Tag Archives: tidal exchange

True Confessions Of An Armchair Fisheries Biologist

I earned my nickname The Butcher of Astoria, of Yaquina Bay, of Toliva Shoals and a thousand other haulouts while ridding them and the rest of the West Coast of sea lions and harbor seals, and then I cleared out all those loser wannabe sharks, the orcas, to Seaworld.

But none of it did a damn bit of good to recover the salmon run.

A CALIFORNIA SEA LION CAPTURES A SPRING CHINOOK. (BRYAN WRIGHT, ODFW, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

So I got in my submarine, the U-206, and torpedoed the entire North Pacific commercial salmon fleet (and shelled Ballard and rammed the F/V Northwestern for good measure), came back on shore and stole all of the tribes’ gillnets — take that, Judge Boldt, you old fart! — then confiscated every last stinking hoochie, Kingfisher spoon, and downrigger from the sporties (rubbed all that gear down in day-old banana peels, I did, to ensure they never caught another fish).

But none of it did a damn bit of good to recover the salmon run.

WILD CHINOOK. (CYRIL MICHEL, NMFS, VIA NMFS FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

You can imagine my rage: Here I’d eliminated predation on and harvest of Chinook headed back to my beloved “Mulgy,” and yet the Simulguamish River’s salmon did not respond for me whatsoever.

The numbers were flatlined, year after decade after century after millennium after glacial epoch.

Not a single sign of recovery from my admittedly heavy-handed management tactics.

“Well, at least you tried,” a friend texted me as I rode the bus to work this morning.

Yes, indeed, I had.

A MODEL SHOWS THAT DESPITE REPRESSIVE MANAGEMENT TACTICS — ENDING ALL SALMON FISHING AND ELIMINATING MARINE PREDATION — THE BLOGGER WAS UNABLE TO RECOVER THE SIMULGUAMISH RIVER’S CHINOOK AFTER 400 GENERATIONS. (TIDALEXCHANGE.COM)

I was messing around with an intriguing interactive game posted yesterday on Tidal Exchange, a sportfishing advocacy blog, and the only other option I had left was to try and increase the river’s carrying capacity — that is, how many young Chinook could actually rear in it.

A YOUNG CHINOOK NEAR WOODY DEBRIS. (NMFS, VIA FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

So I grated my teeth — damn you all to hell, “Habitat is the key” bumper sticker! — and went to work.

I ripped out dikes, flooded unused and economically unviable fields, reconnected old oxbows, put in culverts big enough for a big ol’ bull killer whale to squeeze through, parachuted in beavers, put in rain gardens and special parking lot asphalt to collect vehicle drippings in and around the burgs of Arlingwood, Stanton and Ono, dropped trees into the river — and made sure fewer of ’em were tipped over on the hillsides too — and otherwise let the Mulgy be the Mulgy.

And you know what happened?

Well, I began to see more Chinook in the Simulguamish. And more and more and more!

Pretty soon I’d exceeded the river’s recovery target, and as its carrying capacity increased even more over time, I decided we might be able to fish on the salmon a little and, yes, take my foot off the throats of marine mammals — just a hair anyway.

There were some stomach-turning year-to-year lurches in fish numbers, but I managed to keep Chinook above the Mulgy’s recovery goal.

AN ADULT MALE FALL CHINOOK PREPARES TO SPAWN. (JOHN R. MCMILLAN, NMFS, VIA FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-NC-ND/2.0/

Looking back on it, I admit I caused some rather astonishing collateral damage in recovering the river’s Chinook.

I destroyed entire fishing industries and tribal cultures, as well as bankrupted the Department of Fish and Wildlife. I also face a prison term of approximately 100,000 years and fines in the billions of dollars for various infractions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, federal treaties — you name it.

And needless to say our magazine lost a few advertisers, plus Lorraine Loomis doesn’t send me Christmas cards anymore.

So I hit reset on Tidal Exchange’s simulation, left the fishing rate at the default 25 percent, the marine predation rate at the default 24 percent, and just focused on working on the Simulguamish’s habitat instead.

Worked a helluva lot better the whole way around.

AN INTERACTIVE GAME ON TIDALEXCHANGE.COM ALLOWS ANYONE TO VARY FISHING PRESSURE, MARINE PREDATION AND HABITAT CAPACITY RATES TO TRY AND RECOVER SIMULGUAMISH RIVER CHINOOK, A METAPHOR FOR REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS WITH THE SALMON STOCK ON THE HABITAT-CONSTRAINED STILLAGUAMISH RIVER. (TIDALEXCHANGE.COM)

Proposed Puget Sound Chinook Plan Panned In Another Analysis

Adopting a new Puget Sound Chinook plan that could further decrease the region’s salmon angling won’t save fall kings in a highly degraded watershed, where the stock appears to be less and less able to naturally replace itself despite 30 years of restrictions.

That’s the nut of another analysis of comanagers’ 10-year harvest management plan now out for federal review.

THE SUN RISES OVER THE LOWER STILLAGUAMISH RIVER VALLEY AND HIGHWAY 530 NEAR ARLINGTON IN OCTOBER 2014. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Headlined “WDFW Gives Up Puget Sound Fishing… For Nothing,” the pro-sportsfishing blog Tidal Exchange focused on the Stillaguamish River’s highly constraining Chinook, concluding that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound tribes’ proposal is worse than the status quo for two primary reasons:

“Because it allows — for another 10 years — the continued narrative that further curtailing fishing will lead to recovery on this river”;

And it “seems likely to deliver … a negative spiral for recovery and WDFW itself” through the loss of as much as an estimated $32 million annually in economic activity due to curtailed Chinook fisheries in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and North Sound and lost angler interest.

Where a mid-December review by a retired longtime WDFW salmon expert focused on that potential “tighter noose” on fisheries, in this new one, authors Curt Kraemer and Brian Fleming look at the Stilly’s underlying and overwhelming habitat problems.

The basin does include the pristine, sheer-sided 76-square-mile Boulder River Wilderness but also hundreds of square miles of scalped heights of the North and South Forks and their ever-shifting glacial strata underneath midelevation tree farms, as well as a highly modified floodplain, presenting problems from top to bottom, from Segelsen Ridge to Port Susan.

The authors use the analogy that before settlement, the Stillaguamish watershed was a 5-gallon bucket that produced runs of 50,000 Chinook, but with farming, diking, logging and development, the bucket can now only hold a pint of water.

Between tribally produced hatchery and natural-origin fall kings, returns have declined from around 900 in 1988 to 700 in 2015, according to a graph directly from the management plan, which was posted at this time last month and which we first reported on.

(PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN)

Because Puget Sound Chinook are listed under the Endangered Species Act, Washington managers have federal overseers looking over their shoulders asking how they’re going to protect them.

With the fisheries that impact Stilly kings the most outside of state control — namely off Vancouver Island, British Columbia and Alaska — the only way currently to get more back on the gravel is to reduce fisheries here.

Yet it’s a catch-22 — even fully curbing those would yield “surprisingly few … perhaps a dozen” more spawners, the authors write.

I know this will come across as the equivalent of the radio stations that last month switched to a Christmas format and put “Sleigh Ride” by The Spice Girls on heavy rotation until you couldn’t stand it, but the fix really does come down to one thing.

“Unless and until we repair the bucket, the habitat, we’re never going to see those numbers again,” the authors argue.

Furthermore, Kraemer — who retired from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after decades as a fisheries biologist in charge of the Stilly among other rivers — and Fleming say that by reducing Chinook fishing even further, you “end up losing the most engaged and enthusiastic resource we have — which is the tens of thousands of license buyers” — who could otherwise muster up the public support as well as manpower for habitat fixes.

That in itself will be a pretty tall order because it’s not easy to convince people that there really is a habitat problem for Chinook in such a beautiful, bucolic valley, one of postcard views, tidy farms, and a smaller human population, relatively speaking.

Yet there is, as salmon production here shows.

The authors call for anglers to write to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and urge members of the citizen oversight panel to confirm with other experts that their biological arguments are sound, “as the social and economic implications of the proposed Puget Sound fisheries changes are enormous.”

Meanwhile, the commission will be briefed by WDFW staff about said plan at their upcoming meeting in Ridgefield.

Kyle Adicks, intergovernmental salmon advisor, is scheduled to speak beginning at 1:20 p.m. on Jan. 19. It’ll be a chance for agency brass to defend the plan.

At least one commissioner has already voiced displeasure with it.

Vice Chair Larry Carpenter told Director Jim Unsworth that for such a potentially weighty document, it was “an unacceptable practice” to not brief the commission during its behind-closed-doors, federal-judge-mediated development.

The plan is now being reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service for midspring 2019 approval, but WDFW has stated it wants to implement it starting with 2018 salmon seasons.