Tag Archives: wdfw

Steelheader Group Calls On Washington Pols, DNR To Block OKed Fish Farm’s Lease

Wild steelhead advocates are calling on two of Washington’s highest elected officials as well as a state agency to block a Canadian company from farming the sea-going trout in Puget Sound pens.

It follows yesterday’s news that WDFW had granted Cooke Aquaculture a five-year permit to rear sterile female steelhead in at least four of its netpens, and possibly as many as seven.

THE WILD STEELHEAD COALITION SAYS THAT GIVEN ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT LISTINGS FOR PUGET SOUND SALMON AND STEELHEAD STOCKS, COOKE AQUACULTURE’S PLANS TO FARM STERILE FEMALE STEELHEAD NEEDS MORE REVIEW. (CHASE GUNNELL)

“Given the disease, pollution and other risks associated with open-water fish farms, Endangered Species Act listings in place to protect Puget Sound’s native salmon and steelhead, and Cooke’s clear history of operational failures, we believe this application requires more thorough oversight,” the Wild Steelhead Coalition said in a press release.

WDFW’s approval came after a State Environmental Policy Act review, but the coalition says it should have done an Environmental Impact Statement, which covers projects that are likely to have “significant” impacts on the environment.

“Washington tribes, agencies, non-profits and everyday citizens have worked for decades to clean up Puget Sound, and recover the wild fish, orca whales and priceless marine life that depends on these waters. For our state to continue to permit a Canadian corporation with a tarnished record to operate disaster-prone industrial fish farms in our marine waters would be a massive step backward,” the coalition stated.

In comments submitted last November, the group said there was a “high likelihood” that diseases could spread from the netpens as foraging wild stocks feed on scraps drifting through the mesh.

Fish farming has been a hot topic in the Northwest, especially following the collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island pens in August 2017 and which led to the escape of some 300,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound.

Over 100 tons of mussels and other sea life that weren’t cleaned off the nets allowed them to effectively act as sails in the current and become unmoored, spilling the fish, a state report found.

WRECKAGE OF COOKE AQUACULTURE’S CYPRESS ISLAND NETPEN WHICH HAD HOUSED 300,000-PLUS ATLANTIC SALMON BEFORE BREAKING. (DNR)

While the East Coast imports fall under the banner of being an aquatic invasive species, WDFW’s website also states that “the evidence strongly indicates that Atlantic salmon aquaculture poses little risk to native salmon and non-salmon species.”

It says that after considering Cooke’s application, rearing steelhead in the company’s saltwater facilities instead “pose a similarly low” risk.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF COOKE AQUACULTURE PENS IN PUGET SOUND. (WDFW)

In that material, WDFW does acknowledge that not all sterile, or triploid, fish are in fact unable to breed and that if a similar accident as Cypress to occur, dozens to around 100 fecund females could be on the loose, though they “would need to migrate into a steelhead spawning river, without homing instincts or cues to enter a specific river, at the correct time of year, dig redds, and attract mates, all of which we assume would have a low probability of occurrence.”

“Therefore, we consider the risk to be low that domesticated all-female, triploid steelhead stocks cultured in Puget Sound net-pens will affect adversely the genetic structure of Washington’s steelhead populations,” WDFW states.

A HALF YEAR AFTER ESCAPING, SOME ATLANTIC SALMON WERE STILL BEING CAUGHT, THIS ONE BY ERIC BELL ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT SULTAN IN EARLY JANUARY 2018. (ERIC BELL)

The Wild Steelhead Coalition, which is not to be confused with the  highly litigious Wild Fish Conservancy though both groups are against netpens, points to results from 2018’s legislature which banned farming Atlantics and, in their words, “was a clear expression of the people’s desire to prioritize our public waters and native fish over private polluters.”

They say the Department of Natural Resources, as well as its director Hilary Franz, and Governor Jay Inslee should deny Cooke the leases it needs to operate the pens in state waters.

“We also expect the Department of Ecology to thoroughly scrutinize Cooke’s proposal in consideration of pollution impacts,” the coalition adds.

The fish farmers need a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit from DOE and a transport permit from WDFW before any of the steelhead go into any netpens.

Disease Kills Large Number Of Ringold Steelhead Smolts

A disease outbreak killed roughly 75 percent of the summer steelhead smolts being reared at a Hanford Reach hatchery, a blow to a fishery and program that have had a tough few years.

THE REYES BROTHERS — ISSAC, LEVI AND IVAN — SHOW OFF A SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD CAUGHT IN THE HANFORD REACH IN MARCH 2015. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

WDFW reports that it was able to release somewhere around 50,000 of the juvenile fish from Ringold Springs into the cooler waters of the Columbia River to give them “a fighting chance,” but couldn’t find backup stock for the other 150,000 or so that were lost.

“We actively tried to find replacements, but it was too late in the rearing cycle,” said Brian Lyon, the state hatchery complex manager, this morning. “We would’ve replaced them if we could have, believe me.”

The news was first reported on WDFW’s Medium blog Jan. 13.

Crews first detected what is known as “Ich,” or Ichthyophthirius multifilis, in December and treated a 2.5-acre pond used to rear nearly 200,000 steelhead, but were unable to stop the outbreak, so after a week and a half released the survivors.

The disease, which is spread by a parasite and affects the gills and skin of fish, was also found in other ponds at Ringold that hold coho and rainbow trout, but treatments were successful and few of those fish were lost, according to WDFW.

AN IMAGE POSTED BY WDFW SHOWS WHAT THE FISH DISEASE KNOWN AS ICH LOOKS LIKE THROUGH A MICROSCOPE. (WDFW)

It wasn’t clear how the steelhead came to be infected.

Ich exists in the Columbia and could have been carried into hatchery waters by predators — Lyon says that if a bird ate an infected fish then pooped as it flew over the ponds, it could transmit the disease that way.

Otters might have also been to blame. WDFW says there are deterrents at the hatchery but sometimes hungry critters can worm their way in.

The last Ich outbreak at Ringold was 10 years ago, WDFW reported, but the 60-degree spring waters that feed the ponds are ideal growing conditions for the disease, according to Lyon.

Releasing the surviving steelhead into the cooler waters of the Columbia should have given them a “better” chance of survival, his agency reported. In December the big river was running in the upper 40s and it is now in the upper 30s below Priest Rapids Dam, at the head of the Hanford Reach.

Lyon said the smolts were about a year old at the time of the outbreak but unfortunately no surplus fish were available at other hatcheries, including Wells further up the Columbia.

The steelhead were being reared for return in 2021’s lower Hanford Reach fishery. Angling for summer-runs there has been poor in recent seasons, with the waters closed to retention this past fall and shut down early in 2018 to try and ensure that broodstock goals were reached.

Ich was blamed for the loss of about 6,100 wild and hatchery adult Chinook in Willapa Basin streams in 2015, while this past fall another naturally occurring disease, cryptobia, hit fall kings in rivers on Oregon’s North Coast.

WDFW said it is reviewing the Ich outbreak at Ringold “to determine whether measures can be put in place to prevent a re-occurrence.”

WDFW OKs Farming Sterile Female Steelhead In Cooke Sea Pens

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

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on Tuesday approved an application from Cooke Aquaculture to farm all-female, sterile (triploid) rainbow trout/steelhead in Puget Sound.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF COOKE AQUACULTURE PENS IN PUGET SOUND. (WDFW)

The five-year permit applies to existing net pens in Puget Sound where Cooke holds valid aquatic land leases with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. This includes four pens currently operating near Rich Passage and Skagit Bay, but may later extend to three other net pens owned by Cooke.

WDFW approved the permit following an extensive State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) public comment period, which saw more than 3,500 comments submitted. WDFW created a detailed document addressing Cooke’s proposal that also serves, in part, as a response to those comments. That document, and other related information, can be found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/closed-final.

“We heard from a huge number of stakeholders on this issue, and we appreciate everyone who took time to make their voice heard as part of this process,” said WDFW Deputy Director Amy Windrope. “This permit was approved based on scientific review and is contingent on Cooke complying with strict provisions designed to minimize any risk to native fish species.”

Among those provisions:

  • A comprehensive escape prevention, response, and report plan;
  • Biennial inspections of net-pen facilities by a WDFW-approved marine engineering firm, to check for structural integrity and permit compliance;
  • Immediate reports to WDFW of any escaped fish, as well as a unique marking identifying all commercial aquaculture fish;
  • Sampling and testing of smolts before being transferred to marine net pens, to ensure that they are free of disease;
  • Annual fish health evaluation reports; and
  • Tissue sampling for genetic analysis of broodstock by WDFW.

These are just some of the conditions required under the permit. In addition, Cooke will have to obtain a modification to their National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits from the Washington Department of Ecology, and a transport permit from WDFW prior to any steelhead trout being moved into net pens.

For the full list, see the “mitigating provisions” section in the justification document at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/marine_aquaculture_permit_justification.pdf

Cooke first submitted an application to raise steelhead trout in January 2019 in an effort to transition from farming Atlantic salmon in the company’s existing Puget Sound net pens. The company submitted a completed SEPA checklist and supporting documentation to WDFW in July.

SW WA, Columbia Gorge Pools Fishing Report (1-22-20)

THE FOLLOWING FISHING REPORT WAS FORWARDED BY BRYANT SPELLMAN, WDFW

Washington Columbia River and Tributary Fishing Report Jan 13-19, 2019

Mainstem Columbia River

Salmon/Steelhead:

John Day Pool – 4 bank anglers released two steelhead.

Sturgeon:

Bonneville Pool – Two bank anglers had no catch.  20 boats/59 rods kept six legal sturgeon and released 87 sublegal and one oversize sturgeon.

JACOB CULVER SHOWS OFF A BONNEVILLE POOL STURGEON CAUGHT SEVERAL SEASONS BACK. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Dalles Pool – Seven bank anglers released one sublegal sturgeon.  10 boats/25 rods kept four legal sturgeon and released 12 sublegal sturgeon.

John Day Pool – 20 bank anglers had no catch.  14 boats/31 rods released one sublegal sturgeon.

Walleye:

Bonneville Pool – 1 boat/1 rod had no catch.

The Dalles Pool – 1 bank angler had no catch.

John Day Pool – 1 bank angler had no catch.  2 boats/3 rods kept three walleye.

Bass:

John Day Pool – One bank angler had no catch.

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Grays River – Two bank anglers had no catch.

Elochoman River – 39 bank anglers kept 20 steelhead.  1 boat/2 rods kept two steelhead.

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream – One bank angler had no catch.

Above the I-5 Br – Six bank anglers had no catch.

Tributaries not listed: Creel checks not conducted.

State Rep Aims To Simplify WDFW Hunting Regs; Oly Fish-Wildlife Bills Update

It was the fall of 1969, man had just walked on the moon, the road over the top of the North Cascades was still dirt and all of Washington’s big and small game seasons fit on one side of a state highway map that also featured GMU borders.

A Blue Mountains lawmaker would like WDFW to model its current 132-page pamphlet on that much simpler foldout brochure and today her bill toward that end had a hearing in Olympia.

A COPY OF THE 1968 WASHINGTON HUNTING REGS FOLDS OUT TO INCLUDE ALL BIG AND SMALL GAME SEASONS, ALONG WITH SPECIAL PERMITS. (WDFW)

(WDFW)

“I think it’s just hard to figure out the rules and where you’re supposed to be,” said Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy) before the House Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee this morning.

She said she was inspired to propose the bill after conversations last fall with hunters who relayed to her how complex the regulations now are and subsequently discovering her dad’s 1969 copy of them among old papers of his in her barn.

“I have been hunting for over 70 years and I can remember when hunting regs were very small and very direct,” one of those hunters, Daryl Lambert, told state representatives.

Like many other sportsmen will vouch — whether it be about the hunting or fishing pamphlets, or those for Washington, Oregon or elsewhere — Lambert said you all but need to be a lawyer or land surveyor to understand them.

“I’m afraid I’m going to do something I shouldn’t be or be in the wrong zone,” said the soft-spoken man, voicing the fears of many legitimate hunters.

MEMBERS OF REP. BRIAN BLAKE’S HOUSE COMMITTEE THAT HEARS WDFW-RELATED BILLS LISTEN TO ONE PROPOSING THE AGENCY MODEL ITS HUNTING REGS ON 1969’S, WHICH FEATURED A STATE HIGHWAY AND GAME MANAGEMENT UNIT ON ONE SIDE AND ALL THE DEER, ELK AND OTHER SEASONS ON THE OTHER. (TVW)

It was left to WDFW’s Nate Pamplin, director of budget and government affairs, to offer his agency’s hesitant opposition to HB 2557.

He acknowledged the complexity of the pamphlet and that it can be a barrier to recruiting and retaining hunters, but noted that in addition to maximizing opportunity through distributed pressure while ensuring sustainable game herds, conversations with sportsmen, land owners and treaty tribes have essentially led to today’s packed pamphlet.

“You can imagine how after 50 years of hunting conversations we’ve seen the increase in the number of rules and regulations, but we think that reducing the size of the pamphlet and thus the number of rules would severely impact and cause a loss of hunting opportunity,” Pamplin said.

He did note that the 1969 hunting regs had a 20-page addendum on file that described the legal boundaries of all the game management units shown on the highway map.

Pamplin did voice support for developing a mobile hunting app like what WDFW’s done with Fish Washington.

“It already has your GPS on it — what are the seasons that are open, what are the bag limits, what are the license requirements. All right there in something that is very simple and everybody carries on their person today,” he described to lawmakers.

Of course it was not exactly free to come up with and maintain that app — WDFW is requesting $311,000 in the supplementary budget to keep it going.

Following up on a question from Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), Pamplin said that for those without smartphones, WDFW does need to consider having other simplified material available.

“On the fishing side … sometimes we will work with local government or tourism board to kind of provide like a one-page summary of ‘Here’s the trout regulations just for that area,’ so someone has that one-off opportunity, doesn’t need to pore through the whole pamphlet to figure out how to go trout fishing. So we’re definitely open to exploring a variety of ways to do that,” he said.

Perhaps what could be done is modify Rep. Dye’s idea but on the flip side of the highway/game management unit map just list most or all of the general seasons for deer, elk, bear, cougar, small game and upland birds, along with plenty of asterisks to say, See the printed or PDF versions for the full regs, definitions, deadlines, firearms restriction areas, what a wolf and a coyote look like, permit and raffle opportunities, etc., etc., etc.

If the dollars could be found for that, it could be made available where tourism brochures turn up — state ferries, chambers of commerce, sportsmen’s show booths, etc., etc., etc.

AS FOR OTHER WDFW-RELATED BILLS PERCOLATING this short 60-day session, here are a few that have caught the passing eye of The Olympia Outsider™* so far:

SB 6071/HB 2571, “Concerning increased deterrence and meaningful enforcement of fish and wildlife violations” by allowing game wardens to issue citations on the spot, like state troopers would a speeding ticket, instead of forwarding the case to county prosecutors who may or may not take it up, as well as tweak laws so poachers can’t regain possession of illegally taken fish or game after its been seized due to how their case was settled without a conviction.

HB 2549, “Integrating salmon recovery efforts with growth management” by making bringing back Chinook, coho and other stocks a goal of GMA, with counties and cities required to submit comprehensive plans toward that goal to WDFW for approval. Key term in the bill is “net ecological gain,” which means instead of just breaking even on environmental impacts of development, mitigations would outweigh them. Has a hearing this week.

HB 2443, “Requiring the use of personal flotation devices on smaller vessels,” meaning anglers 13 years and older aboard drift boats, canoes and other fishing craft less than 19 feet long would need to wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest. The bill had a public hearing earlier this week and even as they spoke to a culture of safety, it appeared to take some among the recreational boating community off guard. Slated for executive session in the House Housing, Community Development & Veterans Committee later this week.

HB 2559, “Concerning payments in lieu of real property taxes by the department of fish and wildlife” and just might “save the state of Washington,” per one of its two prime sponsors, Rep. Larry Springer (D), who says it’s the most important bill that he and Rep. Tom Dent (R) thought they could bring forward this session. Similar to a bill last year, it essentially shifts PILT payment responsibility from WDFW to the state treasurer’s office, like how it’s done for DNR lands. State ownership of lands in rural counties — where wildlife habitat opportunities are greatest — comes at a cost of taking dollars off tax rolls, especially with the legislature not fully funding PILT since the Recession.

SB 6166, “Concerning recreational fishing and hunting licenses,” the fee bill proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in his supplementary budget and introduced by Sen. Christine Rolfes. Essentially it’s the same bill as last year’s failed HB 1708 and SB 5692. WDFW had pointedly requested General Funds to fill its budget hole instead of trying another fee bill.

HB 2552, “Creating a joint legislative salmon committee” to come up with bills fostering recovery of Chinook, coho and other stocks and coordinating those efforts. Has a hearing later this week.

HB 2504, “Creating the southwest Washington salmon restoration act” and requiring that future salmon production in Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific, and Wahkiakum Counties be equal to or greater than the average over the past two decades. WDFW voiced support for the bill at its public hearing this morning, and a North Sound representative was eager to incorporate her district into sponsor Rep. Jim Walsh’s proposal.

HB 2450, “Concerning license fees for emergency medical services personnel under Title 77 RCW,” which would provide five-plus-year volunteer EMTs and others with free fishing and hunting licenses, an idea that sponsor Rep. Joe Schmick hopes will help retain their services in rural areas. WDFW says it figures 700 people would apply if passed.

HB 2705, “Concerning special antlerless deer hunting seasons” and allowing hunters 65 years of age and up to harvest mule deer and whitetail does during the general rifle season in Eastside units.

SB 6509/HB 2741, “Increasing the abundance of salmonids in Washington waters” through a pilot program similar to Alaska-style private hatcheries.

SB 6072/HB 2238, “Dividing the state wildlife account into the fish, wildlife, and conservation account and the limited fish and wildlife account.” No, this doesn’t mean your license dollars — WHICH DO NOT GO INTO THE GENERAL FUND — will suddenly go into the General Fund, it is about dividing WDFW’s State Wildlife Account — where your fishing and hunting fees actually go — into two subaccounts: restricted and unrestricted moneys to “provide more clarity on these funding sources and issues,” per WDFW.

SB 5613, “Concerning the authority of counties to vacate a county road that abuts on a body of water if the county road is hazardous or creates a significant risk to public safety.” Introduced last session and resuscitated for 2020, this bill targets a water access site on the lower Lewis River but has drawn concern for potential wider impacts. It is within one reading of getting out of the Senate.

And HB 2666, “Establishing the warm water fishing advisory group” to improve angling, habitat and representation for bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and other spinyray fisheries.

* Has The Olympia Outsider™ forgotten a bill? Email him a hot news tip/kick in the side of the noggin at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Thoughts On The Cancellation Of Skagit-Sauk C&R Steelhead Season

Like many North Sound steelheaders, I’m disappointed with this week’s news that not enough wild winter-runs are forecast to return to the Skagit and Sauk this year to support another catch-and-release opener.

THE SAUK RIVER FLOWS BELOW SNOWCAPPED WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN ON A SPRING 2019 DAY SPENT FISHING FOR WILD WINTER STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I’m also frustrated, given how much effort that I saw fellow anglers as well as state and tribal biologists and managers put into convincing federal overseers to approve the North Cascades fishery.

And angry because after just a season and a sixth on these vaunted waters in the entirety of last decade — a mere 101 days of opportunity — me and a whole lot of other devotees are right back on the bank again.

Just like where we were in January 2010.

So much for making the run out to Darrington, floating down from Marblemount, or swinging spoons or flies near Rockport and Concrete this February, March and April.

So much for another million dollars for the region, like what last season generated –$22 and change from me alone after lunching up at the IGA in the home of the Loggers.

So much for rejuvenating one’s self in the beautiful solitude of this country as winter ebbs into spring and snowfields glisten under blue skies and the willows bud and the grouse drum.

HIGHWAY 530, WHICH PARALLELS THE SAUK, SNAKES THROUGH NEWLY GREENED TREES DURING 2018’S BRIEF FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Now, I am not going to sit here and pretend that I am the most aggrieved Sauk-Skagit steelheader of all time.

Yes, I have been fishing here occasionally since, I want to say, the early 2000s, but most others have far longer histories with these waters, and needless to say far, faaaaaaaar more catches.

Hell, the last thing I caught out of these rivers was a scolding last April Fools’ Day for parking in a known tweeker den so I could fish a certain run!

But I have been writing about it and the rest of Puget Sound steelheading’s highs, lows and woes over the past decade or so, and this feels like a bitter blow.

For want of a measly 38 fish …

Thirty-eight.

AN ANGLER PASSES OVER THE SAUK RIVER BRIDGE NEAR THE FOREST SERVICE PUT-IN/TAKEOUT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE PROBLEM, AS EVERYWHERE ANYMORE, is that not enough fish are returning to hold a season, and since these happen to also be listed under the Endangered Species Act they require significant protection on their road to recovery.

This year’s forecast calls for just 3,963 natives, which essentially is too few because of incidental impacts that will occur to them in other fisheries.

Overlapping the run to various degrees are state and tribal seasons targeting blackmouth, spring Chinook, sockeye and bull trout, and they have their own devotees.

The winter-spring native fishery is operated under April 2018’s Skagit River Steelhead Fishery Resource Management Plan and uses a “stepped” impact rate, which is to say that the more fish that are predicted to return, the more that can removed one way or another from the population.

Think those incidental impacts elsewhere, and catch-and-release handling mortalities and tribal harvest that are allowed under the federal permit.

To be clear, the three Skagit Basin tribes that went in with WDFW on the management plan will not be netting wild steelhead this season while we state anglers are shut down.

With runs of 8,001 or more fish, the impact rate is up to 25 percent ; for runs between 6,001 and 8,000, it’s 20 percent; for runs between 4,001 and 6,000 it’s 10 percent; and when it’s 4,000 or fewer, the rate drops to just 4 percent, which as it stands gets eaten up by other fisheries.

So mathematically it’s all quite simple, actually.

A COLD DAY ON THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

BUT SCRUBBING THE SEASON WAS NOT AN EASY decision for WDFW to make, I understand.

There was the weight of the considerable time and energy that the fishing public and agency invested in getting it off the ground again — the grassroots effort known as Occupy Skagit, the institutional buy-in from staff and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, having three separate tribal nations on board, writing the plan, putting it out for comment and then getting the nervous nellies at the National Marine Fisheries Service to approve the damn thing already.

There was the forecast, soooooooo close to the line and coming at a time when any fish prediction is immediately suspect — especially given the pretty crazy new signals the North Pacific is throwing off with the rise of The Blob.

There was the low expected return of 5-year-olds, a class that typically makes up a very strong plurality of any given season’s return.

There were the almost uniformly poor early hatchery steelhead returns from southern mainland British Columbia down through Puget Sound and on the Washington Coast and Lower Columbia tribs — were those a sign of ocean productivity that could be applied to wild runs?

And there’s the fact that WDFW has been using the Skagit-Sauk season as a key example of what it calls “emergent needs” and requires a budget boost of somewhere around a couple hundred thousand bucks to perform the heavy monitoring required under the permit from NMFS because of the listing.

Throw in the watchful eyes of NMFS, and undoubtedly a lawsuit sitting on the Wild Fish Conservancy’s fax machine just waiting for Kurt Beardslee to hit send, and, well … I’m damn glad I wasn’t the one being paid to make the decision.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING 2018’S BRIEF REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPID ANGLERS, VIA AL SENYOHL)

ULTIMATELY, STEWARDSHIP WON OUT and I can respect and support that.

There is a lot riding on Puget Sound’s last best stock. Under NMFS’s new recovery plan, it’s one of four separate winter steelhead populations in the North Cascades that to delist must meet set escapement goals  — 15,000 in the case of the Sauk-Skagit.

Yes, there’s a long way to go, but if this year’s forecast is actually correct, it would still be 1,000 and 1,400 more wild steelhead back to the system than the next two lowest runs: 1979’s 2,982 and 2009’s 2,502.

(WDFW)

A WDFW graph shows that those years were ultimately followed by large increases in run sizes; following the last nadir it jumped to 8,727, 9,084 and 8,644 in back-to-back-to-back years in the mid-2010s.

With good habitat in the headwaters and lots of restoration work ongoing elsewhere, carrying capacity will increase more.

Hell, if we were patient enough to sit on the bank for the eight straight seasons that a fishery wasn’t even on the table — 2010 through 2017 — what’s another year?

The wild card, though, is just how much damage The Blob wrought as it dewatered tributaries and overheated streams onshore and affected the foodweb offshore, potentially impacting a handful of year-classes.

Another year could become two, three years … more?

We’re patient, we steelheaders are, but the state of affairs with our favorite winter pastime in Pugetropolis is beyond aggravating.

The continual grinding loss of opportunities over the decades, the declining runs, the listing, the reduction in hatchery releases, pinnipeds and lawsuits eating away at the scraps that are left …

Joining our feelings of disappointment, frustration and anger is sheer utter hopelessness. We can’t take any more. The problem for the fish is so huge. Why did you ever let us start steelheading in the first place if it was all going to go to sh*t, oh lord?

God, maybe Phil Anderson should have just put us out of our misery back in 2010 when he broached the idea of “eliminating steelhead fishing in Puget Sound” in response to his agency’s budget woes.

As we know (and do we ever know), those woes are still around.

And yet while everything else has seemingly bled out, Skagit-Sauk wild steelhead are still around.

They’re an amazingly strong stock, a plastic absurdity of a fish– those in the Skagit Basin exhibit nearly 36 different life histories, three @#$%@$# dozen!

They will cycle back up and along the way be better able to adapt to the changing conditions in so many of their habitats.

One of which I occasionally visit in winter and spring, float and spoon rods in hand as bull ruffies drum up mates and the smell of cottonwood sap fills my nostrils.

A PAIR OF RODS LEAN AGAINST A MAPLE TREE ALONG THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

After Building Hit, Target Shooting Banned At Part Of Wildlife Area Near Ephrata

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

Due to safety concerns, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will no longer allow target shooting from Road 12 of the Gloyd Seeps Wildlife Area Unit near Ephrata in Grant County.

WDFW IMAGES SHOW DAMAGE FROM TARGET SHOOTING. (WDFW)

WDFW received a complaint from a neighboring landowner that a stray bullet from target shooting hit one of his buildings on Dec. 21, 2019. The Grant County Sheriff’s Office investigated and confirmed the validity of the report.

“There isn’t a good area at the Gloyd Seeps Unit to direct target shooting,” said Rich Finger, WDFW lands operations manager, “There are several residences and outbuildings that are well within range of a rifle bullet and hunters and anglers heavily use surrounding areas.”

(WDFW)

Finger also said the wildlife area unit has a long history of target shooting issues, including damage to signs and gates, and debris left behind by careless shooters.

People can report target shooting violations or safety concerns to WDFW Enforcement at 1-877-933-9847. To report an incident in progress, call 911.

“There are many safe places in the region to target shoot,” said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director for North Central Washington. “But chronic problems at the Gloyd Seeps Unit, including this latest incident, show that this isn’t one of them.”

(WDFW)

WDFW has designated shooting ranges on the Methow, Asotin Creek, and Wooten wildlife areas. Improvements are also underway on designed target shooting locations on the Wenas Wildlife Area near Ellensburg and at the Swakane Wildlife Area Unit near Wenatchee. Funding for improvement projects came from the Capital budget and grants from the Recreation and Conservation Office, National Rifle Association, and Wenatchee Sportsman’s Association.

WDFW manages the 12,141-acre Gloyd Seeps Wildlife Area Unit as part of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area. The unit includes shrubsteppe uplands, basalt scablands, wetlands, and ponds, and supports a small population of Washington ground squirrels. The unit offers a variety of recreation opportunities, including pheasant hunting and a selective gear trout fishery on Homestead Lake.

The department owns or manages about one million acres statewide, with 33 wildlife areas and nearly 500 water access areas around the state. These public lands help sustain wildlife habitat and public recreation opportunities for current and future generations.

SW WA, Columbia Gorge Pools Fishing Report (1-14-20)

THE FOLLOWING FISHING REPORT WAS FORWARDED BY BRYANT SPELLMAN, WDFW

Washington Columbia River and Tributary Fishing Report Jan 6-12, 2019

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River

John Day Pool – 12 bank anglers kept one steelhead and released four steelhead.

Sturgeon:

Bonneville Pool – Seven bank anglers had no catch.  13 boats/39 rods kept 10 legal sturgeon, released 64 sublegal and two oversize sturgeon.

KATIE CRAIG CAUGHT THIS DALLES POOL STURGEON IN FEBRUARY 2016. SHE WAS FISHING THE COLUMBIA RESERVOIR WITH HUBSTER NATHAN. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The Dalles Pool – Six bank anglers released one sublegal sturgeon.

John Day Pool – 15 bank anglers had no catch.  17 boats/36 rods kept one legal sturgeon and released one oversize sturgeon.

Reservoir Estimated
Total Harvest
% of Guideline Guideline
Bonneville 146 29 500
The Dalles 74 55 135
John Day 18 17 105

Walleye:

John Day Pool – 1 boat/3 rods had no catch.

Bass:

John Day Pool – Two bank anglers had no catch.

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries 

Elochoman River – 11 bank anglers kept 12 steelhead.

(Cowlitz) Above the I-5 Br – One bank angler had no catch.

  • Tributaries not listed: Creel checks not conducted.

Groups Urge Washington Lawmakers To Tap General Fund For WDFW

A broad range of fishing, hunting and other outdoor groups are calling on Washington lawmakers to fully fund WDFW through the General Fund and say that the license fee increase proposed by Governor Jay Inslee is “unlikely” to pass.

“Greater funding is needed to preserve and restore the Evergreen State’s fish and wildlife heritage, especially given growing challenges ranging from salmon and orca recovery to elk hoof disease, habitat loss and wolf management,” urges their letter, which came out this afternoon.

OUTDOOR SCENES FROM ACROSS WASHINGTON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT, ALL)

It was signed by 45 “outdoor leaders,” and the list includes the state board of Puget Sound Anglers; David Cloe of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council; Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association; Carmen Vanbianchi, board member of the Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers; and Rich Simms, cofounder and board member of the Wild Steelhead Coalition.

“Hunting is what I live for,” said another, Rachel Voss, state chair of the Mule Deer Foundation and a Tieton resident. “Our game populations and experiences face countless challenges these days, and only a strong agency offers the chance of answering those challenges and passing on our hunting heritage.”

Many of the signatories like Voss have been working with WDFW on its chronic budget issues over the past couple years, and their letter follows today’s start of the short, 60-day session of the state legislature.

It also comes after fee bill failures in 2017 and 2019 led WDFW to ask Inslee to fill this year’s budget shortfalls with $26 million from the General Fund.

While the governor’s proposed supplementary spending plan does include $15.6 million in sales tax dollars, it also leans on a 15 percent across-the-board hike in the cost of fishing and hunting licenses to raise $7-plus million a year, along with another $1.5 million or so from a resurrected Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.

The reintroduction of both of those fee packages was “unanticipated,” according to WDFW.

“A really good outcome for us coming out of 2020 is for the department’s budget to be stable,” said Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, late last week.

He hopes lawmakers book funding as ongoing instead of one time, which means the agency has to return year after year with hat in hand as costs mount.

Other signatories to the letter to state senators and representatives included Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest; Brad Throssell of the Washington Council of Trout Unlimited; Jason Callahan of the WA Forest Protection Association; Kevin van Bueren of the Methow Valley Fly Fishers; Sherry Penney of the Regional Fisheries Coalition; Greg Mueller of the Washington Trollers Association; and numerous birding, climbing, river and other groups.

They say that WDFW’s ability to perform its twin mandates of providing opportunities while conserving critters and habitat has been “put at significant risk by a structural deficit in the Department’s budget, where ongoing costs (like mandated payroll increases, Endangered Species Act requirements, and demand for outdoor opportunity from the state’s growing population) have been funded for only the initial year [2020] by onetime money.”

“The costs continue in later years. This exacerbates an agency budget that is still not restored from cuts dating to the 2008 recession. This deficit grows each biennium as onetime solutions temporarily fill the gap, only to expire and leave a larger hole,” they write.

King County Judge Rules For WDFW In 2nd Wolf Removal Lawsuit

Another Westside judge has ruled that WDFW doesn’t need to run its wolf removal protocols through the State Environmental Policy Act, the second court defeat for litigious wolf activists in just over two months.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

King County Superior Court Judge John F. McHale today reaffirmed the agency’s argument that lethal control of depredating wolves flows from the 2011 management plan for the species, and that each removal is carefully considered.

“The Court finds that WDFW’s referenced last resort approach allows for true case by case consideration that fits within … categorical exemptions … and that the lethal action challenged in this lawsuit is not part of a WDFW common scheme or plan for which actions can be seen as combined to the point that they require SEPA analysis,” McHale wrote in his three-page decision.

The lawsuit was filed by two King County residents — Genevieve Jaquez-Schumacher and John Huskinson — and Tim Coleman of Ferry County over 2019’s removals of the Old Profanity Territory Pack in Northeast Washington’s Kettle Range.

McHale dismissed their two SEPA claims, just as Thurston County Superior Court Judge John C. Skinder did last November with a lawsuit filed by Arizona- and Oregon-based wolf advocates over removals done in 2018 in the same region.

Both lawsuits aimed to throw a wrench in 2017’s hard-won wolf removal protocols, arrived at after extensive input between WDFW and members of its Wolf Advisory Group, and only implemented in the federally delisted eastern third of the state.

The plaintiffs argued that the protocols should have undergone a SEPA review, a long process that in the meanwhile would have handicapped the state’s ability to remove wolves to try and head off further cattle and sheep depredations.

WDFW argued that taking out livestock-attacking wolves falls “squarely within several SEPA categorical exemptions” and pointed to state Supreme Court case law, state statutes and administrative codes.

After hearing oral arguments in his downtown Seattle courtroom Jan. 3, McHale dismissed the two SEPA claims “with prejudice,” meaning they can’t be brought again.

As he said following that November decision, WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello stated that rather than go to court over wolf-livestock conflict issues, he’d prefer to work collaboratively on them.

“This decision lets us continue to do that,” Martorello said.

Both lawsuits also include a third claim that has yet to be resolved.

Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee last fall told the agency to “make changes in the gray wolf recovery program to further increase the reliance on non-lethal methods, and to significantly reduce the need for lethal removal of this species” in Ferry County’s Kettle Range.