Published February 2014 THE REEL NEWS Columbia River Region Column By Terry W. Sheely
Wild Steelhead Gene Banks Protested
“WDFW’s Biggest Blunder ”
More Springer Optimism, East Side Anglers Lose
Plea for More Salmon, Sturgeon Closures Argued, Buoy 10 Area Closure Debated, Will Vacuum Chute Replace
Fish Ladders and….
Anglers Howl At
Is turning two prime Southwest Rivers into wild steelhead sanctuaries the “biggest blunder WDFW has ever made? One guide thinks so and he has supporters.
Steelheaders are fighting back, at last, unhappy with the state’s plan to sacrifice popular Southwest hatchery steelhead sport fisheries to boost WDFW wild steelhead recovery ideas.
A public informational session on WDFW’s plan to shut down summer steelhead hatchery plants in order to turn the North Fork Toutle and Green rivers exclusively into wild fish gene banks brought out 100 plus anglers and ran into some fiery opposition at a meeting in Centralia.
Speaker after speaker lined up to condemn the plan, pointing out that both rivers draw big numbers of recreational anglers and the loss of that fishery to create a sanctuary for wild steelhead spawning would have economic consequences.
Opponents outnumbered gene bank supporters made up primarily of wild-fish advocates including the Native Fish Society.
Long-time Southwest guide Clancy Holt said WDFW is “making the biggest blunder you’ve ever made,” in eliminating summer hatchery steelhead in the Green. He claims that Green River hatchery fish stray into the lower Cowlitz and contribute heavily to that fishery as well as the natal river.
Holt was one of several who recommended that the Coweeman River be used as a wild steelhead gene bank instead of the Green or Toutle because the Coweeman is mostly encased in private posted property, short on public access and never heavily fished.
Recreational anglers won’t miss the Coweeman. They will mourn the Green or North Fork. “Go to the Green River parking lot at 3 a.m.,” said Tim Deaver, “you can’t get a parking spot.”
The Coweeman, in fact, was one of the rivers originally being considered as a wild gene bank but was rejected in the final selection. Also considered was the South Fork Toutle, but that idea triggered a huge angler backlash.
Backing up their pro-hatchery arguments and to replace the Green with the Coweeman as a gene bank opponents pointed out that, WDFW reported in 2012 that anglers caught 1,432 steelhead on the Green but only 113 on the Coweeman. Randy LeDuc of Centralia argued that WDFW has already invested in a summer steelhead hatchery on the Green, but has no hatchery on the Coweeman. Opponents square off against the state’s argument that the Green is superior to the Coweeman as a hatchery bank by underscoring that WDFW in fact has bolstered the Green River sport fishery by stocking upwards of 25,000 smolts a year, compared to only 12,000 in the Coweeman.
The arguments were not entirely one-sided.
Wild fish supporters argued the big picture: claiming that ending plants in the North Fork and Green would eliminate about 2 percent of the hatchery steelhead in the Columbia River system. Wild steelhead recovery is more important than maintaining a viable sport fishery on hatchery fish, they argued. Jason Small representing the Native Fish Society, says he believes the need to preserve wild fish may not permit killing steelhead for the table. “I have to look beyond my own self-interest.”
The opposition spilled over to complaints about the Cowlitz collapse. Penny Lancaster of Toledo was quoted, “the Cowlitz River used to be the number 1 steelhead producing fishery in the state,” and Bill Thurston thundered—to rousing applause—“our opportunities are shrinking and you guys aren’t doing a damn thing about it. You’re letting it happen and you’re almost encouraging it.”
I would argue Thurston’s generosity. There’s no “almost.” Recent moves by WDFW to curtail hatchery steelhead are not only actually encouraging the demise of sport steelheading, but are living up to WDFW Director Anderson’s warning several years ago that sport steelheading would be sacrificed if its necessary to recover wild steelhead on west slope rivers. The state is moving steadily in that direction, restricting, eliminating and reducing hatchery steelhead production, fishing seasons and sport-fishing opportunities on the I-5 corridor from Vancouver to Blaine.
They justify it by claiming that federal mandates are forcing the state into wild steelhead recovery. But no where have I seen the feds demand that sport fisheries be slashed. That’s the state’s idea of how to manage for wild steelhead—with friendly nudges from persuasive wild fish advocates.
The feds are demanding wild steelhead recovery and supporting the state’s gene bank program.. National Marine Fisheries Service has insisted that the state designate four Southwest rivers as wild steelhead gene pools free of hatchery steelhead competition. The details are left up to the state
WDFW biologists and advisory groups have been laying the groundwork for this situation since 2011 when the steelhead management master plan was adopted.
The popular East Fork Lewis and Clark County’s Salmon Creek are also on the block as wild steelhead gene banks and plans for those two streams were scheduled to get a public airing January 31 in Vancouver, after my deadline. Stay tuned.
East Siders Lose
To abuse the famous Soup Nazi quote on Seinfeld, “No More Salmon For You.”
That response dashed, for now, a bid by Eastern Washington salmon fishers who are hoping to convince Oregon and Washington fish managers to allocate more spring chinook to upriver fisheries.
Claiming they are salmon shorted, the group asked the states to shift fifteen percent more of the downriver salmon allocation to the Columbia Gorge and lower Snake River. The upriver increase would have been deducted from lower river quotas.
But their push for more springers ran aground when an influential seven-member advisory group failed to pass the option along to WDFW for commission consideration, and Oregon gave it an outright reject.
The salmon advisors, instead, left in place the status quo allocation of 75 percent for the sport fishery below Bonneville Dam and 25 percent for upstream anglers.
The upriver representatives had asked for 60 percent for the lower Columbia and 40 percent upstream of Bonneville Dam, claiming that such a shift would be a more equitable based on multiple factors including river miles, hatchery production and sales of Washington’s Columbia River salmon-steelhead endorsement license fee.
Lower river representatives countered the arguments claiming that the east side reps did not factor in the large Portland population and noted that ODFW is now also collecting a Big C endorsement fee.
Eastern Washington sports fishermen have been complaining without satisfaction to WDFW Director Phil Anderson about the 75-25 allocation. Oregon said that before they would agree to shift allocation percentages they would need to see a groundswell for change from the advisors, followed by a request from the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group, and then the general public and ODFW staff.
“There needs to be a broad-based consensus and support for doing something different,’’ asserted ODFW’s Tony Nigro.
He pointed out that ODFW is already facing budget cuts while being hit with the biggest overhaul of lower Columbia River sport and commercial fishing practices in decades as the Kitzhaber salmon plan is implemented in 2014-2017.
ODFW, he said, has little staff time to devote to new and contentious issues like re-allocation of the sport fishery.
On average, lower river anglers catch 77 percent of the sport spring chinook harvest, but as Nathan Grimm of Pasco pointed out eastern Washington residents are working to rebuild salmon runs through changes in Columbia Basin land-use and habitat.
“You’re telling the (Eastern) people who are making sacrifices they can’t have benefits,’’ he retorted.
Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator, has presented several scenarios that might be followed if a shift in allocation is eventually considered. He noted that under the new Kitzhaber plan the sport share of Columbia spring chinook is being increased from 65 to 70 percent in 2014 through 2016, then to 80 percent in 2017. With decreases in industrial net harvests allowing more fish to survive in the lower river he says there is an expectation that more springers will make it into the upper sections.
One of his scenarios hit a hot button.
It would give to mid-Columbia and lower Snake anglers the entire chinook percentage being deducted from the lower river industrial net fishery. That idea was immediately opposed by lower Columbia sport interests. Some snorted that east side anglers barely participated in the fight to get more sport fish from commercial allocations, and didn’t deserve to enjoy the rewards.
I suspect, sadly, that this is just the opening salvo in what’s shaping up as a long fish fight between East and West.
Catch-and-eat sturgeon fishing is over for 2014 and maybe longer in the Lower Columbia, Willamette and western Washington rivers, but the arguments aren’t through.
Butch Smith, Ilwaco Charterboat Association rep and Larry Swanson, of Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group testified before the Washington fish and wildlife commission that sturgeon numbers are climbing and urged WDFW and ODFW to revisit the closures.
They claim that the established method for estimating sturgeon numbers in the river is flawed and that a newer setline method is revealing that sturgeon counts are much higher than originally feared.
The new method estimates the river’s population of catchables this year at 131,700 fish, up from 114,200 last year and 72,700 in 2012.
With that growth, Swanson said, a sport fishery “is certainly not going to harm the resource.” Coastal Conservation Association reps don’t agree, and want the states to stick by their guns.
The recent decline in sturgeon numbers is too large, says CCA, to allow a quick re-opening.
Smith urged the states to re-open the Ilwaco area with a catch-and-eat season similar to 2013 saying that a total river population of legals, sublegals and oversizers is close to 800,000 and “warrants revisiting having some kind of small retention.”
“Sport fishing, Smith said,” is important to the coastal economy just as Boeing is important to the Seattle economy. We are a conservation-minded group, and we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t feel there’s some room for harvest.’’
Oregon’s ODFW director and commissioners are also being urged to revisit the closures.
After several consecutive years of dropping sturgeon numbers, Washington and Oregon closed sport and industrial retention starting this year below Bonneville Dam, in the lower Willamette River, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and Puget Sound. While catch-and-release is allowed to continue, the states hope the catch-and-eat closure will allow the population to rebound.
Good News On Wind, Drano, Klickitat If the guesstimators are right we’re looking at a much better year of spring chinook fishing on the Klickitat and Wind rivers and Drano Lake.
Region 5 WDFW spokesman Joe Hymer has released predictions that estimate springer runs in the three systems at 24,100—twice as high as last year’s actual return of 12,700.
Wind River anglers are looking at 8,500 springers up from the 3,600 last year; Drano is expecting 13,100 compared to last year’s 7,300 and the Klickitat should expect 2,500 a small lurch from last year’s return of 1,800.
Those numbers, while optimistic, may change as more data is factored in before fishing starts. Fish managers are forecasting a solid run of 227,000 springers to the mouth of the Big C this year, compared to the dismal 123,100 that returned last spring.
Feds Take Another Look At Spill The feds are taking a second look at the ups and downs of spilling dam water to boost anadromous fish survival. Emphasizing that it was not yet making a new decision Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC) is sending out feelers for new information that will be fed into their decisions on dam spill next year.
NPCC has asked the Independent Scientific Advisory Board to review a proposal that would increase spring spills over Snake and Columbia river dams for the next 10 years.
The advisory panel is made up of scientists appointed by the Council, NOAA Fisheries and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. WDFW and ODFW are not represented.
The increased spill plan is being framed as an experiment to determine the affects of spill on survival of juvenile salmon and steelhead migrating to the ocean. The Council received the spill-experiment proposal from fish and wildlife agencies, tribes and the state of Oregon.
The answers will be factored into NPCC next rewrite of the spill management program. Washington Council member Phil Rockefeller, chair of the Fish and Wildlife Committee, said the intent of asking the scientists to review the proposed spill experiment “is to better inform the Council, not to make a decision on the merits of the proposal.”
The panel will review multiple questions about the effects of spill, good and bad, on salmon, steelhead, other fish and wildlife in the river, and the river ecosystem. The proposal recommends increasing spill to 125 percent of the total dissolved gas level in the river below dam spillways during the spring for 10 years at dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, with a comprehensive assessment of smolt-to-adult survival after five years.
Count on a controversy no matter which way the science goes, but that the feds are at least willing to evaluate the possibility of increased spill to boost anadromous smolt survival is seen as a progressive step by many Big C salmon supporters.
Buoy 10 Honey
Hole May Close
One of the favorite hot honey holes in the Buoy 10 fishery is expected to be closed to sport fishermen this year, to reduce the interception of hatchery salmon headed to the commercial gillnets in Young’s Bay.
The recreational closure was adopted by Oregon legislators who voted to require a ban on sport fishing at the mouth of Young’s Bay as part of the Kitzhaber salmon fishing reforms that go into effect this year. The reforms, championed by sports fishermen, are intended to eliminate non-selective gillnets from the mainstem Columbia by 2017 and shift the commercial harvest to selective kills in hatchery-enhanced areas off the main channel. Young’s Bay is a critical off-channel commercial netting area.
The industrial fleet asked for the sport closure to keep anglers from catching bright fall hatchery chinook and coho at the mouth of the bay. The closure, as proposed, would end recreational fishing from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15 between the Youngs Bay bridge and the green buoy line from Warrenton Fiber upstream to the Astoria Bridge.
There is a chance, however, that those boundaries will be realigned by ODFW commissioners. ODFW’s Tony Nigro notes that state legislators required a closure zone, but left it up to the states to define boundaries. The Washington-Oregon Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group is reviewing the question. One member of that group, Pat O’Grady of Warrenton, has already come out in favor of the sport-closure. “Let’s give some fish to the gillnetters here,” he told reporters, adding, “there are a lot of areas for us sport fishermen.”
But other sports group representatives question that closure.
Randy Woolsey and Neil Branze say there are safety and harvest issues to consider. The Green Buoy Line is near several boat ramps that provide quick escapes for small boaters when the wind kicks up at the notoriously treacherous river mouth. Robert Moxley of Dundee said the closure will hit sport fishermen hard. He estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the Buoy 10 sport fishing effort is targeted on the green buoy line. ODFW says its closer to 5 percent, but that figure is considered low by most sports fishermen.
Woolsey is arguing that one goal of the Columbia River reforms is to boost local economies and that anglers targeting early-returning brights along the green buoy line add heaps of cash to Astoria-area hotels and restaurants.
“If we start closing down wholesale parts of what has been traditionally recreational fishing areas it just defeats the purpose of that plan,’’ Woolsey said.
The Oregon commissioners are scheduled to make a decision at their February 7 meeting.
Is whoosh the future of Big C fish migrations
A promising new technology in smoothing and expanding anadromous fish migrations is taking place at Roza Dam on the Yakima River where tribal fish managers are working the bugs out of vacuum transport system that could eliminate barges, trucks, turbine mortality, dam spills dam removals and fish ladders.
All that plus a very real possibility of one day whooshing salmon and steelhead over ladderless dams—like Grand Coulee.
The pilot project involves moving anadromous fish with a vacuum system, similar to the old department store vacuum tubes that whisked our money to some mysterious place and came back with change.
An experimental Yakama Nation vacuum being tested at Roza Dam is successfully moving fish, unharmed, over vertical distances, and may provide fish passage over large dams built without fish passages, like Grand Coulee.
The vacuum technology involves directing upriver bound adult anadromous salmon and steelhead and possibly downriver smolts, into a flexible sleeve with mild suction created by vacuum pressure that is capable of whisking salmon at speeds in excess of 10 mph for several hundred feet. The tribe has had success with a 40 foot tube at Roza and point out that a Norwegian vacuum has moved fish 230 feet.
The vacuum technology was created by a Bellevue company, appropriately named Whooshh Innovations, to move fruit. A salmon pilot program, however, is also showing great promise for moving fish with no apparent physical injuries. A test coho has reportedly made repeated trips through the Roza system without harm.
The vacuum tube system involves a generator that creates suction in a soft, flexible sleeve inside a protective plastic pipe. The wet sleeve seals around the fish, protecting it while the vacuum pulls it along the pipe. An examination by USGS scientists at the Columbia River Research Laboratory could not find any negative impacts on fish moved along significant horizontal and vertical distances.
Big picture-long term, this technology could eliminate most of the problems and costs associated with upstream-downstream migrations and survival and whoosh salmon and trout into historic spawning areas long cemented shut. If successful and cost efficient, vacuum transports could end the arguments for and against dam removals and spills, increase migration survival of smolts and adults and send counts of returning spawners soaring.
That’s a lot of potential up side.
Anglers Lose Two
Marine sanctuaries are picking up steam, marching north and it is sports fishermen who are being steamrolled.
The feel good-do nothing preservationists programs that are banning recreational fishing opportunities in large swatches of the ocean have gone into effect in two more areas on the Oregon Coast, bringing the total to four-with a fifth area scheduled to be closed in 2016.
The two new marine preserves that closed to sports and industrials on Jan. 1 are at Cascade Head just north of Lincoln City and Cape Perpetua south of Yachats. All fishing is prohibited inside the reserves. Slightly less-restrictive rules apply in adjoining "marine protected areas" that allow trolling for salmon, shore fishing and crabbing. The protected areas adjoin north and south of the closed reserves. The two closed areas join similar sportfishing bans at Redfish Rocks south of Port Orford and Otter Rock between Newport and Depoe Bay.
In 2016 fishing restrictions will also be imposed on a fifth marine area at Cape Falcon north of Manzanita.
ODFW’s stated goal is to rebuild rockfish and bottomfish populations that have been decimated by industrial overharvesting.
However, similar marine reserves in California have served only to close a great deal of the coastline to sport fishermen and recovery results are dubious. The commercials dug this pit, why are sports fishermen being forced to refill it.
Most private and many government biologists agree that if sport fishing restrictions are designed to meet conservation goals, and when coupled with bans on commercial overkills ODFW could rebuild these fisheries without complete angling closures. The insidious encroachment of Marine Reserves started in California, is established in Oregon and headed into Washington.
Make no mistake, these are feel good-accomplish nothing restrictions conceived by preservationists whose goal is to eliminate sport fishing. Numerous national sport-fishing and conservation enhancement groups have come out solidly against these reserves.
Oregonians, it seems, are not as easy to fool as Washington’s misty-eyed urbanites, forcing an anti-trapping group to abandon a plan to put an initiative on the statewide 2014 ballot that would kill trapping in the Beaver State.
A spokesman for the Bend-based antis, Trap Free Oregon, says it ran into opposition from private property owners who strongly opposed restrictions on private lands. To dodge that opposition the group says they’ll refocus their campaign on banning traps only from public lands with an initiative on the 2016 ballot.
In neighboring Washington a well-funded and tear-jerking advertising campaign succeeded in having private trapping banned several years ago. The result has been a flood of beaver, muskrat and nutria damage claims, (including washed away houses), fish habitat problems, culvert blockages, flooding, destruction of private trees and landscaping, an all-time population boom in raccoons and coyotes with corresponding decreases in deer fawns and game and songbird survivals and that’s just a sampling of all that’s gone wrong since traps were banned.
Rather you agree or not trapping is a legitimate wildlife management tool, and wildlife management should be left up to wildlife managers, not controlled by fuzzy-minded bleeding hearts and preservationists groups with funding for an onslaught of largely fictitious sentimental advertising images.
In Washington the antis were quick, powerful and persuasive. WDFW didn’t help their cause or wildlife’s and the few outdoor leaders with facts but no advertising funds or campaign savvy were over-run by a television advertising blitz of fictitious tear-jerking images.
Oregonians can expect the same, but hopefully they’ll see through the fairy tales and send the preservationists packing.
You might end up keeping that celebratory steelhead cigar and contemplative campfire pipe in your pocket this year.
Oregon Parks and Recreation is considering a rule to ban smoking in common areas of state campgrounds, on trails, picnic areas and waysides. A private group, Surfrider Foundation wants the ban extended to beaches.
The proposed ban would not apply to personal campsites or the ocean beach and smoking would be allowed in cars and campers. Fines would be between $60 and $110.
Parks commissioners say they’ll put the issue on the agenda for February’s meeting.
Shoulda Celebrated @
If you didn’t celebrate the end of ’13 with a trout trip to Battleground Lake you should have.
WDFW plumped the popular pond with buckets for whopper trout. Here’s how the catch went on the 29th.
Anglers caught 41 trout averaging 5 pounds each and 35 rainbows weighing 10 pounds each. That’s a better average on both ends than steelheading in the Cowlitz River so far this year.