Tag Archives: Wild Fish Conservancy

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.”