soon conduct another closely watched spring survey, collecting information on young Chinook and coho off Oregon.

Last year’s produced very low catches while one a couple years ago found very small fish. But the resurgence of krill is a hopeful sign that the food web could be rebuilding coming out of the hangover from the Blob.

Fisher also reported on Science Center’s blog that copepods are in a state of flux between winter warm-water communities and summer, cold-water ones that come with the upwelling.

So what does it all mean?

“The krill is a good sign, but the pyrosomes are not, since they are indicative of warm water,” she says. “And the transitional copepod community is also not a great sign for salmon. But it’s still early in the summer upwelling season, so things can certainly change.”

North Pacific Recovering From The Blob, Salmon More Slowly

THE FOLLOWING IS A STORY FROM THE NORTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER

By Michael Milstein

Ocean conditions off most of the U.S. West Coast are returning roughly to average, after an extreme marine heat wave from about 2014 to 2016 disrupted the California Current Ecosystem and shifted many species beyond their traditional range, according to a The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site new reportfrom NOAA Fisheries’ two marine laboratories on the West Coast. Some warm waters remain off the Pacific Northwest, however.

SEA SURFACE TEMPS FROM A COUPLE YEARS AGO SHOW UNUSUAL WARMTH IN THE NORTHEASTERN PACIFIC THAT AFFECTED ALL MARINE LIFE. (NOAA)

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Northwest Fisheries Science presented their annual “ The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site California Current Ecosystem Status Report” to the Pacific Fishery Management Council at the Council’s meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif., on Friday, March 9. The California Current encompasses the entire West Coast marine ecosystem, and the report informs the Council about conditions and trends in the ecosystem that may affect marine species and fishing in the coming year.

“The report gives us an important glimpse at what the science is saying about the species and resources that we manage and rely on in terms of our West Coast economy,” said Phil Anderson of Westport, Wash., the Council Chair. “The point is that we want to be as informed as we can be when we make decisions that affect those species, and this report helps us do that.”

Unusually warm ocean temperatures, referred to as “the Blob,” encompassed much of the West Coast beginning about 2014, combining with an especially strong El Niño pattern in 2015. The warm conditions have now waned, although some after-effects remain.

Even as the effects of the Blob and El Niño dissipate, the central and southern parts of the West Coast face low snow pack and potential drought in 2018 that could put salmon at continued risk as they migrate back up rivers to spawn.

“Overall we’re seeing some positive signs, as the ocean returns to a cooler and generally more productive state,” said Toby Garfield, a research scientist and Acting Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “We’re fortunate that we have the data from previous years to help us understand what the trends are, and how that matters to West Coast fishermen and communities.”

NOAA Fisheries’ scientists compile the California Current Ecosystem Status Report from ocean surveys and other monitoring efforts along the West Coast. The tracking revealed “a climate system still in transition in 2017,” as surface ocean conditions return to near normal. Deeper water remained unusually warm, especially in the northern part of the California Current. Warm-water species, such as leaner plankton species often associated with subtropical waters, have lingered in these more-northern zones.

One of the largest and most extensive low-oxygen zones ever recorded off the West Coast prevailed off the Oregon Coast last summer, probably driven by low-oxygen water upwelled from the deep ocean, the report said.

While the cooling conditions off the West Coast began to support more cold-water plankton rich in the fatty acids that salmon need to grow, salmon may need more time to show the benefits, the report said. Juvenile salmon sampled off the Northwest Coast in 2017 were especially small and scarce, suggesting that poor feeding conditions off the Columbia River Estuary may be lingering.

Juvenile salmon that enter the ocean this year amid the gradually improving conditions will not return from the ocean to spawn in the Columbia and other rivers for another two years or more, so fishermen should not expect adult salmon numbers to improve much until then.

“These changes occur gradually, and the effects appear only with time,” said Chris Harvey, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of the report. “The advantage of doing this monitoring and watching these indicators is that we can get a sense of what is likely to happen in the ecosystem and how that is likely to affect communities and economies that are closely tied to these waters.”

Fee Hike Dead, WDFW Hopes For General Fund Infusion Instead

It’s now very unlikely Washington hunters and anglers will have to pay more for their licenses any time soon, as it appears WDFW’s fee increase bill is dead for the year.

That word this morning from the agency’s legislative liaison, Raquel Crosier.

“I think we’ll get between $5 million and $10 million in General Fund to deal with budget shortfalls. It’s not as much as we’d hoped for, but it plugs holes,” she said.

Crosier said that $10 million would still require deep cuts, “but not public-facing” ones, meaning they could be dealt with through efficiencies away from the eye of sportsmen and state residents.

As it stands, lawmakers are wrapping up their second special session today, with the third starting tomorrow. Crosier is optimistic a 2017-19 budget with funding for WDFW will be worked out before the June 30 deadline. Though McCleary may not be resolved, that would at least prevent closing fisheries and shuttering hatcheries till a deal is struck.

WDFW’s fee increase proposal — seen by some sportsmen as a done deal but actually requiring the legislature to approve and governor to sign into law — was the subject of a long campaign stretching all the way back to August 2015, when the agency took its Washington’s Wild Future initiative on the road around the state.

June 2016 saw the revealing of proposals, which would have raised around $26 million to help maintain and increase fishing opportunities and enhance hunting ops.

It included $17 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon, later whittled down to $10 apiece in the face of opposition.

This February, the proposal received a public hearing in front of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which helped identify stakeholder concerns and that more work was needed outside Olympia with fishing and hunting groups on HB 1647.

Crosier said that as recently as a month ago, recreational organizations were supportive of 20 percent increases on the fishing side and 7 percent on the hunting side.

But while the Democratic-controlled House preferred the fee-based approach, Republicans who control the upper chamber did not, and it really showed in the language and approaches senators took with WDFW throughout this year’s legislative sessions.

When agency honchos talked about support from constituents, senators pointed to stacks of emails and letters expressing opposition.

If it had been approved, it would have been the first major hike since mid-2011, but to a degree, WDFW’s big ask also faced bad timing.

True, it may really need more funding, but on the backside of some stellar years of fishing, these past two have seen generally poor salmon runs and unprecedented fishery restrictions due to The Blob, the loss of access to Skokomish River kings and coho and the subsequent backing away of support for fee increases by three important angling organizations, as well as self-inflicted wounds such as the unexplained loss of a couple hundred thousand steelhead smolts from the state’s last best summer-run river, all of which left sportsmen wondering why they should pay more for less.

Despite the apparent death of license fee hikes this go-around, WDFW is hopeful two other revenue bills will pass.

This morning, the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to extending the Columbia River endorsement another two years, key for holding salmon and steelhead seasons in the basin.

Crosier said it’s likely the legislature will pass Sen. Kirk Pearson’s SB 5947, with fees going towards monitoring fisheries that occur on or amongst ESA-listed stocks.

And she is also hopeful that legislation addressing the rising threat to Washington waters from aquatic invasive species passes. Sen. Jim Honeyford’s bill has twice been approved unanimously by senators, but keeps getting shuttled back to the House as special sessions end and begin again.

Dipping into the General Fund for however much would begin to fill the $40 million cut out of WDFW’s budget from that source in 2009.

Looking further down the road past the hoped-for infusion, Crosier also mentioned creation of a conservation task force to look into how to better fund nongame management.

 

Mayday! Columbia Springer Run Sets New Low Through April

Ever try to start your rig and it just won’t turn over?

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

That’s what comes to mind this morning as I look at the spring Chinook count.

Faced with high, cold flows pumping down the Columbia, the 2017 run has had a heckuva time getting going. Only 10 through March 15, triple digits not reached till April 8, the thousand-fish mark breached April 21, just under 3,350 through yesterday.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

A FISHING BOAT RUNS UPSTREAM IN THE WESTERN COLUMBIA GORGE ON THE LAST DAY OF THE FISHERY THIS YEAR. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The collection of emails from Fish HQ with the words “record low” is slowly building towards grimmer signs.

The Bonneville tally through yesterday, April 30, is less than 60 percent of the old record low for the same date, and not even 6 percent of the 10-year average.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

A total of 3,347 have been counted, well below 1949’s 5,770, the former record low.

And it’s a fraction of 1998’s and 1999’s very low runs in the upper 30,000s, though those appear to have been early-timed returns.

R-r-r-r.

“Weird year. Washington Lower Columbia hatcheries are on track based on the preseason forecasts,” says fisheries biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. “Willamette only has 16 fish through the falls fishway through April 27.”

“Flows, water temps, and pinnipeds all probably are affecting the counts,” he adds.

It almost felt like the run was going to turn over coming out of April’s second fishery extension. Good numbers were caught, especially below Bonneville.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-vrooom-r-r-r.

But in the week after it closed, the count didn’t do much.

Elizabeth Daly at Oregon State University wonders if fishcounting devices at the dam have been affected by water conditions, but she has her doubts that high flows are slowing the progress of springers upstream.

Daly, a senior faculty research assistant at OSU’s and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies in Newport, was a coauthor of a paper published earlier this year that predicted this year’s springer run could come in well below the forecast of 166,000-plus above-Bonneville-bound fish.

She says the paper didn’t give a specific forecast, but gave a range of 200,000 down to 80,000, based on different indicators.

R-r-r-r-r-r-r.

Bill Monroe had an interesting tidbit in an Oregonian article that came out 10 days ago. He wrote:

John North, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Columbia River program, said a rough look at 152 coded wire tags recovered by fish checkers from anglers showed nearly a quarter of the salmon were close to the 24-inch mark.

However, he said, all were 4- and 5-year-old adults.

When this year’s returning adults went to sea as juveniles in summer 2015, The Blob was at its strongest, most destructive for Northwest fish and wildlife.

Offshore surveys found spring Chinook that were “thin, with empty stomachs, just not doing well,” says Daly.

(OSU/NOAA)

“That first year is really critical to survival to adulthood,” she says.

Many probably died, starved or eaten.

Perhaps for some reason this year’s springers are just behaving differently, Daly wonders.

Similar to the adult count, jacks are just 2 percent of the 10-year average. Packed with fat for their long upstream journeys to spawning grounds they’ll visit in summer, maybe springers can afford to wait a bit for better flows.

But on the other hand, steelhead don’t appear to be having issues at Bonneville. Though this year’s return is below the average over the past decade, that rate held steady through April.

This speculation springs to mind: Perhaps a Blob-hamstrung year-class just doesn’t have the strength to swim upstream in the face of such cold volumes of water pouring downstream?

I call this my “have your springer and eat it too” theory.

For the time being, me and Daly will continue watching the dam count — “every day,” she says — hoping there’s some gas in the tank somewhere.

R-r.