Tag Archives: Pacific Fishery Management Council

Experts agree: Coho fishing must be reduced this year to save species

Fishing seasons for coho salmon in Puget Sound are expected to be cut back severely this year, as the latest forecasts of salmon returns predict that coho runs will be less than a third of what was forecast for 2015.

Salmon managers faced some tough facts recently when they read over results from a computer model used to predict the effects of various fishing scenarios. After they plugged in last year’s fishing seasons and this year’s coho forecast, the computer told them that essentially no fish were left to spawn in Stillaguamish River in northern Puget Sound. Things were hardly better for the Skagit or Snohomish rivers or for streams in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Hood Canal.

Coho forecast

“With last year’s fisheries, you will catch every fish out there,” said Doug Milward, who manages salmon data for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “All the fisheries will have to change to protect the Stillaguamish (coho) — from the ocean fisheries to inside (Puget Sound).”

Last year’s fishing seasons are not even a good starting point, as negotiations begin between salmon managers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Western Washington tribes. Under federal court rulings, the two sides must agree on fishing seasons, and the goal remains a 50-50 split of the various stocks that can be safely harvested. NOAA Fisheries plays a role in setting seasons for chinook, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Coho are not listed, although some people argue that they should be.

2015 coho returns

By April 14, if things go as planned, the two parties will reach agreement on when and where salmon fishing will take place — for tribal and nontribal, sport and commercial fishers.

“Unfavorable ocean conditions led to fewer coho salmon returning last year than we anticipated,” John Long, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW, said in a news release. “We expect to see another down year for coho in 2016 and will likely have to restrict fishing for salmon in a variety of locations to protect wild coho stocks.”

It seems the tribes have a slightly different take on the situation.

2016 coho forecasts

“There likely will be no coho fisheries in Western Washington this year, as returns are expected to plummet even further than last year because of poor ocean survival,” Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, stated in a column published online.

She said that when last year’s coho returns are finally tallied, they may be as much as 80 percent below preseason forecasts. The Nisqually Tribe last year canceled its coho fishery when less than 4,000 of the anticipated 23,000 fish returned to the area, she said.

Tribes fish at the end of the line, after all the other fisheries — from up the West Coast to the inside of Puget Sound. Because the treaties require tribes to fish within their “usual and accustomed areas,” agreements on fishing seasons must allow for salmon to return to their natal streams with numbers large enough for tribes to take their share, Lorraine said.

“Every year we must wait and hope that enough fish return to feed our families and culture,” she said. “Faced with low catch rates last year, however, most tribal coho fisheries were sharply reduced or closed early to protect the resource. The state, however, expanded sport harvest in mixed stock areas last year to attempt to catch fish that weren’t there. That’s not right. The last fisheries in line should not be forced to shoulder most of the responsibility for conserving the resource.”

Chinook forecast

The annual negotiations between the state and the tribes were kicked off Tuesday at a public meeting where the salmon forecasts were discussed with sport and commercial fishers.

In addition to a poor return of coho to Puget Sound, the forecast for Puget Sound chinook also shows somewhat lower numbers than last year.

One bright spot is for people who like to fish in the ocean. About 951,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River. That’s higher than the 10-year average but lower than last year’s modern record of 1.3 million. About 223,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River. These fish, known as “tules,” make up the bulk of the recreational harvest.

2015 chinook returns

Another bright spot is the prediction of a fair number of sockeye returning to Baker Lake on the Skagit River, possibly allowing a fishing season in the lake and river.

Norm Reinhardt, who heads up the Kitsap Poggie Club, has been involved in advisory groups on salmon fishing and participates in discussions about the seasons.

“This year, we have a significant challenge in the coho fishery, and we will have to base decisions on conservation needs,” Norm told me following Tuesday’s meeting.

Despite lower chinook numbers, there could be ways to work out some opportunities to fish for hatchery chinook, he said. Catch-and-release is one option on the table, but it is not popular among sport fishers.

2016 chinook forecast

Anglers are still smarting from last year’s sport-fishing closure in Area 10, a designated fishing area between Bremerton and Seattle. Fishing for chinook was prohibited in that area at the insistence of the Muckleshoot Tribe to protect hatchery chinook returning to the Issaquah Creek hatchery.

Fishing should have been allowed at some level — with the release of wild chinook — under an agreed management plan, Norm says, but state managers yielded to the tribe at the last minute in order to hasten a final agreement. On Tuesday, Norm told state salmon managers that he doesn’t want to see that happen again.

“In area 10, our argument is going to be that if we have adequate chinook, we should be allowed to fish on our fish — unlike last year,” he said.

sockeye forecasts

The reduced number of coho returning to Puget Sound has been blamed on ocean conditions, including higher water temperatures off the coast and a mass of warm water called “the blob,” which stayed around for two years. Studies have shown that warmer water alters the species of plankton available for fish to eat. The result is that the fish are consuming a plankton lower in fat content, causing coho to be thinner and fewer.

The 2016 forecast of about 256,000 Puget Sound coho is about 40 percent of the average return over the past 10 years and 29 percent of the number predicted for 2015 — a prediction that turned out to be too optimistic. Because of the failed coho forecast last year, everyone is expected to be more cautious about aspects of the computer modeling this year.

Charts on this page were presented during Tuesday’s meeting. The new charts make the presentation easier to understand, compared to the tables of data discussed at previous meetings. The data tables are still available when one needs to dig into the finer details. The new maps use colors to describe how streams are doing. Poor (red) is if the run or forecast for a stream is less than 75 percent of the 10-year average. Good (green) is if the run or forecast for a stream is more than 125 percent of the 10-year-average. Neutral (blue) is if the run or forecast falls between 75 percent and 125 percent.

Anyone may attend the meetings where the ongoing negotiations and possible tradeoffs are discussed. Allowing more fishing in one place often results in less fishing somewhere else, and there’s always the question about whether enough salmon are being left for spawning in the streams.

“We’re going to have to be creative in order to provide fisheries in some areas this year,” John Long said. “We would appreciate input from the public to help us establish priorities.”

Information about the salmon forecasts, the meeting schedule and methods of commenting are available on WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

On March 14, various parameters for ocean fishing will be set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a group empowered by the federal government to manage fish in the ocean. The PFMC will adopt ocean fishing schedules and harvest levels during its April 8-14 meeting, at which time state and tribal salmon managers are expected to approve fishing seasons for the inland waters.

Research on rockfish
in Puget Sound reveals intriguing findings

This week’s announcement that the coastal population of canary rockfish had dramatically rebounded got me to wondering what new information might be coming from research on the threatened and endangered rockfish of Puget Sound.

Canary rockfish Photo by Tippy Jackson, NOAA
Canary rockfish // Photo by Tippy Jackson, NOAA

Dayv Lowry, research scientist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, shared some intriguing new information about Puget Sound rockfish that could link into the coastal population. In fact, if limited genetic findings hold up, a delisting of one type of Puget Sound rockfish could be in order.

On Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council reported that West Coast populations of two groundfish species — canary rockfish and petrale sole — have been “rebuilt” some 42 years earlier than expected. Canary rockfish were declared “overfished” in 2000, and a rebuilding plan was put in place a year later. Strict fishing restrictions were imposed, and experts expected the stock to rebound successfully by 2057.

“This is a big deal,” former council chairman Dan Wolford said in a news release. “We now have six times more canary rockfish than when we scaled back so many fisheries. This shows the Pacific council’s conservation policies work.”

Meanwhile, WDFW and NOAA Fisheries are researching the three species of Puget Sound rockfish listed under the Endangered Species Act. They are canary rockfish and yelloweye rockfish, both listed as threatened, and bacaccio, listed as endangered.

Yelloweye rockfish Photo by Kip Evans, NOAA
Yelloweye rockfish
Photo by Kip Evans, NOAA

Underwater surveys with a remotely operated vehicle in 2012 and 2013 looked for all sorts of bottomfish across a grid laid down on Puget Sound. Researchers found a greater abundance of quillback and copper rockfish (not ESA listed) than in the past, and young juvenile quillbacks were seen on muddy substrate — not the place you would normally look for rockfish.

While that was encouraging, nearly 200 hours of video at 197 grid points revealed just two canary and five yelloweye rockfish.

“That was quite distressing to us,” Dayv said.

This year and next, surveys are more focused on rocky habitat, including locations where fishing guides say they have had success catching rockfish in the past. The results are more encouraging, locating somewhere around 40 canary and 40 yelloweye and two bacaccio, Dayv said.

“We’ve caught some big fish and some little fish, so the population demographics have not entirely collapsed,” Dayv told me, and that means there is still hope for recovery.

Rockfish don’t typically reproduce until somewhere between 5 and 20 years old, so over-fishing places the future of the entire population at risk. Some rockfish are known to live as long as 100 years.

Finding juvenile yelloweyes — “bright red with ‘racing stripes’” — is especially encouraging Dayv said.

Genetic work so far is offering some intriguing new findings, he noted. While yelloweye rockfish from Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia seem to be distinct from those on the coast, the same cannot be said for canary rockfish.

In fact, the limited samples taken so far suggest that the coastal population of canary rockfish — those found by the PFMC to be “rebuilt” — may not be genetically distinct from canary rockfish living in Puget Sound.

If that proves to be the case, it could have a profound effect on what we understand about canary rockfish and could even lead to a de-listing of the Puget Sound population.

Kelly Andrews, a genetics expert with NOAA Fisheries, cautioned that the sample size is small and more results are needed before anyone can draw conclusions. New samples are soon to be examined to see if there are any differences between canary rockfish on the coast and those in Puget Sound.

“What initially may seem to be the same could change dramatically with all these new samples we just got,” he told me. “Still just finding them is good news.”

When the Puget Sound rockfish were listed in 2010, researchers did not have the genetic data to define the populations in that way, so they used reasonable assumptions about geographic isolation. Now, the genetics can be factored in.

A five-year review is due to be completed this year for the listed rockfish in Puget Sound. If the new genetics information holds up, then the technical review team could propose a delisting of the canary rockfish.

For that reason, a long-awaited recovery plan for rockfish is being completed for the most part, but its release will be delayed until the genetic information is conclusive and the five-year review is completed. It would not make sense to come out with a recovery plan for canary rockfish, if the plan is to delist the population.

Meanwhile, small areas of Quilcene and Dabob bays have been reopened to fishing for some flatfish. (See earlier news release.) Bottom fishing is generally closed in Hood Canal because of the ongoing low-oxygen problems and its effects of bottom fish.

As in other areas of Puget Sound, targeted bottom fishing must take place in less than 120 feet of water, and all rockfish caught must be released. Experts strongly advise using a “descending device” (see video) to get rockfish safely back to deep water, no matter where they are caught. Without that, many of the fish die from barotrauma caused by the ballooning of their swim bladder as they are brought to the surface. See “Bring That Fish Down” by California Sea Grant and “Protecting Washington’s Rockfish” by WDFW.

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.”

Selective fishing is expected to increase angler time on Puget Sound

Details are still being compiled for Puget Salmon salmon fishing this summer and fall, but it appears that anglers will get some additional time on the water thanks to mark-selective fishing.

In years past, we reporters received a flood of regulatory documents from the Washington Department of Natural Resources on the night that work was completed at the six-day Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting.

But in the rush to get the rules out the door, those compiling the information often got certain details wrong, and I often noticed discrepancies and typographical errors because of the amount of information being shuffled around.

Last year, WDFW officials decided they would take another couple of days to double-check the information to avoid confusion at the outset.

The PFMC finalized the regulations yesterday. As far as I can tell, the story I wrote for Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun still holds up, but I’ll admit it was not very detailed.

Neither is the news release sent out last night by WDFW, but it covers a little more ground than my story.

A separate news release from the PFMC (PDF 135 kb) rightfully focuses on fishing off the California coast, which will be in the toilet again this year, as salmon managers try to save a declining run of chinook in the Sacramento River:

“For the second year in a row, the Pacific Fishery Management Council today closed commercial and most recreational salmon fisheries off the coast of California in response to the collapse of Sacramento River fall Chinook,” the news release states.

Last year, the federal government declared the California fishery a disaster, and Congress appropriated $170 million in aid.

I’ll let you know as soon as more details regarding Puget Sound come out.

Fishermen will share bottom fish through individual quotas

In a dramatic shift in management policy, the Pacific Fishery Management Council has adopted a new fishing regime for groundfish, such as whiting, cod, rockfish, flounder and sole.

This new approach for the West Coast, called individual fishing quotas, is said to encourage cooperation instead of competition, because each entity involved in the fishing industry will be given a portion of the allowable catch. That way, fishing boats can go fishing when the fish are abundant. They won’t be encouraged to go out in bad weather before the overall quota is reached.

Fishers won’t be forced to dump their dead bycatch, which are fish taken incidentally to the harvest of targeted stocks. Instead, the dead fish will be tallied and counted against any quota for the nontarged species, which will ultimately increase the ability of fishery managers to measure the impacts on all stocks.

The action was taken Friday by the PFMC, which issued a press release today (PDF 156 kb) explaining the action.

You’ll find more about groundfish management on the council’s Web site.

Individual Fishing Quotas seem like they have been waiting a long time for action in this region, and they still won’t go into effect until 2011.

IFQs have been encouraged by diverse groups, including the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which released a chapter in its 2004 report (PDF 1 mb) that recommended something like IFQs but with a new name: “dedicated access privileges” (see page 289).

The conservative Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has been pushing for IFQs for since 1996. See “Community-Run Fisheries: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons” and the recent “Beyond IFQs in Marine Fisheries: A guide for federal policy makers.”

Some environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, have embraced this market-based approach.

The most controversial aspect of the council’s decision on Friday was to allocate 20 percent of the Pacific whiting harvest to processors. The processors said they needed the quotas to protect local business and existing jobs from the prospect of fishermen shipping their catch out of the region.

Pete Leipzig, executive director of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association, has raised moral, legal and practical objections to giving quotas to processors. See Leipzig’s letter to the PFMC.

As he told Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton, “The council moved in the right direction, but they are still making a terrible mistake.”