Tag Archives: Wild Fish Conservancy

Environmental Groups Sue NMFS Over Orcas

Two environmental groups are suing federal overseers on the West Coast over orcas, saying salmon fisheries off Washington, Oregon and California need to be assessed and reduced to provide the struggling marine mammals more forage.

(WIKIMEDIA)

“West Coast orcas can’t afford another year without bold federal action based on sound science to reverse their decline,” said Julie Teel Simmonds of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity in a press release out today.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, follows on a midwinter threat from CBD and Wild Fish Conservancy to sue over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

It comes as state and tribal managers are actually nearing the end of the annual salmon season-setting process known as North of Falcon — orcas and Chinook were actually part of the discussions today at a WDFW meeting with anglers and others in Lynnwood that is also being livestreamed.

Last month as NOF cranked up, a guidance letter from NMFS regional director Barry Thom told the overarching Pacific Fishery Management Council that his agency wanted to reengage with the panel about this year’s salmon opportunities.

NMFS last did that in 2009 and found that the commercial and recreational fisheries the council authorized WDFW, ODFW and CDFW to hold didn’t jeopardize southern resident killer whales.

But since then the salmon-eating J, K and L Pods have declined to a little more than six dozen, with lack of enough Chinook to eat, vessel disturbance, and pollution identified as the key reasons.

Thom said that for the coming years NMFS was also developing a “risk assessment” tool to possibly guide seasons based on their impacts on orcas.

But that apparently isn’t fast enough for CBD and WFC.

WFC’s Kurt Beardslee took up where he left off in his winter attack on fisheries, stating in the press release that NMFS needs to “acknowledge that starving killer whales and smaller and less abundant Chinook are merely symptoms of the problems created by harvest management that is fundamentally broken.”

But the problem isn’t that harvest management is broken.

The plight of orcas is because the habitat of Chinook — comprising 80-plus percent of their diet — in both freshwater and salt- has been inextricably altered over the past 175 years of settlement and development, and to expect prey specialists like SRKWs to cope with that is a pipe dream, especially when you’re also virulently against the only legitimate short- and medium-term bridge for the whales, sharply increased hatchery production, and wild king recovery is literally decades, even a century away at best.

In a time when cooperation is a far more productive path for endangered icons like our orcas, somebody needs to take these two outfits to task for their idiotic, recidivistic bomb-throwing tactics.

 

Group Threatens Lawsuit Over Puget Sound Summer Steelhead

Even as Washington steelhead managers have been making plans to move away from hatchery Skamania summer-run releases in Puget Sound, an environmental group is threatening to sue the state agency over the program.

WDFW RELEASES SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER STEELHEAD INTO RIVERS LIKE THE SKYKOMISH, WHERE THIS ONE WAS CAUGHT ON A RAINY JUNE DAY SEVERAL SEASONS AGO. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Wild Fish Conservancy announced this afternoon it was filing a 60-day intent to sue WDFW, saying the stock violates the Endangered Species Act.

The highly litigious organization based in Duvall says that programs operated primarily on the Skykomish but also the North Fork Stillaguamish and Green-Duwamish Rivers threaten five wild populations of Puget Sound summer-run steelhead and are driving them “closer to extinction” by spawning in the wild, reducing fitness.

WFC cites concerns that the National Marine Fisheries Service had in mid-2017 over Skamanias — a 1950s mix of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead that came from a state hatchery on the Washougal — but in response to that WDFW in coordination with its ad hoc Puget Sound Steelhead Advisory Group and the Tulalip Tribes last year came up with a plan.


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It would eventually replace the strain in the Skykomish with Tolt River summers instead, but would also take multiple years.

“There’s no expectation to eliminate the existing program until we build up the Tolt,” WDFW’s Jim Scott, a special assistant to the director, told Northwest Sportsman for a story detailing the plan, “and there will be a period of overlap of the programs” before Skamania releases ends.

At last check late last year that plan was still moving forward, so it’s unclear whether it has gathered enough momentum to now be a threat to WFC and thus is forcing it into yet another lawsuit against fishery overseers.

But what is clear is that the 60-day intent to sue appears to purposefully bump up against the timeframe this year’s smolts would be released from Reiter Ponds into the Skykomish, perhaps in an effort to get WDFW to come to a settlement like what happened with Chambers Creek hatchery early winter-run steelhead in 2014.

While it also wasn’t clear from WFC’s intent-to-sue letter what they considered the five populations of wild summers threatened by Skamania summers to be, earlier this year, researchers studying hatchery summer and wild winter steelhead in Oregon’s Clackamas River found the former didn’t affect the latter.

Former WDFW Director, NWIFC’s Chair Take Aim At SeaTimes Salmon-Orca Column

You know you’ve done something bad when Phil Anderson has to get involved.

Phil, in case you haven’t heard of him, is the retired director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and currently chairs the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

PHIL ANDERSON. (WDFW)

One day several years ago now when he was still WDFW’s chief head honcho I got an unexpected call from Mr. Anderson about an agency budget blog I’d inadvisedly written. Very shortly thereafter we agreed to a mutually beneficial solution; I’d spike my misinformed post.

This week it’s The Seattle Times that Phil’s reaching out to.

He and Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, have published an opinion piece in response to that column earlier this month entitled “In the great debate to save the orcas, the apex predator is missing.”

In it, author Danny Westneat and his primary source Kurt Beardlee of the Wild Fish Conservancy essentially argue that salmon fishing should be shut down to provide as many Chinook salmon to starving southern resident killer whales

“It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost. Bigger than anything else we could do short term,” Beardslee told Westneat.

Lack of Chinook is a key reason our orcas are struggling, but it’s not as simple as that black-and-white take on how to help the “blackfish.”

Respond Anderson and Loomis: “If recovering chinook salmon were as easy as drastically cutting or eliminating fisheries, we would have achieved our goal a long time ago.”

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAK DURING A RARE BUT WELL-ATTENDED STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION LAST APRIL ON WESTERN WASHINGTON SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They point out that “at great cost,” state and tribal fisheries have already been cut as much as 90 percent and that shutting down fishing would “at best result in a 1 percent increase of chinook salmon available for southern resident killer whales.”

Loomis and Anderson point to a better approach than Beardslee’s kill-the-goose-laying-the-golden-eggs manifesto — cooperation across all sectors via the newly formed “Billy Frank Jr. Salmon Coalition.”

“There are no more easy answers,” they write. “We are left with the hard work of restoring disappearing salmon habitat, enhancement of hatchery production, and addressing out-of-control seal and sea lion populations.”

If you’re a cheapskate like myself, you only get so many views of Fairview Fannie pieces a month, but Anderson and Loomis’s response is worth burning one on.

And then check out what Puget Sound Angler’s Ron Garner posted on his Facebook page about this as well.

They’re both highly educational as we fight to save orcas, Chinook and fishing.

(For extra credit, I also took on that column here.)

Stopping Salmon Fishing Won’t Save Puget Sound’s Orcas

The idea that we can save Puget Sound’s starving orcas by just stopping salmon fishing for a few years once again reared its misinformed head, this time in a big-city newspaper piece.

In a black-or-white summary of a very complex problem, the nut was that we humans were shamefully avoiding looking at our own consumption of the iconic marine mammal’s primary feedstock.

SALMON ANGLERS WORK POSSESSION BAR ON THE OPENING DAY OF THE CENTRAL PUGET SOUND HATCHERY CHINOOK FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Leaving that aspect out of the state of Washington’s recovery plan meant that, “We have decided, collectively though passively, to let the Puget Sound orcas go extinct,” it lamented.

We haven’t really, but nonetheless the prominence of the piece left leaders of the region’s angling community disappointed, as well as worried that it could lead to “knee-jerk” responses as Washington responds to the crisis.

And one has also asked the author to take another look at the issue with more informed sources to balance out the very biased one it primarily quoted.

THE ARTICLE IN QUESTION WAS a column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times last weekend in which he quoted Kurt Beardslee at the Wild Fish Conservancy.

“To cut back on fishing is an absolute no brainer, as a way to immediately boost food available for killer whale,” Beardslee told Westneat. “But harvest reductions are essentially not in the governor’s task force recommendations. We have a patient that is starving to death, and we’re ignoring the one thing that could help feed the patient right now. We’re flat out choosing not to do it.”

Columns are columns, meaning they’re not necessarily like a he said-she said straight news story, but what wasn’t mentioned at all was Beardslee’s complicity in the orca crisis.

So I’m going to try to shed a little more light on that and other things here.

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS LAST SUMMER. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

AS IT TURNS OUT, WE HAVE BEEN cutting back on Chinook fishing.

Have been for years.

Ninety percent — 9-0 — alone in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, key foraging areas for the southern residents, over the past 25 years.

And yet so far J, K and L Pods appear to have shown no response.

In fact, they have unfortunately declined from nearly 100 members in the mid-1990s to 74 as of late 2018.

All while West Coast and Salish Chinook available to them actually saw nominal increases as a whole, according to state and federal estimates.

So I’m not sure what Beardlee expects to magically happen when he tells Westneat, “It’s easy to see how cutting the fisheries’ take in half, or eliminating it entirely on a short-term emergency basis, could provide a big boost.”

I mean, how is the 10 percent sliver that’s left going to help if the closure of the other 90 percent coincided with the cumulative loss of 25 percent of the orca population over the same period?

Don’t get me wrong, fishermen want to help too. Some of the most poignant stories I’ve heard in all this are angler-orca interactions.

But it’s not as cut-and-dried as not harvesting the salmon translating into us effectively putting some giant protein shake out in the saltchuck for SRKWs to snarf down.

“Each year the sport, commercial and tribal fishing industries catch about 1.5 million to 2 million chinook in U.S. and Canadian waters, most of which swim through the home waters of the southern resident orcas,” Westneat writes. “The three pods in question … are estimated to need collectively on the order of 350,000 chinook per year.”

Fair enough that 350,000 represents their collective dietary needs.

But not only do the SRKWs already have access to those 1.5 million to 2 million Chinook, the waters where they’re primarily harvested as adults by the bulk of fishermen are essentially beyond the whales’ normal range.

For instance, the Columbia River up to and beyond the Hanford Reach, and in terminal zones of Puget Sound and up in Southeast Alaska.

Pat Patillo is a retired longtime state fisheries manager who is now a sportfishing advocate, and he tells me, “If not caught, those fish would not serve as food for SRKWs — they wouldn’t turn around from the Columbia River, for example, and return to the ocean for SRKW consumption!”

“They already swam through the orcas’ home waters and they didn’t eat them,” he said.

WHILE BEARDSLEE IS TRYING TO COME OFF as some sort of orca angel  — “It’s like if you’re having a heart attack, your doctor doesn’t say: ‘You need to go running to get your heart in better shape.’ Your doctor gives you emergency aid right away,” he tells Westneat — he’s more like an angel of death trying to use SRKWs as  latest avenue to kill fishing.

Type the words “Wild Fish Conservancy” into a Google search and the second result in the dropdown will be “Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit.”

WFC is threatening yet another, this one over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversight of West Coast salmon fisheries through the lens of the plight of orcas.

It’s not their usual target, which is hatchery production.

Hatchery production, which is the whales’ best short- and medium-term hope.

After WFC sued WDFW over steelhead, a state senator hauled them before his committee in 2015 and pointedly asked their representative at the hearing, “Are there any hatcheries you do support in the state?”

“There are several that have closed over time,” replied WFC’s science advisor Jamie Glasgow. “Those would be ones that we support.”

That sort of thinking is not going to work out for hungry orcas, given one estimate that it will take 90 years for Chinook recovery goals to be met at the current pace of restoration work in estuaries.

And it leaves no place for efforts like those by the Nisqually Tribe to increase the size of those produced by their hatchery to provide fatter fare for SKRWs.

I’m going to offer a few stark figures here.

The first is 275 million. That’s how many salmon of all stocks that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produced at its hatcheries in 1989, according to The Lens.

The second is 137 million. That’s how many WDFW put out in 2017, the “lowest production year ever,” per the pro-biz online news source.

The third is 56 million. That’s how many Chinook smolts the agency released in 1989, according to figures from the state legislature.

And the fourth is 28 million. That’s how many were in 2016.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that 50 percent decreases in releases are due entirely to Beardslee et al — hatchery salmon reforms and state budget crunches play the strongest roles.

Nor am I going to suggest that they’re the sole reason that our orcas are struggling — pollutants and vessel disturbance have been also identified as affecting their health and ability to forage.

But with SRKWs dying from lack of Chinook to eat and Puget Sound’s wild kings — which are largely required to be released by anglers — comprising just a sixth to a twelfth of the Whulge’s run in recent years, surely the man must now have some qualms about his and similar groups’ anti-hatchery jihad, including against key facilities for SRKWs on the Columbia?

A FAR BIGGER PROBLEM THAN FISHERMEN for SRKWs is pinnipeds eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

Bloated numbers of harbor seals were recently estimated to annually eat an estimated 12.2 million Chinook smolts migrating out of Puget Sound, roughly 25 percent of the basin’s hatchery and wild output, which in the world of fisheries-meets-math science, translates to 100,000 adult kings that aren’t otherwise available to the orcas.

Unfortunately, managing those cute little “water puppies” is realistically way down the pipeline, at least compared to recent lightning-fast moves (relatively speaking) in Washington, DC, that finally gave state and tribal managers the authority to annually remove for five years as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia and its salmon-bearing tributaries.

By the way, guess who fought against lethally removing sea lions gathered to feast on salmon at Bonneville?

Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy.

“Given the clamor surrounding sea lions,”they argued in defense of a 2011 federal lawsuit to halt lethal removals at the dam, “you might guess that sea lions are the most significant source of returning salmon mortality that managers can address. Guess again. The percentage of returning upper Columbia River spring Chinook salmon consumed by California sea lions since 2002, when CSL were first documented at Bonneville Dam, averages only 2.1% each year.”

Three years later, sea lions ate 43 percent of the entire ESA-listed run — 104,333 returning springers.

Whoops.

Those fish were recently identified as among the top 15 most important king stocks for SRKWs.

Double whoops.

WHILE LARGE NUMBERS OF SEA LION PUPS ARE STARVING ELSEWHERE ON THE WEST COAST, MANY ADULTS PACKED INTO THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE SMELT RUN LAST MONTH. (STEVE JEFFRIES, WDFW)

So to bring some of the above sections together, as CSL, Steller sea lion, harbor seal and even northern resident killer whale consumption of Chinook in the northeast Pacific has risen from 5 million to 31.5 million fish since 1970 and hatchery production has halved, the all-fleet king catch has decreased from 3.6 million to 2.1 million.

We aren’t the problem.

No wonder that sportfishing rep told me, “We were successful in getting the target off of our backs blaming fishing” for this blog and which Westneat included in his column (I do appreciate the link).

SO INSTEAD OF SHUTTING DOWN FISHING, what could and should we do to help orcas out in the near-term?

I think the governor’s task force came up with a good idea on the no-go/go-slow boating bubble around the pods. That protects them where they’re eating, and it doesn’t needlessly close areas where they’re not foraging for fish that won’t be there when they do eventually show up.

(GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

While I’ll be following the advice Lorraine Loomis at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission gave after similar sentiments came up last fall — “If you love salmon, eat it” — anglers can take voluntary measures themselves. Even if it’s probably already past the gauntlet of orca jaws, if it makes you feel better to do so, go ahead and release that saltwater king you catch this summer, like Seattle angler Web Hutchins emailed me to say he’s vowing to do.

Switch your fishfinder frequency from 50 kHz to the less acoustically disturbing 200 kHz for killer whales if they happen to show up in your trolling lane.

Pay attention to fish counts and if a hatchery is having trouble meeting broodstock goals, maybe fish another river or terminal zone, or species.

Follow Orca Network on Facebook for where the pods are so you can avoid them.

I also think Beardslee and WFC could, say, lay off their low-hanging-fruit lawsuit schtick (lol, fat chance of that) to give (furloughed) federal overseers time to process permits that ensure hatcheries and fisheries are run properly, instead of having to drop their work and put out the latest brushfire they’ve lit.

And I think boosting hatchery Chinook production is huge, and all the more important because of the excruciatingly slow pace that habitat restoration (which I’m always in favor of) produces results.

Yes, it will take a couple years for increased releases to take effect.

But the ugly truth we’re learning here is, we cannot utterly alter and degrade salmon habitat like we have with our megalopolis/industrial farmscape/power generation complex that stretches everywhere from here to Banff to the Snake River Plain to the Willamette Valley and back again and realistically expect to turn this ship by just pressing the Stop Fishing button and have orcas magically respond.

That’s not the answer.

In this great effort to save orcas, we the apex predator have in fact been forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, at what we’ve wrought, and it is ugly.

We have made a monumental mess of this place and hurt a species we never meant to nor deserved to be.

So we’re setting this right.

It is going to take time. We are going to lose more SRKWs. But we will save them, and ourselves.

Idaho To Close Steelhead Season In Early Dec. Due To Lawsuit Threat

Editor’s update 11:45 a.m., Nov. 14, 2018: Due to the threat of a lawsuit, Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission this morning has voted to suspend the state’s fall steelhead season after Dec. 7 and won’t open the spring season, which begins Jan. 1, 2019, until a fisheries plan is OKed by NMFS, per a report from Eric Barker at The Lewiston Tribune. He says the commission feared IDFG “would be on the hook for legal fees should the season continue and the groups follow through with their intent to sue.” Below is our earlier story on the issue.

Another state, another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit in the works by wild steelhead zealots against fishery agencies.

In 2014 it was WDFW and its Chambers Creek early winter program in Puget Sound; in 2018 it’s IDFG and its A- and B-runs.

ANGLERS WHO LIKE TO FISH FOR IDAHO STEELHEAD LIKE KELLY COLLITON WON’T BE HAPPY WITH TODAY’S NEWS THAT THE THREAT OF A LAWSUIT MORE THAN LOW RUNS ARE FORCING THE STATE TO CLOSE FISHING FOR THE STOCKS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The two agencies’ lack of federally approved management plans for hatchery operations and to hold fisheries more so than low runs leave them vulnerable to suits.

Washington’s was eventually settled out of court and a new plan is in place after several disrupted fishing seasons, but now Idaho is under threat.

In October, the Wild Fish Conservancy and Conservation Angler, along with Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater and Snake River Water Keeper notified IDFG that they were going to take it to court in December if they didn’t close steelhead season by early in the month.

This year has seen a low run to the Snake River Basin and all three states dropped the limit to one already, but this lawsuit is very similar to the one WFC and others pursued against WDFW several years ago when it didn’t have a NMFS-OKed hatchery genetic management plan for the Skykomish and other winter rivers.

HGMPs provide the states with Endangered Species Act coverage, and at the time draft plans for multiple rivers and stocks were piling up on the federal fishery overseers’ collective desk following a raft of listings throughout the region.

In IDFG’s case, its expired all the way back in 2009, per Lewiston Morning Tribune outdoor reporter Eric Barker.

“The state submitted a new monitoring and evaluation plan the same year but officials at Fisheries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration let it sit idle while working on other pressing issues,” he writes in a story out overnight.

Also at risk are Idaho’s spring, summer and fall Chinook fisheries.

What to do about it is on the agenda of Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission meeting today.

“Department and federal agency review processes to date have found Idaho’s management frameworks for hatchery steelhead and chinook fisheries do not jeopardize wild steelhead populations,” reads a staff briefing out ahead of the confab. “The Department has monitoring and evaluation frameworks in place for hatchery steelhead and chinook fisheries, with annual reporting to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.”

Barker reports NMFS is working on a new draft plan and it’s out for public comment now.

Still, IDFG may have to close steelheading as of Dec. 7 to head off the risk of a lawsuit being filed on the 9th, Barker reports.

Stay tuned.

‘Paperwork, A**-covering, Scary Numbers And Veiled Lawsuit Threats’ — Skagit Steelheading Still Up In Air

Frustrations are boiling over on the Skagit-Sauk steelheading front.

A group of anglers who’ve been a driving force in trying to reopen the rivers since 2013 all but threw in the towel on a spring catch-and-release season this year.

ANGLERS WORK SOME OF THE SAUK’S “LUMBERYARDS” FOR BIG NATIVE STEELHEAD AS WHITEHORSE MOUNTAIN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“Whatever happens next will not be good. One of our most litigious dot-orgs has got the Feds wrapped up in paperwork, ass-covering, scary numbers and veiled lawsuit threats,” Occupy Skagit posted on its Facebook page overnight. “If a season were to open now, it will be too short and concentrated with too many encounters. Best to not open it.”

But another angler who’s been closely tracking the issue is holding out hope.

“NOAA is dragging their feet,” replied Ryley Fee, “and whoever the organizations are who are impeding on our right to fish by threatening lawsuits ought to be publicized so we can all write them a letter and let them know how we feel about taking this resource away from us this year. I’m pissed off and angry, and need an outlet if it doesn’t open.”

The North Cascades rivers haven’t been open for a winter-spring C&R fishery since 2009 due to a series of low forecasted returns, then was written out of the regulations, but subsequently saw strong escapement though this year’s run is predicted to be a bit low but in the fishable range.

As for which dot-orgs might be involved in the stalling tactics, if one were to draw up a list of the usual suspects, it would likely include the Wild Fish Conservancy, which stumbled very badly recently when it made exaggerated claims about Atlantic salmon but ultimately was on the prevailing side in the Puget Sound netpen issue; the Native Fish Society; and The Conservation Angler.

The three either wrote or signed onto a letter calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service to withdraw its December pending approval of WDFW and three Skagit Valley tribes’ fishing plan for the system.

More pragmatic steelhead groups have offered qualified support for a season.

(As for Occupy Skagit’s concerns about “too many encounters” in a condensed fishery, that’s the reason the rivers will be monitored by state creel samplers, to gauge relative effort and success and modify any season if need be.)

The final 30-day comment period on the state and tribes’ plan wrapped up back in January, and ever since anglers on all sides have been waiting with bated breath for word from NOAA-F’s regional administrator Barry Thom one way or another on whether the rivers would open.

Certainly the feds have had more on their plate than just approving or sending back Skagit-Sauk steelhead plans this winter — there’s also been their initial review of the 10-year Puget Sound Chinook plan, plus involvement in North of Falcon salmon season setting and southern resident killer whale issues.

But the delays are rapidly narrowing the window on a fishery in the next month, and at some point we’re just going to run out of time, which is probably the end game for some parties, the unstated acceptance of others, and the increasingly grim reality for those who just want to get back on the water.

Atlantic Salmon Suck. So Does All The BS Around Them

I am not pro-Atlantic salmon. I am not pro-netpen. I am not pro-Cooke Aquaculture. But I am anti-bullshit.

My bullshitometer has been going off for six months now, but recently it just got too deep for me to tolerate any longer without comment.

ATLANTIC SALMON COVER THE DECK OF FISHING BOAT LAST AUGUST. (KEVIN KLEIN)

The Wild Fish Conservancy’s hysterical claim last week that Cooke’s escapees from the Cypress Island fish farm are ridden with an exotic virus strikes me as not unlike what I have heard repeatedly from the darkest recesses of the Northwest wolf world.

It goes along the lines of, Those non-native Canadian wolves USFWS brought down are infected with hydatid disease and rural people are in danger of catching it from all the wolf poo piles now lying around the woods!!!

WFC’s press release announcing this supposed disaster came with a raft of citations, but afterwards they appeared to be the equivalent of weblinks to wolf haters’ usual references from Russia and whatever.

They were systematically batted away by WDFW in a strident response noting that the virus, PRV, has been known to exist here since 1987, is found in salmon from Alaska south to Washington if not beyond, and is carried by netpen and free-swimming fish alike. The disease that WFC fretted it can cause isn’t found in our salmon and only some penned Atlantics. Nor is it fatal.

Not unlike most of the vitriol that the rabid anti-lupus set hurls from their keyboards, it appears that WFC’s claim was actually a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

It was fear-mongering by the Duvall-based organization, plain and simple, written to make it look as if the state agency in charge of monitoring fish disease didn’t know what the hell it was doing and released at a key moment during the legislative session to chivvy lawmakers to an even more rushed decision on the fate of salmon aquaculture in Washington.

WFC hasn’t apologized to WDFW, nor is it likely — in fact, this morning, they doubled down with a new press release.

Yet what is likely is they’ll probably be able to leverage the widespread initial coverage of their claims and get away with the less-than-damning subsequent reporting, positioning themselves well in this world for coming jihads.

Again, I want to stress that I am no friend of Cooke, netpens or Atlantics.

The company could grow salmon that taste like Cool Ranch Doritos and I’d still turn my nose up at the flesh — a friend who caught one last month on the Skykomish claimed “it was good,” but to this provincial Northwest Chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead snob, that meat doesn’t cut.

FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON FROM NORWAY OFFERED FOR SALE AT COSTCO AND ULTIMATELY RETURNED TO THE COLD CASE AFTER A GOOD, SOLID SNEERING AT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Netpens pollute. If they were new housing developments, we’d require sewer hookups or better ways to treat all that fish waste rather than let it drift in the currents or settle on the bottom of an inland sea that doesn’t flush itself very well in places.

And I’m skeptical of Cooke’s claims it was going to upgrade the aging equipment that came over from Icicle Seafoods when it bought them out. Would they really have if they hadn’t been caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

But this whole thing has been an embarrassment, and I include everything from the Canadian company’s August-eclipse-tides excuse and its shellfish-and seaweed-covered nets that acted as underwater sails and caused the catastrophe to the theory the escapees were just going to starve and die to Hilary Franz’s surprise Sunday morning termination determination on the Cypress Island facility to the latest pseudoscience from WFC.

For the last month and a half state legislators have been tripping all over themselves trying to outlaw farming a species that realistically poses little to no threat to our native salmon stocks, yet couldn’t get the one bill that would have assured that — allowing only female Atlantics to be reared — out of committee.

I can’t be the only one wondering, what exactly is behind all this? What big game is being played here? Who stands to gain the most?

And worrying, when will all this negative energy be focused on something that I actually do care about?

WDFW Refutes Wild Fish Conservancy’s Latest Atlantic Salmon Claims

Last night’s Wild Fish Conservancy press release stating that “contrary to” WDFW statements, Northwest salmon face dire consequences from “a highly contagious and harmful virus” in escaped netpen fish is overblown, riddled with errors and misrepresentative.

So says the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in a blistering rebuttal to the Duvall outfit’s claim that a lab it had sent 19 Atlantic salmon to found all of them to be infected with an exotic strain of a fish virus, which WFC suggested could spread a disease that weakens our native salmon.

AN ATLANTIC SALMON CAUGHT ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT SULTAN ON JANUARY 8, THE HEAD AND ORGANS OF WHICH WERE SENT TO WDFW FOR ITS OWN TESTING . (ERIC BELL)

The nonnative salmon reared for the table in sea enclosures have become a hot-button issue in Washington and across the border in British Columbia as tribal interests, certain state agencies and legislators and special interest groups try to push them out of Northwest waters using whatever means possible, fair and otherwise.

This is also not the first rodeo for WDFW and the Wild Fish Conservancy, which sued the state in 2014 in an attempt to end consumptive steelheading in Puget Sound, and which has attacked hatchery salmon production elsewhere.

Their latest move calls into question WDFW’s science and its word, and so the agency tasked Ken Warheit, its fish and genetic specialist, to respond to WFC’s claims. He begins with four bullet points.

“The Wild Fish Conservancy’s news release confuses the virus (PRV) with the disease (HSMI), misuses the scientific literature to exaggerate risks to native salmon, and fails to find a single study to support the claim that PRV from open-water pens will harm wild fish,” reads Warheit’s statement.

“The Conservancy asserts – without evidence – that HSMI will harm wild salmon. However, HSMI has never been detected in our native salmon or any other fish except farmed Atlantic salmon,” Warheit continues.

“PRV occurs naturally and was first confirmed in the Salish Sea from fish samples taken in 1987. The Conservancy provides no data or scientific research to support its claim that the PRV found in escaped fish originated in Norway,” he says.

And Warheit adds that PRV isn’t even recognized as a “pathogen of concern” currently by the World Organization for Animal Health.

Warheit then takes the Wild Fish Conservancy’s press release apart line by line, as well as counters the organization claim that WDFW’s Amy Windrope misled the public during a late January press conference with DNR and the Department of Ecology when she reported the Atlantic salmon had been healthy when they’d gotten loose.

In that release, WFC’s “outraged” Kurt Beardslee said “I’m outraged this disease is being amplified into our public waters, and I’m outraged our state agencies are willfully misleading the public. When the public finds out about this atrocity, they will be outraged as well. Wild salmon are the environmental, social, economic, and cultural cornerstone of this region, we can’t afford to put them at greater risk. We need to take corrective actions and remove this dangerous industry from Puget Sound before it’s too late.”

However, Warheit states that, “WDFW never claimed that PRV was not present in escaped Atlantic salmon. In fact, in the state’s report investigating the Cypress #2 accident, WDFW was the first to report the presence of PRV in the escaped Atlantic salmon. Ms. Amy Windrope’s quote that appeared in WFC’s press release was accurate and subsequent statements at the press briefing specifically dealt with the presence of PRV and stated that WDFW found PRV in the escaped Atlantic salmon. None of the escaped Atlantic salmon with PRV examined by WDFW had HSMI.”

He says that PRV is not only present in netpen salmon but free-swimming ones as well from Alaska south to Washington, if not further down the West Coast.

“In most cases, fish with PRV are healthy, and show no signs of disease,” Warheit says. “The syndrome HSMI has been associated with PRV in Atlantic salmon aquaculture only. HSMI affects only a small subset of captive Atlantic salmon with PRV and in most cases HSMI is not fatal.”

To back that up, he points to a white paper prepared last September by the Pacific Northwest Fish Health Protection Committee’s TR Meyers of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

But Warheit states that several of WFC’s citations either don’t support the organizations’s claims, are misused or are speculative.

“… Although PRV genetic sequences from eastern Pacific closely resemble that from Norway, there are differences between these sets of sequences, and it would have been more informative if WFC provided information about the sequences, rather than speculating about the origin of the PRV found in the escaped Atlantic salmon,” he states.

Meanwhile, bills banning new Atlantic netpen operations have been passed in the state Legislature and a couple weekends ago, DNR’s Hillary Franz terminated Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island lease, where all this began back in August.

Feds, Tribe Prevail In Elwha Salmon, Steelhead Hatchery Appeal

Federal and tribal fishery overseers have prevailed in a court case involving Elwha River salmon and steelhead that allows for continued use of hatchery fish in the restoration of runs to the north Olympic Peninsula watershed.

After hearing arguments last month, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service had done its homework when approving state and Lower Elwha Klallam production programs for after two dams were removed.

THE ELWHA RIVER ABOVE THE SITE OF THE DAMS. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

“The Ninth Circuit found our analysis was complete and that both NOAA and the (National) Park Service have thoroughly adequately assessed the impacts involved, from the dam removal process to the efforts to recover salmon and steelhead populations,” explained Michael Milstein, a spokesman  for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Portland.

That analysis was the target of a long-running challenge in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Salmon Rivers.

According to federal court documents, they had argued that NMFS’s approval of hatchery programs violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts, and that the tribe’s facility output represented a taking of ESA-listed fish.

But 9th Circuit Court Judges Susan P. Graber, Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz largely agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle’s earlier ruling, and according to Milstein that “clears the way” for NMFS and its partners to focus on restoring the river, including with hatchery fish per a 2012 environmental assessment that found minimal risk and some benefits from them.

The Elwha restoration is a project on a huge scale, featuring the removal of Elwha Dam in 2012 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014, freeing up dozens of miles of river and tributaries that flow from the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.

To that end, earlier this spring, WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe extended a fishing moratorium on the Elwha through May 2019.

For its part, WDFW doesn’t appear interested in stocking steelhead into the river, as last summer it declared the Elwha a wild steelhead gene bank. The Wild Steelhead Coalition said that designation was the result of “decades of work,” but the tribe’s hatchery means the sanctuary “still does not exist.”