Tag Archives: Fisheries

Managers to review how fishing affects ecosystem

The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided yesterday that it was time to consider, within its management plans, how large-scale fishing at certain times and places can create ripple effects in the food web.

Plan

The council adopted a new Fishery Ecosystem Plan to help manage West Coast fisheries, broadening the view of how fishing can shape the entire ocean community.

“It’s the beginning of a paradigm shift in fisheries management,” Paul Shively of Pew Charitable Trusts told Jeff Barnard, environmental reporter for the Associated Press.

In the past, managers have tried to figure out what level of fishing can be sustainable. Now, in theory, they will also consider how a reduction in the numbers of certain fish can affect marine creatures that might want to eat them or be eaten by them.

“We’ve always managed our oceans on a species-by-species level,” Shively noted. “By developing an ecosystem plan we begin to look at how everything is connected in the ocean.”

Dan Wolford, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, offered this observation in a news release (PDF 119 kb) from PFMC:

“We now enter into a new era of more sophisticated fishery management. We heard strong public testimony calling for more protection for unmanaged forage fish, and the council’s adoption of this motion today formalizes the council taking this up this as a fishery management action.”

Jane Lubchenco, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the agency has been talking about the ecosystem-based approach since the 2006 renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

“Taking an ecosystem approach to fisheries management is widely viewed as an enlightened approach to fishery management, because it recognizes that the target species of interest exists within a broader ecosystem,” she said in Barnard’s piece. She is now a visiting professor at Stanford University,

The Fishery Ecosystem Plan does not replace existing management plans, including those for salmon, groundfish, highly migratory species or coastal pelagic species. But it does call for the consideration of more factors before making management decisions, and it mandates an annual “State of the Ecosystem” report.

One initiative connected to the plan calls for the prohibition of targeted fishing for unmanaged forage fish until the impacts are better known. Eight other initiatives will discuss how harvest affects stocks, bycatch, habitat, fisheries safety, fisheries jobs, response to climate change, socioeconomics, and other factors.

For extra reading: I found the discussions about managing krill in the Antarctic to be revealing. See “License to Krill: A Story About Ecosystem-Based Management” on NOAA’s website. It includes this tidbit:

“When fishing reduces the population of one species, there are ripple effects throughout the marine food chain. For instance, if the human species takes more krill out of the ecosystem, the populations of other animals that prey on krill might decline.

“But it’s not just a question of how much krill we take. Where and when we take it are also important. Penguin chicks need to find food when they fledge at the end of their first summer. For certain species of seals, which carry their pregnancies through winter, wintertime forage is critical. By identifying where and when these critical periods occur, scientists can advise fishery managers on how best to reduce the impacts of fishing on the other species we care about.”

I discussed the ecosystem plan briefly in the latest installment of a series of stories dealing with Puget Sound’s ecosystem and indicators chosen by the Puget Sound Partnership. We call it “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.”

Salmon managers will try to eke out fishing options

Forecasts for Puget Sound salmon runs call for lower returns this year compared to last year, but officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are emphasizing “promising” chinook fishing off Washington’s coast and Columbia River.

Each year, sport fishers line the banks of the Skokomish River as they try to catch the prized chinook salmon. / Kitsap Sun file photo

Preseason forecasts were released yesterday, launching the North of Falcon Process, which involves state and tribal salmon managers working together to set sport, commercial and tribal fisheries. Federal biologists and regulators keep watch over the negotiations to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

For a complete schedule of meetings leading up to final decisions the first week of April, go to the WDFW’s North of Falcon page.

With regard to fishing opportunities, Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the agency, had this to say in yesterday’s news release:

“It’s still early in the process, but we will likely have an ocean salmon fishery similar to what we have seen the last two years, when we had an abundance of chinook in the ocean but low numbers of hatchery coho.”

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Salmon must survive to swim up little streams, too

For years, I’ve heard complaints about tribal fishing. Frankly, many people who complain about tribal fishing, or commercial fishing in general, have no understanding of treaty rights or how individual salmon stocks are managed.

Tarboo Bay
Washington Department of Ecology photo

Most don’t care about the work that goes into long-range management plans, preseason forecasts or computer models of harvest options, which make it possible to manage fisheries with concurrence of state, tribal and federal entities. Most folks with concerns wouldn’t think of accepting the public invitation to join the annual discussions about harvest.

Occasionally, however, someone raises a concern that resonates with managers and biologists who understand the issues. Such is the case with fishing in Tarboo Bay, a story I told in Friday’s Kitsap Sun.

It all comes down to a simple proposition: If salmon management plans are working, then why aren’t we getting more chum and coho into Tarboo Creek? Should we be content with ongoing productivity well below what the stream appears capable of supporting?

Putting politics aside, should the overall management plan for Hood Canal strive for some minimum escapement or maximum exploitation rate on individual streams? Oh, what a complex plan that would be! But if low escapement creates sustainability problems on any stream, then someone needs to take a serious look and not be hampered by plans that consider Hood Canal coho and chum as aggregate stocks for all Hood Canal.

Maybe we should elevate Tarboo Bay to a test case, first with some monitoring to determine the stock composition of the tribal beach seine in question. If it turns out that this is an all-or-nothing fishery, then one answer would be to move the closure line farther out into Dabob Bay, as managers for the state and two tribes agreed to do.

Beyond that, however, perhaps more attention should be given to individual streams, their carrying capacity and trade-offs between harvest and escapement. Interesting studies have been conducted for listed species and a few other stocks in Hood Canal. See “Mid-Hood Canal Juvenile Salmonid Evaluation…” But the need to improve escapements of all species remains a concern.

I’m tempted to say that this is an emperor-has-no-clothes moment when it comes to fisheries in Hood Canal, but I don’t believe that’s accurate. It may seem that everybody understands the problem and nobody wants to speak out. In reality, the problems are many; they vary from place to place; and lots of people are speaking out.

Maybe it is more like a house of cards that continues to grow. Many weaknesses are found in the structure, but only so many can be fixed at one time. So people just keep going, hoping for the best.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a management framework to address these kinds of issues. See “21st Century Salmon and Steelhead Initiative.” It seems like a good start, but the agency must not forget that restoration comes together stream-by-stream for harvest as well as for habitat.

Consider these goals, among others, spelled out in the initiative:

— Expand selective fisheries to increase opportunities for recreational and commercial fishing on hatchery fish and reduce the harvest of wild salmon.
— Implement in-season DNA stock identification to direct fishing to areas with low impacts on wild salmon.
— Improve fishery monitoring to assure that impacts to wild fish are accurately assessed.
— Ensure compliance with fishing regulations.
— Monitor numbers of juvenile fish that migrate to marine areas and adult fish that return to fresh water to spawn to determine effectiveness of conservation and recovery actions.
— Work with our tribal co-managers in each watershed to develop joint state/tribal hatchery and harvest management objectives and plans.
— Coordinate law enforcement with our tribal partners.

As local groups — including the tribes — work hard to remove barriers to salmon passage and improve habitat in specific streams, there is a growing recognition that individual streams can support more salmon than has been possible in the past. Maybe it is time to test the limits of the habitat for selected streams, understanding that decreased harvest in the short term could well translate to greater terminal fisheries in the future.

The Kitsap Sun published an editorial today about the Tarboo Bay fishery.