Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission this week released two new
videos, including one that shows how tribes are using their treaty
rights to protect the environment on behalf of all Northwest
The video was released under the commission’s new communications
banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for
The video describes the Lummi Nation’s success in getting the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal
at Cherry Point near Bellingham. If approved, the shipping terminal
could have been the transfer point for up to 59 million tons of
Montana coal each year. The coal would be transported by train to
Cherry Point and onto ships bound for China and other Pacific Rim
The Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process last May,
saying the project was too big to be considered de minimis, and it
would violate the tribe’s treaty rights to take fish in the usual
and accustomed area. See
The video does a nice job of explaining the tribe’s position and
the ecological value of fish, including a Cherry Point herring
population that has declined so severely that it can no longer
support the food web as it once did. Also described well are the
cultural values of the Cherry Point site and longtime fishing
Total returns of coho salmon to Puget Sound this year are
expected to be significantly higher than last year, and that should
help smooth negotiations between state and tribal salmon managers
working to establish this year’s fishing seasons.
But critically low runs of coho to the Skagit and Stillaguamish
rivers in Northern Puget Sound could limit fishing opportunities in
other areas, as managers try to reduce fishing pressure on coho
making their way back to those rivers.
In any case, both state and tribal managers say they are
confident that they can avoid the kind of deadlock over coho they
found themselves in last year, when a failure to reach agreement
delayed sport fishing seasons and threatened to cancel them
altogether. See reporter Tristan Baurick’s stories in the Kitsap
May 4 and
“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year,” Ryan
Lothrop, a salmon manager with Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, told a large gathering of sport and commercial fishermen
yesterday in Olympia.
Robert Earl Woodard, an Alabama farmer and retired football
coach, has spent 40 years perfecting his technique for catching
bass by hand.
As you can see from the first video, his careful procedure
involves dangling some bait in the water and waiting for a fish to
strike. He then grasps the fish by inserting his thumb into the “V”
at the bottom of the mouth and waits for the fish to calm down.
The large mouth bass that Woodard caught in the video weighted
in at 16.03 pounds, just half a pound less than the Alabama
state record of 16.5 pounds set in 1987.
Invasive species from San Francisco Bay — known as the most
infested waterway in the country — would have an open door for
entry into Puget Sound under a bill moving through Congress.
You may have heard this line before. I posted the same warning
last summer, when the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or VIDA, was
attached to the “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act.
Ways, July 16). Opponents fought back and were able to strip
VIDA from the bill before final passage.
Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and
an anti-regulatory atmosphere in place, the bill’s passage seems
more likely this time — to the detriment of Puget Sound, the Great
Lakes and other waterways.
If VIDA passes, ships coming up the coast from California will
be able to take on infested ballast water in San Francisco Bay and
discharge it without treatment into Puget Sound. Invasive species
that hitched a ride in the ballast water would have a chance to
populate Puget Sound.
Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to
recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered
new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4
million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times
more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please
read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the
Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch
the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean.
Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook,
called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become
available for killer whales or humans.
Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young
fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they
were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the
remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an
average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number
eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in
Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers
combined, according to the study.
Washington Department of Licensing has embraced a stylistic work
of art in its new steelhead license plate, which became available
for purchase last week.
The new license plate, which focuses on the eye and head of a
steelhead trout, is an obvious departure from previous wildlife
license plates that feature realistic images of animals. Derek
DeYoung, the artist who created the new plate, specializes in what
he calls abstract paintings of fish faces and flanks, as well as
whole fish. The original steelhead painting is called “Abstract
Steelhead — Horizon Eye.”
Derek, based in Livingston, Mont., is a rare combination of
expressive artist and skilled angler.
UPDATE, Jan. 2
The Center for Whale Research has announced that J-2, known as
“Granny,” has apparently died. The oldest orca among the three
Southern Resident pods, Granny was one of the first Southern
Residents identified when Ken Balcomb began his Orca Survey in
1976. At the time, she was estimated to be at least 45 years old
and probably in her 70s, putting her likely age at more than 100.
Ken’s tribute to Granny can be read on the Center for Whale Research
website. More to come.
When it comes to the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound, a
year can make all the difference in the world. Last year at this
time, we were celebrating a remarkable baby boom — eight new orca
calves over the previous 12 months. See
Water Ways, Dec. 16, 2015.
Another new baby was added in January of this year, for a total
of nine. But if 2015 was the boom year, then 2016 turned out to be
a major bust, with six orca deaths recorded during the calendar
The latest death among the Southern Residents was J-34, an
18-year-old male named DoubleStuf. He was found dead floating near
Sechelt, B.C., northwest of Vancouver, on Dec. 20. Check out the
tribute and wonderful photos
on Orca Network’s webpage.
Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional
go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed
yesterday by President Obama.
It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million
restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long
time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of
the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a
long list of possible projects to five. See
Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.
In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem
Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy
study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three
nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound
package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources
Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson,
D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens.
Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
A major “modernization” of the North Pacific fishing fleet has
begun, bringing new jobs to the Puget Sound region and a potential
boost of $1.3 billion in total economic activity over the next 10
years, according to a
If economic and environmental conditions allow, 37 new fishing
boats and fish-processing vessels over 58 feet long will be built,
bringing new efficiencies to fishing and increased safety to those
working in the North Pacific — an area off the Alaskan coast. Most
North Pacific vessels over 58 feet are home-ported in Puget
Ship-building companies in the Puget Sound region are expected
to be the primary beneficiaries of this modernization, as half of
all the new vessels will come out of Washington state, according to
predictions in the report. The study was conducted by the McDowell
Group, an Alaska-based consulting company hired by the Port of
Seattle and Washington Maritime Federation.
Although many factors are in play, a key impetus for this
modernization is the development of catch shares — a type of
management system that divides the allowable harvest into
individual fishing quotas, or IFCs. This management regime,
sometimes called fisheries “rationalization,” avoids the wasteful
and sometimes dangerous race once seen among fishing vessels, as
each crew tries to catch the most fish within a specified time
period or before a total quota is reached.
The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality
standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan
approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of
It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be
pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and
counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly
unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal
representatives got most of what they wanted.
The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is
known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the
country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher
fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate,
leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But
Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with
implications for human health. They include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see
Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.
Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to
salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and
opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical
pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect