Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

Plan Would Stave Off Closing Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Next Spring

Updated June 24, 2019, with quote at bottom from the Wild Steelhead Coalition

Don’t hang up your Skagit-Sauk spoons, pink worms, plugs, jigs and flies again quite yet.

State fishery managers appear to have a gameplan for how to keep the rivers’ wild steelhead catch-and-release fishery open next spring, a U-turn from just a few weeks ago when it was set to be eliminated after the license fee bill that would have funded it wasn’t passed.

KEVIN RAINES AND ANDY MOSER DRIFT FISH THE MIDDLE SAUK ON A FINE SPRING DAY WITH WHITEHORSE IN THE BACKGROUND. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

With initial support from the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this month, WDFW would ask state lawmakers for the money to monitor the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

They’re looking to include $547,000 in a supplemental budget request for next January’s short legislative session. A final go-no go decision will come in August.

But it’s not a slam dunk either.

If the money isn’t appropriated by the legislature, WDFW would have to scavenge from other programs to cover the federally required monitoring next year, and 2021’s season would either be reduced or eliminated.

Still, the turn-around will buoy fans of the iconic North Cascades fishery that had been closed for nine years starting in 2009 due to low runs and as they picked back up, was the subject of much work and lobbying by the Occupy Skagit movement and other anglers to get a management plan written to reopen the waters.

After an initial 12-day season in 2018, this spring saw a full three-month fishery, and while the catches weren’t great, it was still wonderful to be on the rivers again during prime time.

“Almost universally people were excited to be there, happy to be there, and extremely thankful for the opportunity to be there,” angler advocate and retired North Sound state fisheries biologist Curt Kraemer reported to the commission last weekend. “(Among the) probably 100 people I talked to, that was the commonality, and I don’t hear that a lot about outdoor recreation in this state, whether it be hunting or fishing, and I do a lot of both.”

But even as the sun shone brightly over us gear and fly, and boat and bank anglers working the glacial, mountain waters this spring, storm clouds were brewing in Olympia.

GLACIAL FLOUR FROM THE SUIATTLE RIVER CLOUDS THE SAUK BELOW GOVERNMENT BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Funding for two years’ worth of creel sampling, enforcement and a biologist to oversee the fishery over the strong but still Endangered Species Act-listed winter-run stock was part of WDFW’s 15 percent license fee increase proposal.

But it was also on the “enhance fishing” side of the ledger, which essentially made it optional compared to things on the “maintain” side.

When the fee bill failed, tangled in issues 200 road miles to the south of the Skagit-Sauk confluence — Columbia River gillnetting policies — WDFW had to figure out how to rebalance its budget.

Even though lawmakers gave the agency $24 million in General Fund dollars to make up for not passing the license increase or Columbia salmon-steelhead endorsement, what initially was just a $7 million shortfall grew to $20 million as they heaped on new unfunded costs.

On May 30, WDFW Director Kelly Susewind sent out an email that “the current Skagit catch and release fishery will not receive funding and thus that opportunity will be eliminated.

The next morning during a Fish and Wildlife Commission conference call alarms were raised.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated,” said Chairman Larry Carpenter of nearby Mount Vernon.

That got the wheels turning again.

This is about the time of year that state agencies begin to prepare their supplemental budget requests for the upcoming legislative session, and at last week’s regular meeting of the citizen oversight panel, WDFW staffers presented proposals for discussion.

It included $271,000 to monitor the 2020 Skagit-Sauk fishery, $276,000 for 2021.

“There was Commission support for that approach,” Nate Pamplin, WDFW policy director, told Northwest Sportsman this morning.

The proposal also includes $833,000 in 2020 and $854,000 in 2021 to patch up what he’s termed a “significant shortfall” in funding to monitor Puget Sound and coastal salmon fisheries — another victim of the fee bill failure.

“This request will fund staff to provide the greatest fishing opportunities possible while satisfying ESA and conservation needs,” commission documents state.

BOBBER AND SPOON RODS AWAIT EMPLOYMENT ALONG THE SAUK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Money for both Skagit-Sauk steelhead and salmon monitoring is listed as coming from the state General Fund, under the proposals.

If it doesn’t pan out, though, WDFW would be left lifting couch cushions to figure out how to pay for the former fishery.

“If we don’t secure the supplemental in the first fiscal year, it’s a bit more challenging,” says Pamplin. “We’ll have already spent some money on the fishery since it opens in February and we’ll not receive final word on the supplemental budget from the legislature until mid-March. Thus, we’d need to find reductions elsewhere in the fourth-quarter of the first fiscal year to cover the expenses already incurred for opening the fishery.”

The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

“For the second fiscal year, it’s fairly straight-forward.  If we don’t secure the supplemental, the fishery would be proposed to be reduced/eliminated,” Pamplin adds.

Meanwhile online, Wayne Kline of Occupy Skagit issued a “Three Minute Steelhead Challenge” to fellow fans of the fishery to contact their legislators to build support for funding it.

From this page on the Legislature’s site you can find your district and then your state representatives’ and senator’s email addresses.

“We’re glad to hear the Commission is directing the Department to find funding for this iconic fishery,” said Rich Simms of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, “but this underscores the much larger need for committed funding from our legislature for our fish and wildlife into the future.”

More From Minter Hatchery Generator Failure Report, Discipline For 3 Staffers

Lord knows that someone who has difficulties running a toaster in the morning probably isn’t qualified to weigh in on matters such as restarting a backup generator at a state salmon hatchery.

But the root cause analysis for the failure of one at WDFW’s Minter Creek facility last winter was released yesterday and it makes for some aggravating reading.

A PAGE FROM THE 2018 OPERATIONS MANUAL FOR THE MINTER CREEK HATCHERY BACKUP GENERATOR STATES IT “SHOULD BE RUN BI-WEEKLY TO EXERCISE IT AND TO ENSURE EVERYTHING IS WORKING AS IT SHOULD.” (WDFW)

We’ve reported on this before here, here and here, but to review, the backup power source wouldn’t start after 45-plus-mile-an-hour gusts cut electricity to the South Sound hatchery around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2018, essentially giving millions of Chinook fry there just 20 to 30 minutes to live before the lack of dissolved-oxygen-rich fresh water running through their incubation trays led to their death.

Crews scrambled to fix the generator, but it was out for around three and a half hours and was an entirely preventable disaster if it had been checked as routinely as the operating manual’s recommendation — every two weeks.

As a result of the investigation, three WDFW staffers described as “Minter Creek employees” have now been disciplined.

“One employee was demoted; another was suspended; and the third received a written reprimand,” said agency spokeswoman Michelle Dunlop late Monday afternoon.

She said that the punishments were based on the level of responsibility of the individuals.

Dunlop said the report, which is marked confidential and appears to have been finalized in March, was not released until the disciplinary process had been completed.

THE 97-PAGE-LONG DOCUMENT SHOWS that the last time the 22-year-old, 350 kW generator had been tested before the outage was Oct. 8, near the start of the fall storm season and 67 days beforehand.

The manufacturer’s operations manual “specifies bi-weekly testing of the generator system to maintain readiness,” WDFW-contracted independent investigators Ron Carper and Frank Sebastian write.

THE BACKUP GENERATOR’S CONTROL PANEL. (WDFW)

Prior to the October test, it had been 70 days since one was performed in July, their report shows.

They found that in the 21 months leading up to the disaster, the generator was only tested 12 times, on average once every 54 days, though with 16- and 17-day intervals in early 2018 too.

But it apparently wasn’t tested at all during one 195-day period — more than half a year — between early March and mid-September 2017.

Comments associated with that September test say “Tree on line (wind).”

As you can imagine, the frequency of testing went up following December’s disaster.

“After 12/14/2018, the average days between generator runs was 5.2 days,” their report states.

“Although hatchery staff responded promptly when the incident occurred and worked tirelessly to save fish at the hatchery, there were missteps along the way,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release yesterday that accompanied the report. “We’ve learned a lot from this and are addressing shortcomings identified by the contractors.”

THE REPORT ALSO INCLUDES INTERVIEWS and details how the two staffers stationed at Minter as well as another from a nearby facility who responded that evening as power outage alarms went off worked their butts off to try and get the generator going again.

As one drove over to the Purdy Napa to get new batteries and cables, another worked to get water flowing other ways to the trays holding young salmon, which succeeded in one area.

As the news also traveled up the chain of command, two firemen even arrived with a gas-powered pump but “did not have any hoses for the pump which would connect to the fittings at the hatchery,” and while it wasn’t their job to know, nor could they figure out why the generator wouldn’t fire up.

The report states that the initial failure to start was most likely caused by “a loose or cracked starting battery connection,” but there was only so much anyone could have done to get the generator going again after the “Emergency Stop” was activated to replace the batteries and cables.

That’s because a device known as an “air damper” first had to be reset.

The device is a rare one, with no generators elsewhere in the state hatchery system having one, according to the report.

“The generator would not start and displayed an ‘Air Damper’ fault light. [Name blacked out but a hatchery specialist 3] did not know the significance of this fault or how to correct it,” the report says.

It was only after a second person from the state’s Capital Assets Management Program in Lacey, a diesel mechanic, was apprised of the situation by phone at around 8 p.m. that they realized that that needed to be done and how to do it.

“These instructions resulted in the generator system becoming operational and suppling (sic) electrical power to the Minter Creek Hatchery,” the report states.

It’s believed that the delay in figuring out the air damper issue didn’t result in the loss of more fish.

But it is emblematic of wider communications failures at the facility, beginning with what to do in that critical first half hour.

The report states:

“The employees at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have a pre-established plan or instructions on how to maintain water flow and overcome the failure of electrical power in sustaining fish viability. The employees realized maintaining oxygenation in the water flow was critical and initially worked at various unguided solutions. This included activation and utilization of non-electric powered pumps and gravity flow of water.”

It also says:

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have the knowledge, training or reference materials on how to fully reset the Emergency Stop control, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.

“The employees present at Minter Creek Hatchery did not have knowledge, training or reference materials on how to reset the Air Damper fault indication, following activation of the Emergency Stop control.”

A “Considerations for the future” section of the report lays out an improved set of responsibilities for the facility manager and their hatchery specialists.

About half an hour after the generator was started, local utility crews restored the electricity.

Several days later the root cause analysis was contracted.

The report states that the backup power source was serviced and tested in March 2018 and found to be in “good overall condition,” though it apparently had been at least six years since the starter batteries had been replaced.

Batteries are more likely to fail the older they get.

Carper’s and Sebastian’s conclusion states:

The best explanation of the root cause generator failure is the result from a loose or cracked starting battery connection. Due to potential for corrosion, vibration, and what can be fairly significant temperature cycles, generator manufacturers typically recommend maintenance procedures for regular inspections of all wiring. Battery cable connections may become loose or damaged and should be inspected at every
generator exercise cycle by gently tugging and wiggling the cables.

It is inherent that electrical terminations on hot lead battery posts that are on vibrating engine frames will tend to loosen over time, so regular checks are recommended.

According to the generator log book, it had not been run for 67 days prior to the failure. With more frequent testing and inspections, this issue with the battery cable could have been discovered and repaired under normal conditions.

WDFW initially estimated that up to 6.2 million Chinook fry might have died without fresh water circulating through their rearing trays, but have now revised that downwards to 4.1 million following “a more robust inventory.”

More than half have been replaced with “excess” fish from six state, tribal — including 750,000 from the Suquamish and Nisqually Tribes — and tech college hatcheries.

The facility also raises chum and coho salmon for state and tribal fisheries. Those fish return and spawn later in the year than Chinook, and their eggs were still in a stage where they could survive if the water was drained off but were still kept moist.

A SCHEMATIC DRAWING SHOWS THE LAYOUT OF MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

AGAIN, I’M NOT TRYING TO COME OFF AS SOME EXPERT in these matters and I readily acknowledge that s*** is just gonna happen at the worst possible times.

Been there, done that.

I do appreciate that WDFW apparently published the report without being prompted to get ahead of some reporter’s public disclosure request.

It harkens back to agency leaders’ vow before state lawmakers last winter to “to hold ourselves accountable for the tragic loss of the fish.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND, FISH PROGRAM DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR KELLY CUNNINGHAM AND HATCHERY DIVISION MANAGER ERIC KINNE SPEAK BEFORE A STATE SENATE COMMITTEE ON WHAT HAPPENED AT MINTER CREEK. (TVW)

“We’re committed to making improvements to safeguard against another incident like the one at Minter Creek,” Kelly Cunningham, WDFW acting assistant Fish Program director said in the news release.

But even as the problem is being addressed, the report reveals an operations negligence that I find unacceptable.

That the two-decade-old generator wasn’t tested more frequently or ahead of the National Weather Service’s forecasted high wind warning that day, which put the fish at risk, boggles my mind.

That there wasn’t an established backup plan to the backup power source is puzzling.

As wild salmon continue to struggle and their recovery is decades — centuries? — down the road, the future of our seasons and starving orcas depend ever more highly on producing fish.

Minter is a key hatchery, putting out Chinook and chum, which southern resident killer whales depend on year-round and in fall, respectively.

Again, WDFW is obviously working on improving their operation, but they need to do better, and show us they are.

This was an entirely preventable, manmade disaster that didn’t need to happen if regular testing had been undertaken and it wasn’t assumed that the generator would just fire up whenever needed.

A harsh lesson, but one that’s been learned hopefully.

Not So Fast That Fishing’s The Reason For Sultan Wild Steelhead Woes

The head of a longtime fishing organization is expressing disappointment with his local utility after it claimed summer angling is the reason wild winter-run steelhead aren’t recovering in part of a popular Western Washington watershed.

Mark Spada says that his Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club has “always had a good working relationship” with the county public utility district and has tried to work to improve fishing opportunities with them, but “(P)lacing blame on the recreational steelhead fisherman for a poor return is short sighted and unjustified.”

THE SKYKOMISH RIVER BETWEEN THE MOUTH OF THE SULTAN AND MONROE PRODUCES HATCHERY SUMMER STEELHEAD AND CHINOOK LIKE THESE CAUGHT ABOARD GUIDE SHEA FISHER’S BOAT DURING 2017’S OPENER, BUT A LOCAL UTILITY SAYS THE ANGLING RULES ARE ALSO IMPACTING NATIVE WINTER-RUNS. (THEFISHERE.COM)

Spada, who recently helped put on a kids fishing day a bit higher up in the Skykomish River, was reacting to stories in The Herald of Everett and on Q13.

Both pieces mostly shared the viewpoint of the utility, which operates a dam on a tributary of the Sky, the Sultan River.

While one reporter talked to a random angler on the water and the other to a regional fisheries manager, Spada felt PUD could have done a better job beforehand.

“I hope in the future you’ll look to work with the recreational community to find answers to difficult fish management questions, and not take the low road to incite public perception,” he wrote to Larry Lowe, a Snohomish County PUD fisheries biologist, yesterday morning.

A WDFW SALMONSCAPE MAP SHOWS THE COURSE OF THE SULTAN RIVER, WHICH DRAINS OUT OF SPADA LAKE AT THE SNOHOMISH COUNTY PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT’S CULMBACK DAM, POUNDS THROUGH A 13-MILE-LONG GORGE BEFORE HITTING FLATTER TERRAIN AND ENTERING THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT THE TOWN OF SULTAN. (WDFW)

SPARKING THE SITUATION ARE DECLINING STEELHEAD RUNS and a recent statewide rule change that moved the opening day of fishing on the Skykomish from June 1 to the Saturday of the long Memorial Day Weekend as part of a WDFW regulations simplification drive.

In an email to Northwest Sportsman, Spada says he has fought for an earlier opener for years.

“The recreational fishing industry is in dire straits right now, and we need every single day of angling opportunity we can get,” he said. “(It) just makes good business sense to be open on a holiday weekend.”

With the scenic Skykomish the only summer salmon and steelhead bank and boat fishery of consequence in all of Western Washington this season, hundreds of anglers took advantage of the long weekend to get afield too, packing into the river’s accesses.

WDFW catch stats show that 338 were interviewed by creel samplers on May 25 and 26, including 259 at the Sultan River, Ben Howard and Lewis Street put-ins and take-outs, and another 79 up at Reiter Ponds.

Overall they kept 16 hatchery kings and 28 hatchery steelhead, releasing one wild king and 18 wild steelhead.

Not the world’s best fishing by any stretch, but those few wild steelhead are at the crux of PUD’s beef.

“We believe (angling rules) are impeding the recovery of these fish and they’re controllable, and we have to do all we can do,” utility natural resources manager Keith Binkley told The Herald‘s Julia-Grace Sanders.

PUD says it has spent $21 million of its ratepayers’ money to promote fish recovery in the Sultan River and that their monitoring shows 11 percent of the trib’s wild winter-runs are “still en route up the Skykomish” as of the old June 1 opener, and 26 percent as of this year’s late May opener, per the paper.

(The 2020 start of season would fall on May 30 because of how the calendar changes from year to year.)

THOSE SPAWNER FIGURES WILL RAISE EYEBROWS.

According to WDFW, greater than 95 percent of all wild winter steelhead in the Skykomish-Snoqualmie-Snohomish have already finished spawning by June 1.

Now, the Sultan is not the Sauk-Suiattle, home to large ice fields in the Glacier Peak Wilderness that keep those rivers colder longer and have led their steelhead to spawn later than any other stock in the state, but WDFW does allow that its fish do make redds later than others in the Snohomish watershed.

However, it’s unclear whether that timing has also been unnaturally skewed by cold water coming out of PUD’s Culmback Dam, which has been on the upper Sultan since 1965 and was raised 60-plus feet in 1984.

Up until recently, water was released “from the base of the reservoir, which is naturally colder than water near the top,” per the utility, but a modification now draws off and mixes in warmer surface water, making the river below the impassable dam more fish friendly.

COLD AND WARM WATER MIXES BELOW CULMBACK DAM ON THE SULTAN RIVER. (IMCO/SNOHOMISH COUNTY P.U.D.)

It follows on 2016’s removal of a PUD diversion dam that had blocked salmon and steelhead passage at river mile 9.7 since 1929.

Good on them for checking off federal dam-relicensing requirements and doing more for fish, but if WDFW stats are any indication, fisheries are likely coming in well below allowable impact rates.

NMFS allows the agency and the Tulalip Tribes to kill up to 4.2 percent of returning Endangered Species Act-listed wild steelhead during their hatchery-directed winter and summer seasons through this October.

This year’s native winter steelhead run came in well below forecast and it won’t be known for some time how many were impacted during the December-January-February season, but all of 1.9 adults died during the first two weekends of the summer fishery.

That’s based on the 19 caught and released, as required, and a standard 10 percent mortality rate on steelhead put back in the water.

According to WDFW, those nates were also mostly kelts — winter fish that had already spawned and were returning to saltwater.

(Scott Weedman of Three Rivers Marine in nearby Woodinville fished the opener and believes those wild fish were actually mostly summer-runs, probably headed to the forks of the Skykomish.)

With an estimated 1,000 back this year, the loss of those 1.9 fish amounts to a 00.19 percent impact rate out of the maximum of 4.2 percent.

A U.S.G.S. SATELLITE TOPO MAP SHOWS LOGGING INCHING TOWARDS THE STEEP CANYON OF THE SULTAN RIVER BELOW CULMBACK DAM. THE AREA WAS LAST CUT NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO, WITH DEBRIS FLOWS SEVERAL YEARS LATER DURING A LARGE STORM. (USGS)

NOW, I’M NOT SAYING THE SULTAN FISH AREN’T IMPORTANT, not for one second.

Having put in some pretty good growing-up years along its banks and in the hills above the paved end of Trout Farm Road, I’m more than a little partial to the system and I want to see its steelhead and coho returns blow up like the river’s pink runs did.

I’m also realistic.

Fishing seasons that have been going on for decades are not the reason wild steelhead are suddenly struggling in the watershed, nor keeping them depressed.

That’s primarily due to massive, long-term habitat alterations — logging, diking, developing — that have reduced spawning and rearing water for fish.

I know it’s not PUD’s land, but I sure hope they’re paying close attention to any proposed clearcutting above either side of the rain-prone gorge of the Sultan below their dam.

But then again, maybe it’s easier to take on minnows like fishermen and miners than the state’s massive 2×4 industry.

Then there’s increasing pinniped predation on outmigrating smolts and returning adults.

And let’s not forget 2015, The Blob year, which shriveled streams in the Skykomish system and probably is playing no small part in recent years’ low steelhead returns.

THE SULTAN FLOWS INTO THE SKYKOMISH. THE TRIB MAY PROVIDE A THERMAL REFUGE FOR FISH IN THE MAINSTEM LATER IN SUMMER DURING LOW-WATER YEARS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

EVEN SO, P.U.D. IS MAKING A BID TO TWEAK the fishing regs, asking WDFW to push its summer opener back to June 15, restrict the use of bait and limit angling at the mouth of the Sultan, per The Herald.

“We need to now, more than ever, be protecting these fish,” another PUD staffer told the paper.

WDFW’s ear is bent and they are mulling options.

Who knows what might come out of this, perhaps keeping the early opener above the Sultan or Mann Road Bridge, where hatchery steelhead predominate, and later below the mouth of the Sultan?

But that would also impact the summer king fishery, which is almost entirely between there and Monroe’s Lewis Street Bridge.

“That’s going to be the part that’s the biggest struggle — to protect steelhead and provide Chinook opportunity,” acknowledges Edward Eleazer, WDFW’s regional fisheries manager.

I don’t know how this one is going to end, but with how hugely important of a fishery the Skykomish has become in this day and age of shrinking opportunities, stay tuned.

Geezers (And Others) Will Now Have To Walk Down To Grand Coulee Fishing Beach

Despite a reported 33 of 34 commenters being opposed to banning parking at Geezer Beach, parking will no longer be allowed at the popular lower Lake Roosevelt bank fishery.

A FISHERMAN TENDS THEIR LINE AT GEEZER BEACH ON JAN. 8, 2019. (HANK WIEBE)

Local anglers and the town of Coulee Dam had fought the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal this past winter, but citing “safety concerns” the federal agency will now block off vehicle entry to the fishy spot on the reservoir’s north bank just above Grand Coulee Dam.

Trouters and others will still be able to fish there, but will now have to walk in from a parking area at roughly the 1,300-foot-elevation mark down to the water, the level of which can fluctuate as low as the 1,220-foot mark over the course of a year. This year it went as low as 1,258 feet.

“It’s just bullsh*t,” reacted Northwest Sportsman reader Hank Weibe, who earlier this year said that due to his disabilities, the beach was “one of the few places I can access.”

For fellow angler Bob Minato, who reported that he suffers from heart disease, diabetes and poor circulation, Geezer is perfect for fishing out of his vehicle.

“Before I became disabled, I used to spend all six weeks of my vacation in Grand Coulee. Now I spend even more time in Grand Coulee and Eastern Washington,” he wrote to BOR.

With the lake near full pool now, the change won’t realistically go into effect until some time in early 2020 when water levels will drop to make room for spring runoff, per BOR spokeswoman Lynne Brougher.

REMINGTON WIEBE SHOWS OFF A NICE RAINBOW CAUGHT OFF GEEZER BEACH WHILE FISHING WITH HER GRANDPA, HANK, WHO HOPED TO KEEP THE ACCESS SITE OPEN TO DRIVE-DOWN ANGLING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The feds essentially went along with a request from the Colville Tribes.

“We support the use of suitable areas for fishing or other appropriate recreational activities. However, driving on the drawdown is not an acceptable practice,” stated Chairman Rodney Cawston in comments citing public safety, protecting archeological resources and a ban on driving on the lakebed everywhere else on the reservoir.

However, in comments to BOR, Coulee Dam officials said that over the past four decades they’d never heard of any vehicle ever going into the water at Geezer Beach.

A former worker at the dam told The Star of Grand Coulee, which followed the story closely since last December, that the area had been “reworked and completely modified through the construction of the Dam’s history” while being used for staging, though a BOR assessment says that three places at or near there do have tribal names.

Banning parking on the beach but continuing to allow fishing was one of three alternatives federal managers evaluated.

Another was completely barring access, while the third was no change.

“… Cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles and recreational vehicles will be required to park in designated parking areas and will not be allowed to drive or park on the shoreline or drawdown,” BOR said in a press release announcing the change.

The new rules for what’s known as BOR’s Reclamation Zone will be enforced by the Colville Tribes, the feds say.

Skagit-Sauk Steelheading Could Be Cut In 2020 With WDFW’s Budget Woes

There may not be a Skagit-Sauk steelhead catch-and-release season next spring due to WDFW’s growing money woes, a “bitter pill” for the anglers who worked for half a decade to reopen the iconic North Cascades waters.

DRIFT BOATERS COME DOWN A SLIGHT RAPID ON THE SAUK YESTERDAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The recently reinstated fishery is now on the chopping block as state managers scramble to figure out what to cut coming out of the recent legislative session that only partially filled a shortfall — and which subsequently also ballooned from $7 million to $21 million.

Rich Simms, cofounder of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, said his organization was “deeply disappointed” by the news relayed in an email late last week by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind that Puget Sound’s sole opportunity to fish for wild winter-runs would be “eliminated.”

“While we recognize the difficult budget situation the Department faces and strongly support Olympia ending the underfunding of our fish and wildlife, we believe WDFW should do everything possible to keep the Skagit catch and release steelhead fishery open,” Simms said in a statement.

Closed due to low runs in 2009, returns rebounded several years ago, but because the region’s steelhead are listed under the Endangered Species Act, federal overseers require the fishery to be monitored as part of the state permit, and that costs a pretty penny.

AN ANGLER CASTS A LINE ON THE SKAGIT RIVER AT THE MOUTH OF THE SAUK. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Before this year’s February-April season, WDFW staffers estimated that between hiring a new biologist to oversee the fishery and write reports, bringing on creelers, providing them with rigs and things like waders, and then flying the rivers to double check angler numbers, it would cost around $210,000 a year to provide the opportunity.

The receipts are still being tallied and it is already likely in the neighborhood of $150,000, per district fisheries biologiat Brett Barkdull, but it was also anticipated that that “Cadillac” level of monitoring for the first full season (spring 2018 saw an abbreviated 12-day opener) would likely be backed off in the coming years.

But now, it may be moot.

That there might not be another season for at least the next two years caught the attention of the Fish and Wildlife Commission during a conference call last Friday.

Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon defended the fishery and pointed out how the group Occupy Skagit had worked diligently with the citizen panel since the early years of this decade to open the rivers again.

“It’s about as clean a fishery as you can imagine. I would really, really object to that being eliminated. I think it’s false economics and I just don’t think it’s going to work into the future,” Carpenter said.

His comments came as commissioners discussed raising the WDFW vacancy rate — the number of agency jobs that are open but purposefully left unfilled — from 4 percent to up to 4.3 percent to save some money.

That idea didn’t go over well with Commissioner Dave Graybill of Leavenworth who related how a Bellingham creel sampler he’d talked to during a recent spot prawn opener was told there was only six month’s salary available for her position but that she could be reassigned away from the town she’s lived in for 22 years.

“We really have to think about the impact of what we’re doing if we consider any other increases to that 4 percent. I would object to any movement that would increase that,” said Graybill.

Also on his mind was the expiration of the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement after lawmakers failed to renew it and which will primarily impact opportunities in his neck of the basin.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find the money to conduct fisheries in my region particularly,” Graybill said.

This year’s runs are poor, so there won’t be much fishing, but just like the Skagit-Sauk, some of those seasons are subject to federally required monitoring.

Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane sympathized with her colleagues.

“These are really hard decisions. Everybody has a favorite fishery and whatever we cut is going to be hurt. As David’s pointed out is, what’s being cut across the board are the Upper Columbia fisheries,” she said.

While funding for those fell victim to state lawmakers not extending the endorsement, money for the Skagit C&R fishery was built into WDFW’s license fee increase proposal to the legislature, which also died.

The steelhead coalition’s Simms blamed the latter failure on organizations that opposed the hike because of “contentious issues and discontent with the Department” — code for the commission’s Lower Columbia salmon reforms pause vote.

A CLIENT OF GUIDE CHRIS SENYOHL SHOWS OFF A WILD WINTER STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY REOPENING OF THE SKAGIT AND SAUK RIVER. (INTREPID ANGLERS, VIA AL SENYOHL)

Technically, the Skagit money has been on the “enhance opportunities” side of the fee increase ledger, and WDFW Director Susewind told commissioners he would struggle to move it out of what is effectively an optional category over to the “maintain” side.

“We’ve been pretty transparent with folks that, absent money, we’re not going to be able get to the enhancements and that was one of them. We’ll dig in, we’ll do some additional work, but … at some point we have to make the final decision. And we also, frankly, have to quit doing everything that we said we couldn’t do when we don’t get the money,” he said.

Susewind said that leads to credibility issues with lawmakers about the original need, and also results in a poorer work product “which further erodes our credibility.”

But an immense amount of work also went into getting the Skagit-Sauk fishery back — that longterm lobbying Carpenter referenced, staff from not only WDFW but three tribes writing a joint management plan, and the feds weighing and ultimately signing off on the document.

For WSC’s Simms, the Skagit-Sauk fishery is not only an economic driver for mountain towns well off the beaten path in late winter and early spring but the “sustainable” opportunity is a “powerful tool” for conservation.

“Losing this fishery once again after only one full fishing season would be a bitter pill to swallow, especially given the hard work of so many steelhead advocates, many of whom support fish and wildlife funding and other conservation programs,” he said.

THE “FAMILY OF ARCHERS” STATUE IN DARRINGTON MARKS THE ENTRY TO THE I.G.A. STORE, WHERE THE BLOGGER IN CHIEF POINTEDLY STOPPED TO PICK UP (MORE THAN ENOUGH) SUPPLIES DURING AN APRIL OUTING ON THE MIDDLE AND LOWER SAUK RIVER FOR WILD STEELHEAD. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Lake Sammamish ‘Warm Water Test Fishery’ Netting Raises Questions

Lee Getzewich had heard that there was some gillnetting going on on Lake Sammamish, a water he’s fished for more than 25 years, and it gave him some pause.

But believing it to be just a “study,” the Issaquah resident decided to hit it earlier this month anyway.

A MUCKLESHOOT NET BOAT SITS MOORED TO A DOCK AT THE LAKE SAMMAMISH STATE PARK BOAT RAMP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“What we love about it is that it is such a diverse and quality fishery,” Getzewich says of the 4,900-acre King County lake. “We regularly target warmwater species such as bass, crappie, and perch, but we also enjoy the great cutthroat trout fishing, particularly during colder weather.”

When fresh fish is on their menu, yellowbellies and sometimes specks are the target, but that midspring weekday morning, he and his neighbor planned to catch and release cutts and smallies.

“This time of year, when the trout are keying in on the smolts, we regularly catch 20 to 30 cutts in a day, some going over 25 inches,” Getzewich states. “Twenty-seven inches is the biggest I can recall.”

The plan was to cast into the pods of coho just released from the state salmon hatchery in hopes of catching cutthroat preying on the young fish, but after launching at Lake Sammamish State Park’s southeast corner boat ramp they saw nets being deployed off the mouth of Issaquah Creek.

AN ANGLER FISHES OFF THE MOUTH OF ISSAQUAH CREEK, PROBABLY FOR CUTTHROAT TROUT OR SMALLMOUTH BASS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Motoring over to learn more they began talking to the two-person crew. Getzewich says they were shown totes with the previous night’s catch.

“He held up and showed us a sucker fish about 1 pound, but I could see several smallmouth bass and what looked like small crappie in the bin,” Getzewich recalls.

The crew told them that the fish were all being kept so their stomach contents could be studied, and that they were just doing what they’d been told to by biologists.

Getzewich and his neighbor left and fished elsewhere on Sammamish. The day was slow, and they only caught a few small perch and saw some small bass in the shallows at the lake’s north end, where the slough forms.

Afterwards, though, he talked to a buddy with a fisheries degree about what he’d seen and now he isn’t so sure it can be considered a study.

“What I really want to know is, Why is this permitted? Who said this was OK? Why aren’t the people being kept in the loop about this? Where is our DFW?” asks Getzewich. “There is going to be a serious revolution amongst sportsmen if it keeps going.”

A FISHERMAN WATCHES HIS LINE FOR BITES AT LAKE SAMMAMISH STATE PARIK. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

ON A MISTY MAY FRIDAY MORNING I decided to go check out things on Sammamish for myself.

With my luck I figured that if any nets were in the water, they would be halfway down the lake, well out of my smartphone camera’s range, so I grabbed my big Nikon and a telephoto lens and headed for the state park.

I parked at Sunset Beach, near a long row of upturned picnic tables, then wandered out on the trail to the mouth of Issaquah Creek, where a wading angler stood in water midthigh high about 30 yards offshore, casting and retrieving a lure.

With his tackle box back on dry land, he kept a wary eye on what I was up to as I peered into the murk for buoys marking strings of nets, but the only ones to be seen were the floats delineating the swimming area. Over on the other end of the string, an angler sat fishing the edge of the lily pads.

Turning around I went back and struck up a conversation with a plunker set up next to a long since fallen cottonwood. He said he was fishing for cutthroat and as we talked some salmon smolts began breaking the surface of the little bay he was on.

He told me that earlier in the day he’d seen a couple larger fish swim by together, but wasn’t quite sure whether they were trout, bass or something else. More and more of the young fish started jumping and as I zoomed in, there were a couple big swirls among the pod.

The angler didn’t really have anything to say about the netting and seemed more focused on trying to catch the fish making those swirls, so as the mist turned to a light sprinkle I left him to it and drove over to the boat ramp.

BUOYS MARK THE EDGE OF THE SWIMMING AREA AT LAKE SAMMAMISH STATE PARK’S SUNSET BEACH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

IT’S BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME SINCE I’VE USED this launch, though back when my dad lived in North Bend we’d put in his aluminum boat and fish it somewhat often.

I remember catching a really, really nice trout one time while we were anchored up just to the right of all the ramps. We ate that one as well as some bass we caught another time.

The last time I was on Sammamish was maybe 15 years or so ago with fellow F&H News staffer Jamie Parks. We hit the other southern corner that early spring day to fish for largemouth then zipped north to smallie waters, and on this morning three bassers were launching two boats.

Moored at the end of the leftmost dock was a net boat.

As he readied his craft, I asked the lone angler if he’d heard about the netting and after initially drawing a blank, he recalled fellow anglers mentioning some being dragged through the water.

The other two gents putting in were far more in tune with what’s been going on and they were not exactly happy about it.

As he swiped through pics on his phone of beautiful — and big — bronzebacks, Chris Senyohl, who operates a fly fishing guide service called Intrepid Anglers, told me that the nets had wiped out one of his best smallmouth spots.

His buddy said I’d just missed the net crew and that he’d seen them lift two largemouth out of their boat.

He said they’d been on the water every day during the work week, which is when he said he prefers to fish Sammamish.

HUNGRY PREDATORS GATHER AT THE SOUTH END OF LAKE SAMMAMISH IN SPRING TO SNARF DOWN JUST-RELEASED SALMON SMOLTS LIKE THESE COHO THAT SPILLED OUT OF THE BELLY OF A TROUT CAUGHT BY FAUSTINO RINCON. (FAUSTINO RINCON)

SLIGHTLY DAMP I CALLED IT A MORNING, drove past BMC West, where I worked for awhile after college loading lumber, fighting with customers over bent boards and drawing cartoons at the back gate, and headed in to my office.

I started working on this story on May 9, the day that the Muckleshoot Tribe sent out a notice showing they were intensifying their test fishery for warmwater species on Lake Sammamish and, coincidentally, the day that Lee Getzewich and his neighbor had fished there.

The notice showed that the effort could be expanded from two boats to three, with the maximum number of 3.75- to 6-inch-mesh gillnets tripling, from eight to up to 24.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that happened, but the regulation restated that the nets could be fished from 6 a.m. Monday until 6 p.m. Friday, by which time they’re to be removed for the weekend.

I left a voice mail on the Muckleshoot Fisheries department’s phone not long afterwards, but it hadn’t been returned as of Tuesday morning, May 28, so to figure out what’s going on, you have to zoom in on a couple different documents.

Probably the most important source of information is inside the LOAF — the 2019-20 List of Agreed Fisheries that was concurred to and signed on April 22 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission coming out of the annual North of Falcon season-setting process.

The LOAF essentially lays out all of Western Washington’s salmon fisheries in salt- and freshwaters negotiated between the state and 20-plus tribes, and in the back are a number of appendixes.

Pages 83 to 85 detail what is termed the “2019-2020 Warm Water Test Fishery” to collect data whether a directed fishery on spinyrays in the Lake Washington watershed could be “commercially viable” while also avoiding impacts on Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead.

“Using large mesh gillnets will eliminate impacts on age-0 Chinook and any potential steelhead smolts migrating out to sea,” the project description states.

The Muckleshoots also state they want to “instrument” walleye they catch with acoustic receivers to see how much their range overlaps with outmigrating coho smolts to target those areas in the future.

Another document, the tribe’s 2016 watersheds report, adds context: “A recent tribal study found that fewer than 10% of coho smolts released from the Issaquah Hatchery survived their freshwater migration to Puget Sound. The Lake Washington basin’s miles of docks, bulkheads, rip-rap, warm water, and the many native and exotic fish predators favored by those degraded conditions are likely at fault.”

Their announcement that they were increasing netting efforts roughly coincided with this month’s release of millions of coho as well as Chinook smolts — the fish I saw jumping in the mist.

SALMON SMOLTS LEAP OUT OF THE LAKE, PERHAPS JUST HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM THE NEARBY ISSAQUAH HATCHERY OR MAYBE ATTEMPTING TO FLEE PREDATORY FISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THIS IS THE THIRD YEAR THE MUCKLESHOOT test fishery has been going on — it initially included Lake Washington — and it follows 2015’s unexpected discovery of more than a dozen walleye, including an egg-dripping 13-pound hen and six males close by her.

To paraphrase a retired state fisheries manager, whomever recently put walleye (and then northern pike) in the system was no friend of fellow anglers who’ve chased warmwater species for decades, but the Muckleshoots are more blunt; they use the word “criminal” to describe the act.

Besides its many native stocks, crappie have been in the watershed the longest, in Lake Washington since at least 1890, followed by largemouth in 1918, and smallmouth there and in Sammamish since sometime in the 1960s, perhaps earlier.

Lake Washington is ranked as one of the top 100 bass lakes in the entire country by Bassmaster magazine, and is 16th best in the Western U.S.

Local clubs regularly hit it and according to WDFW tournament fishing records, the average bass landed there during the last 10 years weighed 2.22 pounds; the average on Sammamish was 2.31 pounds.

As popular as they’ve become, the times they are a’changing. The plight of the orcas and their primary food has put a target on the fins of spinyrays.

Earlier this month Gov. Jay Inslee signed Second Substitute House Bill 1579 which primarily — and finally — gives WDFW some actual teeth to protect shoreline habitat for Chinook and their forage fish.

It also contains a clause that the Fish and Wildlife Commission must now “liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.”

The latter idea came out of the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force’s recommendations last year and it echoes current regulations on the Columbia.

Limits were dropped on the three species in the big river system several years ago following pushing from federal fishery overseers.

How WDFW and the commission interpret “liberalize” and “anadromous” has yet to be determined (no limits? using SalmonScape?), but the bill goes into effect July 1 and will surely include Lakes Sammamish and Washington.

I’m no biologist, but my bet is that bass really don’t have much to fear from sport pursuit because of current support, Northwest anglers’ general preference for other fish on the table and conservation practices, and health advisories.

In other words, it’s a feel-good measure, though with more and more efforts throughout our region to supress or kill off nonnatives like lake trout, northern pike — even rainbow trout — this also feels like it could be a potential inflection point.

LAKE SAMMAMISH STRETCHES FOR 7 MILES FROM ITS NORTH END AT REDMOND TO ITS SOUTH AT ISSAQUAH, WHERE A SALMON HATCHERY RAISES AND RELEASES COHO AND CHINOOK FOR STATE AND TRIBAL FISHERIES. BUT THE SMOLTS MUST FIRST TRANSIT A LAKE FULL OF HUNGRY FISH. (JELSON25, WIKIMEDIA, CC 3.0)

ONE GROUP THAT ESSENTIALLY SUPPORTS the netting on Lake Sammamish is FISH, the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, a nonprofit that leads tours at WDFW’s most-visited production facility and does a lot of youth education with third- and fourth-grade students.

But the organization has also been moving into the realm of advocacy lately, said Larry Franks, its vice president and longtime salmon and steelhead angler.

“We’ve tried to identify things that benefit fish,” he said.

Franks, who retired from Boeing and also has a fisheries degree from the University of Washington, said that despite 2.5 million Chinook being released from the hatchery, last year saw a return of just 1,800 adults, or .07 percent survival.

Part of that is the productivity, or lack thereof, of the North Pacific, as well as harvest by all fleets, but primarily low smolt survival, just 8 to 10 percent from Issaquah to Shilshole Bay, outside the Lake Washington Ship Canal, he said.

“The deck is stacked against them. Our goal is to have better returns,” Franks said.

One problem, he said, is the increasingly narrow band of Lake Sammamish that salmon must swim through between too-warm surface waters and its anoxic depths.

The other is the predators that sit and wait in the zone for the smolts to swim through, then chow down.

Franks believes that the number of warmwater species in the lake and their populations have grown, and that that is impacting salmon outmigration and thus returns that are “dropping precipitously.”

“We’re of the position these are cause and effect, not correlation,” he said.

He acknowledges the growth of the state bass fishery and that smallmouth and largemouth anglers are every bit as dedicated as he is to chasing salmon. He believes that WDFW doesn’t want to piss off spinyray anglers either and is afraid to act — at least without more hard scientific data.

“It comes down to a choice: If you want to retain bass fishing, it’s going to be hopeless, in Larry’s opinion, to save Chinook,” Franks said.

A state staffer close to the situation didn’t want to be quoted for this story, but if official WDFW comments during its recently held Walleye Week on Facebook are any indication, they will be managing salmon and steelhead waters for salmon and steelhead first, and spinyrays where it makes the most sense.

(WDFW is also in the third year of a Lake Washington Ship Canal study to determine abundance and diets of smolt-eating fish there.)

Another option might be trucking Issaquah Hatchery’s smolts and Franks said experiments are ongoing. But anecdotally, it didn’t produce bigger returns last year, though more results are expected this year and next.

That leaves removing the predators, like the Muckleshoots are doing.

“We’re supportive of efforts that would increase the Chinook return,” said Franks.

ISSAQUAH CREEK ENTERS LAKE SAMMAMISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AS FOR HOW MANY FISH ARE BEING GILLNETTED in Sammamish, the LOAF — that marine area by river by lake rundown of agreed-to fishing state and tribal seasons and constraints — contains a short statement that caught my eye.

It says that with “the potential for interaction with the public,” the Muckleshoots propose providing monthly reports on their test fishery, including gear used, where it was fished and for how long, to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So I asked NOAA for that information, and a week and a half later a federal spokesperson provided me with summaries of catches in March and April for what are known as Zones 7 and 8, the northern and southern halves of the lake.

According to the figures, nearly 2,850 fish were caught and removed from the system during those two months, roughly 60 percent of which were native species, 40 percent nonnatives.

Just over 53.5 percent of the overall catch (1,525) was comprised of largescale suckers, a native fish, followed by introduced smallmouth bass (577) at 20 percent and fellow transplant black crappie (258) at 9 percent.

Other species caught include:

Northern pikeminnow (146), 5 percent, native
Brown bullhead (126), 4 percent, nonnative
Cutthroat trout (85), 3 percent, native
Largemouth bass (78), 3 percent, nonnative
Peamouth chub (24), 1 percent, native
Common carp (11), .4 percent, nonnative
Yellow perch (10), .3 percent, nonnative
Hatchery-origin Chinook (3), .1 percent, native
Mountain whitefish (3), .1 percent, native
Hatchery-origin coho (1), .03 percent, native
Rock bass (1), .03 percent, nonnative
Walleye (1), .03 percent, nonnative

No rainbow trout or natural-origin Chinook were caught, NOAA’s catch breakout shows.

Kokanee, which are at low levels in the lake but also a pelagic, or open-water, fish were not listed in the catch tally.

Under the terms of the test fishery, if three wild steelhead are netted, the effort will be shut down immediately. In the LOAF, the Muckleshoots state that there is a “very low to zero” chance of any turning up, and if one did, they suggest it would probably be a Green River stray.

Gillnetting is set to run through June 15, and I am interested to see what turns up in the catch during the final seven weeks of the program, what with the release of all those coho and Chinook smolts into the system — will the catch percentages change?

The test fishery is also scheduled to resume next January through April.

FEDERAL FISHERY OVERSEERS PROVIDED THIS TABLE SHOWING HOW MANY NATIVE AND NONNATIVE FISH WERE CAUGHT DURING WEEKLY GILLNETTING ON THE NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN HALVES OF LAKE SAMMAMISH. LARGESCALE SUCKERS DOMINATE THE CATCH, BUT SMALLMOUTH BASS COMPRISE A QUARTER TOO. (NOAA)

SOMETHING LARRY FRANKS SAID STUCK WITH me after our talk:

“It’s a thorny problem.”

Understatement of the century.

As a salmon angler, like many other Northwest sportsmen these days I’m howling that something, anything needs to be done about predators — be they sea lions, harbor seals, Caspian terns, cormorants or piscivorous fish — to get more smolts out and more adult fish back.

That means there’s no way I can support killing pikeminnows in the Columbia, northern pike everywhere in our region, birds at the mouth of the river, and pinnipeds at Bonneville and Willamette Falls without also giving the thumbs up to removing smolt-eating fish in Lake Sammamish.

At the same time, my inner spinyray angler is revolted by what feels like a targeted attack on a fish I like — I literally nearly went bankrupt trying to write a story inspired by catching a huge smallmouth on the Grande Ronde — one that’s widespread across the Northwest and is a great entry-level fish that’s easy to catch.

I’m all for hatcheries, but, holy sh*t, here’s a species that doesn’t require the world’s largest fish production infrastructure to perpetuate in perpetuity, plus they’re ready-made for climate change.

Yet as a Washington native, tell me why our fisheries have to be exactly like what you can already find in Michigan, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Quebec, Tennessee, Iowa, New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, Ontario, Missouri, the Dakotas, New England, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana? We’re not the Old Northwest, this is the Pacific Northwest, home of silver fish, not green ones, and proud of it.

Then again, I’ve also read my King of Fish: The Thousand Year Run of Salmon — with all the problems that our kings, silvers and steelies face, you tell me that smallies and their Midwestern and Southern cousins aren’t what’s going to come out of the other end of things here as the sole survivors.

The utter mess we have made of this region obliges us to do our best to fix it.

At what cost, pray tell?

So as you can tell, I’ve got mostly mixed feelings here.

I do, however, have a problem with the illegal release of walleye in Lakes Sammamish and Washington, and northern pike in the latter. Doing so was among the most asinine, destructive and disrespectful things perpetrated on the watershed since the Great Glacier smothered it. I’ll tar and feather the a@$hole bucket biologist(s) myself.

The comanagers aren’t talking, but I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t doubt for a second that those crimes were among the tipping points that set their test fisheries in motion. And now everybody but the guilty are paying.

A BLUE HERON WAITS FOR PREY TO SWIM BY. MANY THINGS PREY ON LAKE SAMMAMISH’S SALMON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I’M DOUBTFUL THERE WILL BE A “COMMERCIALLY VIABLE” fishery for bass in Lake Sammamish or elsewhere in the system some day, but I could be wrong.

I just hope that the netting shows whether targeted removals of smolt predators at select times and places is worthwhile for increasing salmon survival and expanding harvest seasons — while also preserving native and nonnative fish and fisheries that aren’t going away any time soon.

I’m willing to put a nickel down that while introduced exotics like the bass do have an impact, it’s mostly limited to the two months or so that the young coho and Chinook are transiting the system, and that like over on Lake Washington with sockeye smolts, cutthroat and northern pikeminnow are the actual primary predators.

Again, I could be wrong, but I’d love to learn what is in the stomachs of the thousands of fish the Muckleshoots pull out of the lake this spring. I’d hate to see this all go to waste.

THE SOUTH END OF LAKE SAMMAMISH FROM POO POO POINT, THE TAKE-OFF SPOT FOR HANG GLIDERS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Sheep Pneumonia Kills 11 Okanogan Bighorns; Monitoring Continues

A pneumonia outbreak may have run its course in a herd of Okanogan County bighorn sheep after killing nearly a dozen this past winter, but wildlife managers will keep monitoring the animals.

A BIGHORN RAM LOOKS OVER THE LOOMIS AREA OF NORTHCENTRAL OKANOGAN COUNTY. (JUSTIN HAUG, WDFW)

“Today the herd looks healthy, the lambs are healthy and fun to watch,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Jeff Heinlen, who was observing the Mt. Hull sheep this morning. “Boy, they’re active, up on the rocks, jumping around.”

It’s been a month and a half since the last new mortality and Heinlen counted 44 sheep, including 10 two-week-old-or-so lambs, along with 15 rams amongst the herd that roams across the mountain just southeast of Oroville.

In mid-March, WDFW reported one ram had been confirmed to have died from Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae — M. ovi for short — and afterwards asked the public to keep an eye out for any others displaying symptoms of the highly contagious bacteria.

Typically it starts with infected animals licking their lips, then coughing before eventually foaming at the mouth right before they die.

The agency’s early April bimonthly Wildlife Program report states that all totaled nine rams, one ewe and one of last year’s lambs are known to have succumbed, but that no new cases have been seen since March 30.

Heinlen says that six carcasses were sent to a Washington State University lab which confirmed they had all died from sheep pneumonia. Typically it is picked up from domestic herds.

It wasn’t clear why mortality was so concentrated among rams,  but possibly because a bachelor group came into contact with someone’s sheep.

Both WDFW and the Colville Tribes, which comanage the herd, withdrew the two ram and four ewe permits that were otherwise going to be available for this fall’s seasons due to the outbreak.

“There are still some pretty nice rams,” noted Heinlen.

While his latest count of 44 sheep is well below the 71 he saw in February and 80 to 82 tallied by the tribes during a January aerial survey, the animals have been using more forested terrain that makes it harder to get a headcount.

Heinlen said it’s easier to spot dead rams on the landscape due to their body size and large horns, but also said he wasn’t seeing eagles or magpies, which would suggest more carcasses on the ground.

This is the first time that M. ovi has been found in the Mt. Hull herd, he reported. It has struck others in Washington, including Yakima River Canyon, Tieton River and Snake-Grande Ronde populations.

“Bottom line, we’re not seeing the catastrophic die-off of other herds. We don’t know if it’s run its course, but we will continue to monitor the herd,” Heinlen said.

They’ll be watching those playful newborn lambs closely in hopes none come down with symptoms.

WDFW Shortfall Grows; Leaders Take Questions During Livestream

Washington fish and wildlife managers are now projecting they will have a $20 million budget shortfall over the coming two years — and it could more than double in the following two.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind broke the news earlier this week during a 2.5-hour-long livestreamed virtual open house.

WDFW HONCHOS LINE A TABLE DURING MONDAY NIGHT’S LIVE-STREAMED DIGITAL OPEN HOUSE. (WDFW)

“We ended up with less than we needed to get through the biennium, which means we’re not going to be able to provide the services we had hoped to,” he said about the recently concluded legislative session.

Lawmakers did give WDFW a one-time $24 million General Fund bump to fill a preexisting $31 million hole instead of raising fishing and hunting license fees and extending the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement.

But Susewind said that the shortfall also grew from that new initial $7 million difference to $20 million after legislators also “passed a lot of provisions that further increased our costs. Those increased costs came without additional revenue.”

WDFW DIRECTOR KELLY SUSEWIND. (WDFW)

This afternoon his budget and policy director Nate Pamplin said the $13 million ballooning was due to increased salaries for staffers and “other central service costs” that weren’t matched with new revenues; lower than expected disbursements from both the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts; and one-time hits from things like the Skagit catch-and-release wild steelhead fishery and Fish Washington app that would have been funded through the fee bill but now must be another way or get cut.

“We’re still reviewing what has been identified as at risk and trying to balance the budget,” Pamplin said.

Back on Monday’s live stream, Susewind acknowledged that legislators had “front loaded” the agency’s General Fund contribution towards the first year of the two-year budget “to come as close as we can to staying whole” in anticipation of working on it again when state senators and representatives return to Olympia next January .

But he also projected that the shortfall could grow to $46 million during the 2021-23 biennium if nothing’s done.

SUSEWIND HAS BEEN MAKING MORE USE of new ways to talk to WDFW’s constituents than past directors, and in this latest virtual town meeting he brought in a bevy of department heads and managers to talk about their programs and expertises.

But it also included about an hour’s worth of questions sent in by the public as they watched, and as you can imagine many inquiries dealt with the hot-button topics of the day — wolves, North of Falcon, Columbia fisheries.

One of the first questions was from a gentleman by the name of Bill who felt that over the past three years there’s been a lot of lost fishing opportunity and he wanted to know how WDFW was supporting sport anglers.

“We’re trying to maximize the opportunities within the constraints we have,” Susewind stated.

Those restrictions include all the Endangered Species Act listings on fish stocks that often swim alongside healthier ones, fisheries that require extensive and not-cheap monitoring for the state to receive federal permits to hold them.

DRIFT BOAT ANGLERS MAKE THEIR WAY DOWN THE SAUK RIVER DURING APRIL 2018’S 12-DAY FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Susewind said the agency was looking at ways to increase hatchery production, and he pointed to spill down the Columbia system to aid outmigrating smolts as well as habitat work to increase wild returns which would mean higher allowable impact rates on listed stocks

“This is an area I want to be direct with folks,” Susewind said. “I know there’s a ton of frustration around lack of opportunity at the same time we asked for an increase. I’d just ask folks to think through the situation. In these times of incredible constraints, declining runs, it costs more to actually provide the opportunity. The declining opportunity, the effort it takes to provide what opportunity is available is more.

“You all can make your own choice whether it’s a good investment if fees are worth it or not, but those fees are what are going to allow us to continue to manage, to allow us to hopefully turn around this run return and allow us to provide more opportunities,” he said, adding, “That’s what we’re trying to do. Time will tell if we’re successful.”

Asked whether WDFW was considering any early retirements to reduce the budget hole, Susewind said he couldn’t do that without a change in state law, but that staff cuts and not filling vacancies were being looked at.

A woman named Carol asked about a “conservation license,” and Susewind expressed some interest in it as a funding source though also for more durable, across the board funding. Pamplin added that the Reclaiming America’s Wildlife Act now in Congress was a “potential game changer … for us to invest in areas that need support.”

WDFW’s twin mandate tears it between providing harvest opportunities which raise money to pour back into providing more while also having to protect imperiled species that suck money the other way.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

THIS AND RECENT YEARS HAVE SEEN A LOT OF ANGER about the results from North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations and the pruning of opportunities in inland saltwaters, and during the livestream, a question from Chad asked why there couldn’t be open meetings between WDFW and all Western Washington tribes.

Susewind, who just emerged from his first iteration of the annual set-to, called the idea unwieldy and said that the agency had a responsibility to represent its stakeholders during the talks but that that didn’t allow for them to behind those closed doors.

Salmon policy lead Kyle Adicks was more blunt.

“The tribes are sovereign governments. They don’t have to meet with us if they don’t want to. They don’t have to meet with members of our public if they don’t want to,” he said. “Ultimately it’s the tribes’ decision: If they want to have a government-to-government meeting, then that’s what we have.”

RON GARNER, PUGET SOUND ANGLERS PRESIDENT, SPEAKS AT AN ANGLERS RALLY IN LACEY, WASH., IN MAY 2016 AS STATE-TRIBAL NORTH OF FALCON NEGOTIATIONS WERE AT AN IMPASSE AFFECTING THE STATE OF THAT YEAR’S SEASONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW piggybacks on the tribes’ federal nexus to get sport salmon seasons approved faster than they otherwise might be.

While Adicks also pointed back to a January 2017 Fish and Wildlife Commission briefing on the Open Public Meetings and Administrative Procedures Acts, in recent days a long-threatened legal challenge has been filed that contends that how WDFW sets salmon seasons with the tribes violates those two state laws.

Filed by Twin Harbors Fish and Wildlife Advocacy of McCleary, the petition asks a Thurston County Superior Court judge to throw out the state’s adopted 2019-20 salmon seasons.

WDFW had no comment when I asked about the matter earlier this week — “As you probably know, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation” — but did pass along their efforts to increase transparency:

WDFW values and works hard to provide transparency in the development of fishing seasons. The development of fishing seasons also includes work with tribal co-managers, and those meetings involve highly sensitive government-to-government negotiations with 20 individual treaty tribes during the North of Falcon process.

In 2019, the department held more than a dozen public meetings to discuss potential salmon seasons in various locations around the state. Three of the meetings were live-streamed on WDFW’s website and made available for the public to watch later. WDFW also provided the public with the option to submit comments electronically through the department’s website. During the closing portion of North of Falcon negotiations, which took place during the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in California, the department had daily conference calls with advisors and constituents to discuss the latest developments.

ANOTHER QUESTION FOCUSED ON WHY the Fish and Wildlife Commission had allowed gillnets back into the Columbia this year, gear that had been schedule to be phased out by 2017 under fishery reforms.

Susewind called that policy an adaptive one that aimed to keep commercial fisheries viable on the big river too but that replacement gear hasn’t been figured out, so the citizen panel decided to extend gillnetting “while we figure out how to implement the rest of the policy.”

With spring Chinook now coming in far below forecast and summer Chinook not even opening, gillnetting this year will be limited to a handful of days targeting fall Chinook near Vancouver at the end of summer.

A GUIDE BOAT RUNS UP THE LOWER COLUMBIA DURING 2014’S BUOY 10 FALL SALMON FISHERY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Dozens more questions were asked and they covered the gamut:

* What WDFW was doing to increase branch-antler bull elk opportunities;

* How much  it costs to investigate wolf depredations;

* Whether WDFW plans to dispute the status of perennially fishery constraining mid-Hood Canal Chinook as a distinct stock (they’re essentially locally adapted Green/Duwamish strays released into the Skokomish);

* Reducing commercial bycatch;

* If WDFW was considering opening a spring bear general season;

  • What the agency was doing to increase access to salmon and steelhead, boosting mule deer and elk populations, and upping steelhead production;

* If WDFW can fine people who create repeat predator issues;

  • If Westside- and Eastside-only deer tags were possible;

* Instead of bag limits, if tags for salmon were possible;

* The latest on Southwest Washington hoof rot.

* And why weren’t WDFW staffers required to be hunters and anglers.

To see WDFW’s responses, skip to about the 1:23:00-mark of the digital open house.

A SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON MULE DEER BUCK PUTS DISTANCE BETWEEN ITSELF AND PHOTOGRAPHER-HUNTER CHAD ZOLLER. (ONTARIO KNIFE CO. PHOTO CONTEST)

“I hope we have your continued support as we try to turn this around and provide more opportunity in this state for hunting and fishing,” Susewind said in wrapping it up.

As he stated earlier, time will tell if WDFW is successful.

Loon-loving 8th Grader, Wenatchee Sportsmen, Castle Rock Hunters/Craftsmen Honored For Critter Work

It was ages ago now, but camping and fishing one summer in the eastern Okanogan Highlands I was enthralled to hear the haunting call of loons.

That memory stuck with me and I closely followed the debate about banning small lead-based fishing gear at Lost Lake and 12 other known loon-nesting waters, mostly in Washington’s northeast corner but three on the Westside too. I also wrote about a misguided effort in the legislature to institute a much wider ban.

MADELINE ASHMORE WAS NAMED WDFW’S CITIZEN EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR. (WDFW)

Somewhere around that time, little Madeline Ashmore sent WDFW a brief note to say, “I am four years old. I do not want lead sinkers in loons.”

This week she’s being honored by the agency as its Citizen Educator of the Year for her work to protect the rare birds from ingesting lost lead tackle.

“Madeline has worked alongside others to have lead banned in loon nesting lakes, and to educate the public on the alternatives to lead in fishing gear. Madeline has sold loon-themed greeting cards and cookies, dressed as a loon for Halloween, and encouraged the sale of lead-free tackle at local businesses to support her education efforts,” WDFW detailed on its Medium page.

Ashmore also handed over “hundreds of dollars” worth of tackle from a presentation she gave at a local organization’s Highland Wonders series of lectures.

Where she’s shown “drive, determination and care” in her short time on this Earth so far in earning her award, the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association’s 70-year history of doing good deeds for critters contributed to it earning WDFW’s Organization of the Year honor.

“Their contributions are wide and varied in scope and scale and in terms of dollars and volunteer hours. The association has worked to build and fix fences, plant shrubs after wildfires, conduct wildlife surveys, develop kid’s fishing events, and process seized meat from poachers to provide for local charitable organizations,” the agency stated.

When WDFW was forced to remove the Wedge Pack in 2012, the governor’s office received 12,000 emails opposed to the removal, and only one note from a hunters’ group in support — the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association.

They were also instrumental in preserving wildlife habitat in eastern Chelan County’s Stemilt Basin that at one point was going to be turned into high-elevation cherry orchards, a story that we covered in this blog and in our magazine.

As for the state agency’s volunteer of the year award, that went to four men, including three Castle Rock brothers/Master Hunters — Chris, John and Ken Ness — who “volunteered more than 600 hours of their engineering skills and craftsmanship to build 46 crates for transporting mountain goats and other wildlife for the department. Some of the crates were custom built to reduce stress on nannies with kids or to provide extra space for large billy goats.”

MASTER HUNTERS CHRIS, JOHN AND KEN NESS WORK ON ONE OF THEIR MOUNTAIN GOAT BOXES MADE FOR AN EFFORT TO TRANSLOCATE BILLIES, NANNIES AND KIDS FROM THE OLYMPIC MOUNTAINS, WHERE THE SPECIES WAS INTRODUCED BY HUNTERS IN THE 1920S, BACK TO THEIR HOME RANGE IN THE CASCADES. (WDFW)

Their handiwork was used during last September’s capture and translocation of wild goats in the Olympics, across Puget Sound to the North and Central Cascades.

The other VOTY awardee was Russ Lewis who has spent years keeping a 7-mile stretch of the Long Beach Peninsula that is “important to razor clams, raptors, snowy plovers, deer, elk and bear” as clean as possible, picking up 14,000 to 16,000 pounds of trash annually, WDFW said.

The Landowner of the Year award was given to Dave Morrow whose trees and property have gone towards restoring fish habitat on the Yakima River, though he might be more proud of the fact that, according to the agency, steelhead spawned in his backyard for the first time in three decades.

And Bob Palmer, who matriculated 166 new sportskids and others, was given the Terry Hoffer Memorial Firearm Safety Award for his hunter education work.

Kudos to all — you rock and are real heroes to Washington’s fish and wildlife!

If you’d like to volunteer your time towards noble causes like these, check out this WDFW page.

It details a number of upcoming projects — hatchery and habitat helpers, weed whackers, elk hazers, lek surveyors needed.

WDFW-WFC Settle Skykomish Summer Steelhead Lawsuit; State Plans New Broodstock Program

Editor’s note: Updated 2:35 p.m., May 3, 2019 with additional comments from WDFW

The hacking away at Puget Sound’s last consumptive steelhead opportunities as we’ve known them continues, though there’s also a glimmer of hope to save a popular fishery.

Releases of Skamania-strain summer-runs will be ended in the Skykomish River in the coming years following a lawsuit settlement between a highly litigious environmental group and state managers, who are also making a separate bid to replace the fish with locally adapted broodstock.

SKYKOMISH RIVER STEELHEADERS WILL BE ABLE TO CATCH SKAMANIA-STRAIN SUMMER-RUNS THROUGH AT LEAST THE 2024 SEASON UNDER A LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT, BUT IN A SEPARATE MOVE STATE HATCHERY OPERATORS WANT TO SWITCH TO A NEW LOCALLY ADAPTED BROODSTOCK IN THE COMING YEARS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The deal reached in federal court this week allows WDFW to release 116,000 smolts this spring and next from Reiter Ponds, ensuring fair numbers of returning adults will be available for harvest in the popular river in the coming years, but drops that number to 60,000 and then 40,000 in 2021 and 2022.

Technically, the agreement with the Wild Fish Conservancy would allow the agency to continue to produce Skamanias in the Sky afterwards if the National Marine Fisheries Service provides ESA coverage for the hatchery program.

But in reality, the feds are the ones who have been pushing WDFW to stop releasing the out-of-basin fish in Puget Sound waters.

In a July 21, 2017 letter, NMFS Regional Administrator Barry Thom told then WDFW Director Jim Unsworth he should look for “alternative” stocks to hold fisheries over.

So afterwards the agency considered using steelhead from a tributary elsewhere in the Skykomish-Snoqualmie watershed for a long-shot broodstock replacement bid.

For a blog I did last June, that plan to use Tolt summers was described to me as the best hope to save the fishery.

But the consent decree signed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington in Seattle by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind and WFC’s Kurt Beardslee and their attorneys this week, and Judge James L. Robart yesterday, specifically bars using any fish out of the South Fork Tolt for the next eight years.

Yet in a twist, another option has since emerged.

WDFW and the Tulalip Tribes recently submitted a hatchery genetic management plan to use steelhead collected in the South Fork Skykomish instead — “a new path forward,” in the state’s words, and one that would seemingly secure the program from potential budget cuts being eyed coming out of the end of the legislative session.

It still needs NMFS’ buy-in, but those fish are a mix of wild and naturalized hatchery steelhead that since 1958 have returned to a fish trap at the base of the impassable 104-foot-tall Sunset Falls just east of Index and have been trucked upstream.

They have less Skamania heritage than those from the Tolt, according to a WDFW genetic analysis.

Last year, 348 summer-runs showed up at the falls, with the 221 unclipped fish released into the South Fork and the 127 clipped ones not allowed to pass.

Edward Eleazer, the state’s regional fisheries manager, says that that “pretty robust” population will help WDFW reach production goals a lot more quickly than if they had tried to pump redds for Tolt steelhead eggs, rear them at Tokul Creek Hatchery, and then transfer first-generation returning adults to Reiter to build up broodstock there, like was being considered last year.

The proposed HGMP calls for the release of 116,000 smolts reared from natural-origin parents annually, “providing important harvest opportunities primarily for recreational fisheries but also for treaty tribes.”

It’s a lifeline of hope for the last best summer steelhead fishery in Puget Sound.

“Once the South Fork broodstock is established, it should provide stable, reliable, and perhaps enhanced summer-run fishing on the Skykomish for the foreseeable future,” said Mark Spada, president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club.

UNDER A PLAN SUBMITTED BY WDFW AND THE TULALIP TRIBES, STEELHEAD COLLECTED IN THE SOUTH FORK WOULD BE USED TO PRODUCE SMOLTS THAT WOULD BE SCATTERPLANTED NOT ONLY THERE BUT IN THE NORTH FORK AS WELL, EXPANDING ANGLER OPPORTUNITY GREATLY. (JOE MABEL, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CC 4.0)

It could also spread out the fishery so we’re not all focused in the half mile of water at and below Reiter Ponds.

Spada said that under the HGMP, smolts could be scatter-planted into the Sky’s South and North Forks, and that that “could provide a lot of additional angling opportunity.”

Both stems of the Sky and their tribs are paralleled by state, county and logging roads.

“There are a lot more options to expand the fishery,” confirms Eleazer, who sounds pretty excited about it. “Now we can recycle fish. Before we weren’t allowed to … There’s a lot of river miles.”

He acknowledges that it all still does depend on NMFS approval, but says so far the feds haven’t expressed any negative comments or asked for more information on the proposal.

Eleazer says that where in the future fisheries will necessarily become more “surgical” and adaptive because of ESA constraints, that’s not the case in the waters above Sunset Falls.

He says that the program will also provide a “key tool in recovering that wild population” on the North Fork Skykomish.

It’s another testament to WDFW standing by the Sky and its importance to anglers.

“We know that transitioning to a local stock is better for fish, and that the Skykomish is a tremendously popular steelhead river,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind in a press release. “People will be able to continue enjoying the experience here much as they have in the past.”

The news is not as good for the river system to the north, however.

The WDFW-WFC court settlement essentially ends releases out of Whitehorse Ponds into the North Fork Stillaguamish with this year’s 90,000 Skamania smolts let go for return in 2021.

With an HGMP covering the stock, production could resume, but again, that seems unlikely with NMFS’ directive.

As the two parties moved towards a deal, members of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington were warned they’d need to “really work hard” to save the Stilly program, which produces fish for one of the Westside’s rare fly fishing-only opportunities for hatchery summer-runs.

It wasn’t immediately clear if WDFW has any plans to develop a local broodstock on the Stillaguamish like it does on the Skykomish, but Director Susewind said he wanted to work with tribal comanagers to “explore alternative fishing opportunities.”

“While we never want to lose a fishery like the Stilly summer-runs, saving the Sky was the highest priority,” noted Spada.

CHRIS LAPOINTE FISHES FOR SUMMER STEELHEAD ON THE SKYKOMISH RIVER NEAR REITER PONDS DURING THE 2016 FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Last February, when WFC announced it planned to sue the state within 60 days, the organization claimed that continued releases of Skamanias into Puget Sound streams represented a threat to ESA-listed steelhead, but the real strength of their argument was that WDFW didn’t have an HGMP to operate the programs.

That has been a problem for several years as NMFS’s collective desk has been buried with hatchery and fishery plans to approve, biops to write, sea lion removals on the Willamette to OK, etc.

That WDFW has settled yet again with WFC will deeply piss anglers off, but without that federal permit, the agency is highly vulnerable to the organization’s low-hanging-fruit lawsuit racket.

The settlement also includes a $23,000 check from WDFW to pay WFC’s legal fees and orders the state to perform five years’ worth of snorkel surveys in the North Fork Skykomish and South Fork Tolt to count fish.

That effort is estimated to cost a total of $400,000, a not insignificant amount considering the agency’s $7 million budget shortfall in the coming two years.

A PREVIOUS WILD FISH CONSERVANCY LAWSUIT TARGETED WDFW’S EARLY-TIMED HATCHERY WINTER STEELHEAD ON THE SKYKOMISH.  (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

This is the second time in the past half decade that WFC has targeted WDFW hatchery steelhead operations on the Sky and elsewhere in Puget Sound.

In 2014, it was over early-returning Chambers Creek winter-runs, a Tacoma-area stock that has been used for decades.

That lawsuit resulted in continued releases into the Sky, but a pause elsewhere until WDFW had an HGMP in hand, the end of stocking in the Skagit for 12 years, and a $45,000 settlement check.

Prevented from releasing their fish, hatchery workers at Kendall Creek on the North Fork Nooksack and Whitehorse on the Stilly had to get creative to save the programs until federal ESA coverage came through, rearing their steelhead to adulthood at the facilities and spawning them there, as well as reconditioning kelts at the former.

This latest WFC lawsuit focuses on a 1950s mixture of Klickitat River and Washougal River steelhead that came from the hatchery on the latter stream and nicknamed Skamanias for the region of their origin.

They were once planted in numerous Puget Sound rivers, providing decades of good fishing on 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 also have a propensity for interbreeding with native fish and between that and the 2007 ESA listing of the region’s steelhead, they have been largely discontinued, leading to shrinking fishing opportunities and releases — from 190,000 into the Sky in 2015 to 116,000 in 2017.

That 2017 letter from NMFS’ Thom states that a WDFW researcher concluded “that genetic impacts to the two native summer steelhead populations in the Snohomish Basin have been so large that they are now considered feral populations of Skamania-stock fish.”

Now they may help keep steelheading going on the Skykomish if the feds approve the state and tribes’ plan.

“The potential risks of this hatchery program are minimal compared to the risks of failed steelhead habitat protection and restoration measures or adequately anticipating and addressing the effects of climate change,” the proposed HGMP states.

THE SKYKOMISH NEAR PROCTOR CREEK DURING SUMMER 2015’S EXTREMELY LOW FLOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)