Tag Archives: wdfw

One Decade On Since Washington’s First Wolf Pack Heard

It was 10 years ago today that it became publicly apparent the Northwest’s wildlife world was about to change permanently.

LOOKOUT PACK PUPS PHOTOGRAPHED 10 YEARS AGO TODAY. (CONSERVATION NORTHWEST)

On July 11, 2008, WDFW sent out a press release that three days earlier its biologists had heard howls from adult and juvenile wolves near Twisp, in North-central Washington.

The Lookout Pack would be confirmed in the following days through the capture of two adults and retrieval of trail camera images showing six pups.

I remember feeling gobsmacked.

Wolves were suddenly in the valley I’d hunted muleys for nearly a decade and a half — what was going to happen to the legendary Okanogan deer herd?

AN OKANOGAN COUNTY MULE DEER HUNTER CARTS HIS FOUR-POINT OUT OF THE WOODS DURING 2015’S HUNT. (TOM WALGAMOTT)

In hindsight, of course, the rangy predators’ arrival was inevitable as wolf populations in southern British Columbia, North Idaho and Northwest Montana grew and dispersers from Central Idaho and Yellowstone reintroductions spread out.

A dead one in Northeast Oregon in 2007, and B-300 near the Eagle Caps and a roadkill west of Spokane the following year.

And state managers had begun preparing for that eventuality by beginning to work on a management plan.

IMAGES RECORDED BY SMALL CAMERAS MOUNTED TO THE NECKS OF A COUPLE DOZEN DEER IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON PROVIDED A GLIMPSE INTO THE DAILY LIVES OF THE ANIMALS, AND HOPEFULLY MORE DETAILS ABOUT WOLF-DEER INTERACTIONS. (IMAGES COURTESY JUSTIN DELLINGER)

Yet still.

After decades with only the odd stray turning up here and there, wolves were again in Washington after being killed off some 70 years before.

Times had changed from those days. It felt like a seismic shift.

The initial news on the Lookouts from WDFW would be followed by a July 21 release from ODFW that Oregon too had its first pack, the Wenahas, in northern Union County.

OR 12, A WENAHA PACK MALE. (ODFW)

And then all hell broke loose, and it didn’t.

With yet another monthly set of magazines beckoning to get put on the press, I don’t have near enough time to list all the wolf-related events of the subsequent years as the number of wolves in Washington and Oregon grew from those first eight and four animals to a minimum of 122 and 124 as of the end of 2017.

Needless to say, there have been many depredations, lethal removals and poachings.

There have been management tweaks, federal delisting in portions of the two states, translocation bills and lawsuits.

There have been caught-in-the-act and self-defense shootings, first suggestions Washington big game subherds may be being affected by packs and wolfies chewing on wolfies

And there’s been the Diamond M, OR-7, WDFW’s wolf people tamer and, of course, Rob Wielgus.

EVIDENCE FROM A POACHING CASE AGAINST TERRY FOWLER OF LIBERTY LAKE, WASHINGTON, INCLUDED A PAIR OF WOLF SKULLS. (WDFW)

Right here I should come up with some overarching conclusion about wolves in the Northwest, but the story is nowhere near concluded, I feel.

And so I’ll keep reading, listening and calling, and writing blogs — 522 on this site at last count — and magazine articles, and see where we are in another 10 years.

Hopefully by then the feds will have completely delisted gray wolves and we’ll have reached full state recovery goals and can have limited hunts, like is already occurring on two reservations in Washington’s northeastern corner, where packs are thriving, just as they are in the same pocket of Oregon.

Indeed, after a decade, I’m sure of one thing: the wolves will be fine.

As for the rest of us, our howling over them will continue.

WDFW Outlines Postfire Wenas, Whiskey Dick Access Restrictions

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

Following wildfires last month, sections of two wildlife areas in southcentral Washington will remain closed until at least this fall, state lands managers announced today.

HUNTERS WILL HAVE WALK-IN ACCESS TO THAT PORTION OF THE WENAS WILDLIFE AREA THAT BURNED IN THE BUFFALO FIRE. (WDFW)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is extending previously announced closures to sections of the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area in Kittitas County and the Wenas Wildlife Area in Yakima County to protect fragile burned areas and allow post-fire restoration work.

The Milepost 22 fire on June 20 burned 7,614 acres of the Whiskey Dick unit of the L. T. Murray Wildlife Area. The burned area remains closed through Sept. 15 to all uses while Washington Department of Natural Resources crews complete post-fire tasks. WDFW wildlife area staff will follow up with seeding, weed control, and additional restoration work on the fragile soils.

Visitors can still access the unburned sections of the wildlife area traveling north to south and from the Windfarm east to the Columbia River. The closure does not restrict motorized access from Vantage highway because Whiskey Dick Creek Road remains open although about seven miles of “Green Dot” roads on the Whiskey Dick unit remain closed.

A map of the Whiskey Dick closure is online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/lt_murray/whiskey_dick_fire_closure_2018.pdf

On the Wenas Wildlife Area, the Buffalo fire that started June 2 burned a part of the area that has burned multiple times in recent years. About 4,000 acres of the area, defined by the Yakima River and elk fence, have been closed to use, including access to the southern trailhead of the popular Skyline Trail on Lower Buffalo Road and about three miles of the trail itself.

That closure has been extended through at least Nov. 30, although hunters will have walk-in access during hunting seasons. The closure will likely be extended again into spring 2019 to allow seeded grasses to establish.

A map of the Wenas closure is online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/wenas/buffalo_fire_closure_2018.pdf.

“That area has been hit so hard with fires that those fragile soils need protection,” explained Ross Huffman, WDFW regional lands operations manager in Yakima. “Our goal is to protect wildlife habitat and accommodate wildlife recreation as best we can, which is why we’re allowing walk-in access for hunters during the limited hunting seasons.”

The annual target-shooting restrictions, which are in effect across the entire 105,000-arcre Wenas Wildlife Area, remain in place through September. More information about those restrictions is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jun0618b/.

WDFW wildlife area staff have posted signs about the closures and gated closed areas on both the Wenas and Whiskey Dick wildlife areas.

Visitors to WDFW-managed lands in eastern Washington are reminded to observe the restrictions that are in place to reduce the risk of wildfire to state wildlife areas and access sites. Those restrictions can be found on the department’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jun2918a/.

WDFW Reports On June Wolf Work

June was relatively quiet on Washington’s wolf scene, according to state managers’ monthly report.

WDFW reports capturing two wolves last month, adult males in the Togo and Profanity Peak ranges, and say there were no confirmed livestock depredations as producers moved more than 1,000 cow-calf pairs as well as sheep herds onto Eastside grazing allotments.

DEPREDATION INVESTIGATORS WERE UNABLE TO DETERMINE A CAUSE OF DEATH FOR A PEND OREILLE COUNTY CALF, THE BONES OF WHICH WERE DISCOVERED LAST MONTH. THE CARCASS OF ANOTHER CALF IN NEIGHBORING STEVENS COUNTY WAS ALSO TOO FAR GONE TO FIGURE OUT WHY IT HAD DIED. (WDFW)

They did investigate nine calf, sheep and goat kills in Northeast Washington and King County, finding them to be victims of cougar or, in the latter case, coyote or domestic dog attacks, or that the scenes lacked enough evidence to make any determination of cause of death.

Managers outlined a range of proactive deterrent measures being used on 10 packs, mostly in the state’s wolfy northeastern corner, and said direct hazing was used on the Dirty Shirt and Smackout Packs.

The latter pack has one depredation in the last 10 months; four within a rolling 10-month period (or three within 30 days) could lead to consideration of lethal removals under agreed-to protocols.

The pack closest to that mark is the Togos, which have three since last November 2, which means Sept. 2 is the key date to remember with those two animals.

The Smackouts key date is Aug. 9.

Yesterday saw the expiration of a 10-month window in the Blue Mountains following a Sept. 2 attack on a cow-calf pair by an unknown wolf or wolves.

In Central Washington’s Kittitas County, interactions between the Teanaway Pack and grazing cattle were closely monitored by WDFW and a producer.

The agency also reported it attempted to trap and collar wolves in the Lookout, Huckleberry and Grouse Flats ranges but without success, and planned to try in the Beaver Creek, Five Sisters and Leadpoint Pack boundaries as well.

Following up on public reports, biologists poked around south of I-90 but couldn’t find any tracks or sign.

Still, WDFW “encourages” people to post sightings to its database, saying they “can be very helpful in locating new packs on the landscape.” Confirming wolves in the South Cascades is key to moving toward state delisting goals.

With Feds And ESA Pushing, Major Change To Popular Sky Summer Steelhead Program Mulled

Washington steelhead managers hope to save the popular Skykomish River summer-run fishery by switching to a local broodstock, a move that feels like a hail Mary but is also described as just about their only realistic path forward.

SKYKOMISH RIVER SKAMANIA-STRAIN HATCHERY SUMMER-RUN STEELHEAD, LIKE THIS ONE CAUGHT ON A RAINY DAY BY WINSTON McCLANAHAN, WOULD BE REPLACED WITH TOLT RIVER SUMMERS UNDER AN AMBITIOUS PLAN WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES HAVE HATCHED TO SAVE THE POPULAR FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Under pressure from federal overseers who want the state to end production of Skamania steelies in Puget Sound streams, WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes have come up with a plan to replace the strain in the Sky with Tolt River summers instead.

The whole thing could take years to get approved let alone implement, but it’s also a testament to the lengths officials are willing to go these days for Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunity.

“We’re looking for a way to preserve that fishery,” says WDFW’s Jim Scott, a special assistant to the director. “We know its importance.”

He says that switching to the in-basin steelhead will also help meet conservation and Endangered Species Act goals for the listed stock.

The good news is that at this point, side-drifting and spoon fishing for hot summers on the Sky seems unlikely to suddenly come to a screeching halt.

“There’s no expectation to eliminate the existing program until we build up the Tolt,” Scott says, “and there will be a period of overlap of the programs” before releases of the steelhead strain originally from Southwest Washington ends.

THE SKYKOMISH ABOVE PROCTOR CREEK, BELOW REITER PONDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Several things are driving the move, Scott says, including last year’s new Mitchell Act biological opinion for hatchery operations in the Columbia Basin.

“NOAA informed us they would no longer permit out-of-DPS (distinct population segment) steelhead stocks in the Lower Columbia,” says Scott.

That effectively killed off use of Chambers Creek steelhead there.

Scott says that now-retired National Marine Fisheries Service manager Rob Jones dropped another strong hint afterwards about what was coming down the line — that managers should “just say no to stocks outside DPS.”

“Given the tremendous value of the Skykomish summer-run fishery, that created a great deal of concern in my mind,” Scott says.

Like the state, the feds are just as vulnerable to ESA lawsuits for incomplete or poorly permitted hatchery operations.

A July 21, 2017 letter (page 55 of this PDF) from NMFS West Coast regional administrator Barry Thom noted WDFW had yet to submit an updated hatchery genetic management plan for the summer steelhead program at Reiter Ponds on the Sky as well as Whitehorse on the North Fork Stilly, that those be reviewed with stakeholders and that the review result in the “timely development of alternatives to using segregated Skamania broodstock in the Snohomish and Stillaguamish basins.”

So WDFW along with the Tulalips and the ad hoc Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group have been casting around for potential solutions.

Scott suggests that there are still other though lesser possibilities, but one participant in PSSAG’s “gritty discussions” says this is it to save the fishery.

“WDFW has only one alternative, and that is to mine the Tolt River native stocks,” says member Mark Spada, who is also president of the venerable Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club and a longtime local angler.

The Tolt is a tributary of the Snoqualmie River which joins the Sky below Monroe to form the Snohomish.

“Without the Tolt fish, the summer-run program is done, despite being arguably one of the most successful hatchery programs ever designed,” Spada says. “This decision makes no sense, but the Sky smolt plant has already been reduced from 160,000, to 116,000, at the direction of NMFS.”

Two years ago, it actually looked even more grim than that. Rumors flew that Reiter Ponds summer steelhead output might be cut by around half — or the program killed off entirely.

THE SKYKOMISH IS THE ONLY RIVER NORTH OF THE COWLITZ AND EAST OF FORKS WHERE WESTERN WASHINGTON ANGLERS STAND A GOOD CHANCE OF CATCHING HARVESTABLE SUMMER STEELHEAD AND CHINOOK ON THE SAME FLOAT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

A PSSAG meeting handout from early last month explains the Skamanias-for-Tolts plan more fully.

It involves pumping redds in the Tolt to collect eggs that would then be hatched at Tokul Creek Hatchery. Fish would be reared there, then released from there and back in the Tolt.

Fertilized eggs from first-generation adults returning to Tokul would be transferred to Reiter for rearing and release there and upstream at Sunset Falls.

Release of unmarked steelhead above Sunset Falls would cease and Skamania production at Reiter would be phased out as Tolts took over.

Skamanias, known for their fight, are a 1950s mix of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead and come from the hatchery on the Washougal.

They were once planted in numerous Puget Sound rivers, including the Dungeness, Green, Skagit, Cascade, South Fork of the Stillaguamish, Canyon Creek, Sultan, North and South Forks of the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Raging and Tolt.

But they have a propensity for interbreeding with native fish — steelhead in the North Fork Sky are “almost all Skamanias,” according to Scott — and so have been largely discontinued, leading to shrinking fishing opportunities over the years.

One big question is, if local wild summers are already Skamanias in part, why even bother and put the fishery at risk?

When WDFW was mulling Puget Sound wild gene banks in 2015, a presentation showed that native steelhead in the Tolt had been genetically influenced by the strain.

But according to Scott, new work shows that that percentage is “dropping” and that there may be different genes even between early and late spawners.

“Through careful selection, we hope to select for mostly Tolt summers,” he says.

Relatively speaking, not many summer steelhead spawn in the trib — a WDFW chart shows the escapement goal has rarely been met the past 15 years — and 2015’s drought probably didn’t do us any favors either, but a side benefit of the plan is that it could help rebuild Tolt stocks.

While it all seems like a long reach, Spada’s actually optimistic.

“With the science now available, the Tolt project has a good chance of succeeding, and should be the long-term answer,” he says.

And Scott too is bullish.

“We want to be careful how we do it, but we have real experience restoring runs that are very small,” he says.

He points to restoration work on Hamma Hamma steelhead, Nooksack spring Chinook and Stillaguamish fall Chinook that is “opening up paths we didn’t have before.”

Scott credits PSSAG members for their work on the issue, calling them “a great group of folks” with a wide diversity of perspectives.

Indeed, he cautions that not everybody’s on board with the general consensus to move forward with this plan, but “to the extent we can, we’ll address their issues.”

Yet more questions remain.

How long will it take for WDFW and the Tulalips to write a solid HGMP?

Without a local ally like former state Sen. Kirk Pearson to chivvy them, with NMFS’s workload how long will it take for the feds to review the document, get clarifications and ultimately — hopefully — approve it?

Scott doesn’t want to hazard a guess how many years it may be.

And in the meanwhile, will the Wild Fish Conservancy or other similar-minded groups use the lack of an ESA-required HGMP to sue WDFW over Skamanias, like they did with Chambers winters?

That’s all TBD, but Spada’s crossing his fingers WDFW’s gamble pays off because of the importance of the Skykomish River fishery to Puget Sound steelheaders.

“It’s the only viable summer-run program left,” he says.

THE  SKYKOMISH RIVER SUMMER-RUN PROGRAM PRODUCES FISH FOR BANK ANGLERS WHO FLOCK TO REITER AND CABLE, AND SIDE-DRIFTERS WHO WORK LOWER IN THE RIVER SYSTEM. A QUARTET SHOWS OFF FIVE PLUS A SUMMER CHINOOK CAUGHT EARLY LAST JUNE WITH GUIDE SHEA FISHER. (THEFISHERE.COM)

It’s Official! Columbia Sockeye Will Open, Tho Kings To Close Below Bonneville

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

Starting July 1, anglers can catch and keep sockeye salmon on the Columbia River, but will be required to release any chinook salmon they intercept downriver from Bonneville Dam.

ANGLERS WILL BE ABLE TO KEEP SOCKEYE IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER UP THROUGH THE BREWSTER POOL, WHERE THESE WERE CAUGHT BY BROTHERS AND A FRIEND OF GUIDE DON TALBOT A FEW SEASONS AGO. (DONSFISHINGGUIDESERVICE.COM)

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today agreed to modify fishing rules in joint waters of the Columbia, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) followed up by extending the sockeye fishery upstream to Chief Joseph Dam.

Before the season got underway, both states agreed to forgo scheduling any sockeye fisheries on the Columbia River due to low projected returns, especially those to the Wenatchee River.

However, an updated run forecast now projects that 209,000 sockeye will return this year – up from the 99,000 previously estimated – providing a sufficient number of fish for recreational fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia, said Bill Tweit, a WDFW special assistant.

“It’s always exciting to see salmon come in above the pre-season forecast,” Tweit said. “Sockeye can be elusive in the lower river, but anglers generally do well fishing for them from the Tri-Cities to Brewster.”

Snake River fisheries remain closed to protect Snake River sockeye listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

While the preseason forecast for summer chinook has not yet been updated, Tweit said current data indicate that chinook returns are tracking about 20 percent below the initial projection of 67,300 adult fish. That prompted fishery managers to close the lower Columbia River summer chinook season four days earlier than previously scheduled.

“Based on the low catches to date above Bonneville, we decided to close the chinook fishery in the lower river but leave it open upriver from the dam,” Tweit said.

Starting July 1, anglers fishing from the Megler-Astoria Bridge to Bonneville Dam on the lower Columbia River can still catch a total of six salmon/steelhead a day. The daily limit for adult fish in those waters is two adult sockeye salmon or hatchery adult steelhead, or one of each. Anglers can round out their daily six-fish limit with hatchery jack chinook salmon.

For more information and details on daily limits in each section of the river, see the Fishing Rule Change at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/

Crab Pots And Ferry Lanes A Bad Combo

WDFW’s asking crabbers not to set pots in the paths of or around the docks of state ferries and do a better job weighting them, saying that last summer three of the big car and people transporters were disabled due to tangles with crab lines.

The message comes out as the five-day-a-week Dungeness season is set to open June 30 in central and northern Puget Sound waters, and in mid-July and mid-August in portions of the San Juans.

A FERRY LOOMS IN THE FOG IN FRONT OF CRABBERS HEADING INTO THE SAN JUANS FOR THE DAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It also follows in the wake of a report this spring that a side-scan of the bottom near Anacortes found 614 derelict pots, pointing to the need for shellfishermen to take more care about how and where they deploy the devices.

“We need crabbers to help prevent conflicts with ferries as they hit the water this year,” said Captain Dan Chadwick in a press release.

According to a WSDOT manager quoted by WDFW, last summer the ferry Salish sustained damage to its propulsion system from crab pots that resulted in around 800 canceled sailings as boats on other routes were shifted to make up for the loss of it while repairs were made.

CRABBER RIVER WALGAMOTT WAVES TO A FERRY AS HE HEADS BACK TO ANACORTES AND THE BOAT SERVICES THE ISLANDS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

If I’m starting to sound preachy and like your dad, I apologize, but there are few things more maddening than waiting for a ferry and I’d prefer that we weren’t catching the blame for it.

So here are six tips that Chadwick offered that not only will help ensure the big boats keep running their routes but help cut down on our lost pots:

They are:

Add Weight to Lines – Propellers can sever or wrap up a line floating along the surface. Use sinking lines when possible, and add weight to keep floating lines off the surface.

Know Water Depth – The easiest way to lose a pot is to drop one in water deeper than the length of line attached. Use a line that is one-third longer than the water depth to keep pots from floating away.

Watch Pots – Stay close to dropped crab pots to ensure all are accounted for at the end of the day.

Add Extra Weights to Crab Pots – In many instances, adding just 10 pounds of weight can help recreational crab pots stay put.

Use Escape Cord – Biodegradable cotton cord, which is required on all pots, will degrade and allow crabs to escape if a pot is lost.

Identify Crab Pots – All recreational crab pot buoys must have the crab fisher’s name and address on them, and a phone number is recommended.

By harvest stat, some of the best crabbing occurs in the San Juans, which are only connected to the mainland by the Anacortes ferries, which make stops at Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, Friday Harbor, and Sydney, BC.

But it’s also good in Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2, at the south end of which is the Mukilteo-Clinton run.

In Area 9 are the Keystone-Port Townsend and Edmonds-Kingston routes, while in Area 10 there are several between Seattle, Bainbridge and Vashon Islands and the Kitsap Peninsula.

Areas 11 and 13 are closed this year.

Crabbing is open Thurs.-Mon. As July 4 falls on a Wednesday, crabbing won’t be open that day.

To report lost pots without fear of penalty, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/enforcement/lost_gear/ or call (855) 542-3935.

To report poaching, call (877) 933-9847.

Elk Photographed On Orcas Island

UPDATE: 1:10 P.M., JUNE 29, 2018: The bulls were spotted around 10 this morning, 5 miles to the southeast outside Olga.

First an elk turned up on Whidbey Island and now it sounds like two more have swam across to Orcas Island.

A pair of bulls were spotted this morning in a resident’s yard near the golf course between Orcas and Eastsound.

“Yep, that’s an elk,” confirmed WDFW wildlife biologist Ruth Milner in La Conner.

A SCREEN SHOT OFF THE ORCAS ISLAND GOLF COURSE’S FACEBOOK PAGE SHOWS WHAT APPEARS TO BE A BULL ELK. (FACEBOOK)

“They were in our yard, the dog went nuts at 5:20 a.m. when he saw them,” resident Kyle Freeman told The Islands’ Sounder.

“Never heard of elk on Orcas,” the Orcas Island Golf Course posted on Facebook.

Maybe not, but animals swimming from the mainland out to the dozens of islands throughout the Salish Sea is not unheard of.

“We had a bear on Orcas last year, a cougar on Vashon, the most beautiful bull elk you’ve ever seen on Whidbey,” notes Milner.

It’s possible that the Orcas duo ended up there for reasons similar to how the Oak Harbor-area bull took up residence there.

“The Whidbey elk was seen down in the (Skagit) valley with a band of cows and we think someone booted him and he took off west instead of east, and that’s probably what happened here,” Milner says.

It’s possible that the duo is the same pair that turned up on the southeast end of British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island, to the northwest of Orcas, in early April.

The history of wapiti on islands in Washington’s sheltered inland sea is “pretty vague,” Milner says, but before European settlement, some animals probably occurred on them.

Where those bulls may have been driven away by more dominant ones, she says that a researcher found rutty island blacktail bucks swimming back and forth through the archipelago in search of does.

“Collared bucks from Blakely leave the island and then come back,” she says.

“They do things we wouldn’t,” Milner notes.

While deer hunting in the islands is open, with second tags available for many, elk are off limits as there are no seasons on Orcas, Whidbey or elsewhere.

As for the Orcas bulls, it sounds like they may be happy where they’re at, at least for the moment.

“They did not appear to be in a hurry to head in any direction,” Freeman told the Sounder. “When I went outside they walked slowly into the tall grass and disappeared into the woods.”

North Coast, Straits, Sound Halibut Anglers Get One More Day

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EMERGENCY RULE-CHANGE NOTICE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Action:  Recreational halibut fishing will re-open for a final day in Marine Areas 3 and 4 (La Push and Neah Bay) and marine areas 5 through 10 in the Puget Sound on Saturday, June 30.

ANDIE HOLMBERG SPORTS A BIG SMILE AFTER LANDING HER FIRST-EVER HALIBUT, CAUGHT OFF FRESHWATER BAY NEAR PORT ANGELES EARLIER THIS SEASON. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Effective date: Saturday, June 30, 2018.

Species affected: Pacific halibut.

 Location: Marine Area 3 (La Push), Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) and marine areas 5-10 (Puget Sound).

 Reason for action: Recreational catch estimates from the recent halibut opener on June 21 and June 23 indicate that there is sufficient quota remaining to open recreational halibut fishing for one final day on Saturday, June 30.

 Additional information: Anglers should note that lingcod retention is not allowed in waters deeper than 120 feet in Marine areas 5 and 6 now that the recreational lingcod season is closed.  All other areas are closed to recreational halibut fishing for the remainder of the year.

This rule conforms to federal action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Congress Moves Closer To OKing States, Tribes To Lethally Remove More Columbia Sea Lions

Efforts to reduce sea lion predation on ESA-listed Columbia River salmon and steelhead got a big boost today with the passage of a bill that would provide state and tribal managers more latitude to deal with the hungry pinnipeds.

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

HR 2083, introduced by a pair of Lower Columbia Congressmen from either side of the river and political aisle and which would allow sea lions to be culled in parts of the mainstem and its tribs to save fish, sailed out of the U.S. House of Representatives on a 288-116 vote this afternoon.

Cosponsors Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA3) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR5) were joined by every single one of their fellow Washington and Oregon representatives, as well as both of Idaho’s, in voting for the measure.

The move comes just days after similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate, making action now suddenly more likely after previous versions of the House bill had stalled.

Herrera Beutler said it was the result of a “team effort” and credited Schrader for getting the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act to a vote, Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D) and Idaho U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R) for introducing one in the upper chamber, and “all the local and tribal agencies and fishermen who have trumpeted the plight of our salmon for years.”

A SEA LION SURFACES NEAR A FISHING BOAT DURING 2017’S LOWER COLUMBIA SPRING CHINOOK SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Along with testimony from the Columbia River Inter-Tribe Fish Commission last year, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association has lent its strong support.

An exultant Liz Hamilton, NSIA’s executive director, called this “truly a good day for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon!”

She said lawmakers’ action offered “huge progress … giving fishery managers another tool to prevent extinction and help with recovery.”

Essentially, the bill would expand the scope of removals by, according to a Coastal Conservation Association of Washington press release, amending a portion of the “Marine Mammal Protection Act to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to provide states and local tribes the tools necessary to humanely manage sea lions on the waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries as long as the sea lions are not classified as an Endangered Species Act listed species.”

Between 2008 and 2016, as predation at Bonneville Dam increased, ODFW and WDFW were allowed by NOAA to remove 161 California sea lions, euthanizing 139 of those and finding zoos and aquariums for another 15.

But they’re smart critters and know where the food is at and readily return to unnatural pinchpoints.

In a joint letter, the heads of CRITFC, IDFG, ODFW and WDFW said passage of HR 2083 was “critical to ensuring we can manage the ever-increasing issue of predation on sturgeon, lamprey, and Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin,” according to a press release.

Back in April, ODFW took the strongest stance, specifically calling on Congress to act, pointing out that male sea lions gathering below Willamette Falls were driving the basin’s steelhead “closer to extinction,” not unlike what Herschel did at the Ballard Locks to Lake Washington’s stocks.

Earlier this year, federal researchers said that California sea lions had reached their “optimal sustainable population,” a triggering point in the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and a high enough level that West Coast states could begin to take over management.

“The California sea lion population has experienced a huge population recovery in recent years; unfortunately, that population has now grown to numbers totally inconsistent with its historic range, posing a very serious threat to the endangered salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia River system,” Rep. Schrader said in a press release.

Even as passage of HR 2083 put the focus on pinnipeds, that’s not to say that NOAA issuing one-year take permits to CRITFC, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW, and the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Cowlitz Tribes to take out up to 100 of the Chinook-, steelhead- and sturgeon-munching marine mammals is a be-all, end-all solution to fish run woes.

“Salmon recovery isn’t about just one issue, and the data is crystal clear that this [sea lion predation] is an important component, just as dam removal must be,” said angler Chase Gunnell, a Wild Steelhead Coalition boardmenber. “We can’t ignore the real short term threats from unnaturally high predation on endangered salmon and steelhead, even if Bonneville and other dams have exacerbated the situation. Pragmatic, strategic conservationists and wild fish and river advocates should celebrate this sensible policy, just as we should continue working to remove the lower Snake River Dams. It’s not either/or.”

But in the short term it is progress.

NSIA’s Hamilton thanked all three states’ Congressional delegations,  especially Herrera Beutler and Schrader, and also urged fellow fishermen to show gratitude to their representatives.

With More Columbia Sockeye Than Forecasted Back, Fisheries May Open

Yesterday’s doubling of the sockeye forecast has Washington fishery managers mulling openers on portions of the Columbia River, a “good thing” in a year when angling for the stock was scheduled to stay closed due to a low return.

TYLER FLETCHER SHOWS OFF A PAIR OF SOCKEYE CAUGHT AT WELLS DAM DURING 2014’S FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

More definitive details are expected from WDFW tomorrow, but the run has now surpassed the preseason prediction of 99,000.

Thanks to five straight 10,000-plus-fish days, the running tally sits at just under 104,000, with 209,000 red salmon now expected back to the Okanogan/Okanagan River, Wenatchee River, Central Idaho, Deschutes and Yakima.

The lion’s share is likely bound for the Canadian side of the transnational river, and while nothing is set in stone, it’s possible that we could see fisheries from the Brewster and Wells Pools on downstream in the Columbia.

Two sets of five-day-a-week tribal fisheries in the eastern Columbia Gorge pools began last week.

As for whether the popular Lake Wenatchee fishery opens, that is most dependent on passage at Tumwater Dam, where sockeye returns typically peak in mid-July, depending on water temperatures.

Keep an eye on WDFW’s emergency rule-change notices page for the official word.