Before salmon managers begin to focus on harvest quotas and
seasons for salmon fishing, they must work out predictions about
the number of salmon coming back to each management area throughout
So how do the managers go about predicting this year’s salmon
runs? It gets pretty technical, but it is basically a combination
of counting the number of salmon smolts that leave selected streams
and then calculating a rate of survival to determine the number of
adults that will come back.
Numerous conditions affect whether eggs and fry will survive to
smolt stage and make it out of a stream, just as many factors can
cause the death of the young fish after they leave freshwater. I’m
tempted to describe these factors here, but instead will defer to
Mara Zimmerman, who heads the Wild Salmonid Production Evaluation
Unit. Her well-written report on the “2011 Wild
Coho Forecasts…” (PDF 376 kb) provides an excellent education
into how coho are estimated. Check it out.
I was one of three newspaper reporters who attended Tuesday’s
meeting in Olympia. It was easy to tell the difference between my
handling of this story and the approaches by Jeffrey P. Mayor, who
writes for the
Olympian and the
News Tribune in South Puget Sound, and Allen Thomas, who writes
Columbian in Vancouver (Clark County).
The biggest difference is that those guys are sports or outdoor
reporters, mainly interesting in telling their readers what fishing
will be like this year. As an environmental reporter, my primary
focus is to describe how the salmon are doing ecologically —
although I do recognize that many readers of my stories are anglers
who also want to know about fishing.
The annual North of Falcon process is about to get under way
again, beginning with a public meeting in Olympia on Tuesday.
During Tuesday’s meeting, state, federal and tribal managers are
expected to outline their preseason forecasts of abundance for each
salmon species. See meeting announcement in the
Kitsap Sun and on the North of Falcon
This year, there will be a new elephant in the room … actually,
something as large as an elephant — a killer whale. But more about
that in a moment.
The process of determining how many salmon of each species are
available for harvest and how to divide up the catch has become a
complex project involving commuter simulations, policy discussions
and demands from fishing constituents. The goal is to make abundant
stocks of salmon available for harvest while protecting “weak runs”
— particularly those listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Sure, the process has its flaws, but I have not heard of any
better ideas for protecting weak runs outside of stopping all
fishing for a period of time. So far this year, I haven’t had time
to get a head start on what salmon managers are thinking, but I’ll
be following the discussions as they move along.
I’ve been thinking about the comments people sometimes post on
this blog, blaming all the salmon problems on commercial fishing,
tribal fishing or the locations of fishing nets. Because such
comments are often based on a lack of knowledge, I was wondering if
such folks ever consider attending these meetings to find out how
fishing decisions are made. The meetings, which are open to the
public, begin with general discussions and get more technically
oriented right up to the point when final decisions are made in
While the fishing issues are complex by themselves, it is
becoming clear that anglers and tribal fishermen may soon need to
share their chinook salmon — a highly prized sport and table fish —
with another species, the Southern Resident killer whale, an
letter to salmon managers (PDF 1.5 mb), Will Stelle, regional
administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, announced
that he would convene a series of workshops to study the
relationship between chinook fishing and the survival of the Puget
“The basic question NMFS must answer is whether Chinook salmon
fisheries that affect the abundance of prey available to the killer
whales are significantly and negatively affecting the well-being of
the Southern Resident population and, if so, how those negative
effects might be reduced.
“At the conclusion of the scientific workshop process, NMFS and
others will be better able to determine what recovery actions are
appropriate and, more specifically, whether and under what
conditions additional constraints on salmon fishing may be
As recently as 2008, the federal agency concluded that fishing
at the levels allowed through the North of Falcon process had no
serious effects on the whales. But, according to Stelle, more
recent analyses may show otherwise:
“Our conclusions, which are preliminary at this point, strongly
suggest that the amount of Chinook available to the whales in
comparison to their metabolic requirements is less than what we
estimated in the 2008 consultation, particularly during those
summer months when the whales spend considerable time foraging in
the Salish Sea.
“This change results from several factors, including but not
limited to revised estimates of the metabolic requirements of the
whales, their selective preference for larger Chinook salmon, and
inclusion of a broader range of years to represent expected
variations in the abundance of Chinook salmon available to the
While allocations for killer whales may not be explicit this
year, the workshops could result in reduced harvest under the next
Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan. For a more detailed discussion
of the early analysis, download “Effects
of Fisheries on Killer Whales” (PDF 345 kb).
State shellfish biologists are organizing a volunteer work party
to rescue oysters that apparently were washed up high on the beach
at Scenic Beach State Park by a Navy ship.
The USS Port
Royal, a 567-foot guided-missile cruiser, was operating in the
Navy’s Dabob Bay testing range on Thursday, and the oysters were
found high up on the private beaches across Hood Canal the next
Camille Speck, a shellfish biologist with the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife, inspected the waterfront at Scenic
Beach State Park on Tuesday. She told me that she was surprised at
how far some of the oysters had been moved:
“I have never seen a scour line that high on the beach. The
oysters are alive, but I can tell they have been thrown around a
Frankly, I have never heard of this kind of damage from any
ship, and I don’t blame readers for being skeptical. But there
seems to be no question that the oysters were washed up on the
beach, that the Navy ship was in the vicinity about that time, and
that a ship of this size is capable of producing a huge wake. It’s
called circumstantial evidence, at least until I find someone who
actually saw something happening.
Here are the stories I’ve written on the subject so far:
Several years ago, residents living along Rich Passage between
South Kitsap and Bainbridge Island complained that the wake of
high-speed passenger-only ferries were washing away the gravel and
undercutting their concrete and rock bulkheads. Washington State
Ferries was ultimately forced to pull the ferries out of service.
Local officials are still hoping they can find a ferry that can
make it from Bremerton to Seattle in about half an hour without
creating wake damage.
I’ve also heard complaints from shoreline property owners about
wakes from huge freighters. Such comments have come up during
discussions about revised shoreline regulations that could become
part of Kitsap County’s Shorelines Master Program. Some folks who
live on the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula say wakes from these
massive cargo ships cause more damage to habitat than anything a
shoreline owner might do.
If true, it may be time to address the wake issue, beginning
with studies of actual damage caused when the ships come through.
Do we need government intervention? I can’t say, but rules to
control wakes could be problematic, because the movement of ships
is mostly controlled by the federal government.
Last week, I reported that the Purse Seine Vessel Owners
Association has come forward with $158,000 a year to maintain the
operation of the McKernan Hatchery near Shelton.
The hatchery, which produces 40 percent of the chum salmon in
Hood Canal, was scheduled to close July 1 unless a private entity
stepped up to run it. Three groups offered proposals, and the
arrangement will allow state hatchery workers to keep doing their
regular jobs. See my story in
Friday’s Kitsap Sun for details.
Two questions came up in comments at the bottom of the story:
Why doesn’t the state rear coho, chinook or other more valuable
fish at McKernan? And why does the state continue to allow these
kinds of production hatcheries to continue, considering impacts on
wild salmon? Continue reading →
Since we don’t really have Pacific smelt on the Kitsap
Peninsula, where I do my local reporting, I decided against writing
any more about it.
But today I’m getting the feeling that more than a few people in
the Puget Sound region are confused about the potential impacts of
this listing. They want to know whether they can still catch some
smelt in Hood Canal, along Port Orchard’s Ross Point and in other
favorite spawning areas for our local surf smelt — not the listed
Let me direct you back to a
Water Ways entry I posted one year ago today, after NOAA
proposed the listing. In that blog entry, I admitted my own initial
confusion between the two kinds of “smelt.”
If you would like a little more information about yesterday’s
announcement, I direct you to
Associated Press reporter Jeff Barnard’s story.
Washington state’s salmon managers provided so much interesting
information on Tuesday that I could not fit it all into my story in
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.
Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife, deserves recognition for his
patience with me and the numerous sport and commercial fishers who
ask him questions. He and WDFW Director Phil Anderson are two of
the most mild-mannered guys you will ever know, and yet they manage
to work through tough salmon negotiations year after year.
Let me recount some of the issues expected to come up over the
next few weeks, with a focus on things not covered in my story. Continue reading →
The McKernan Hatchery on Weaver Creek, a tributary of the
Skokomish River, is considered an important operation by commercial
chum salmon fishers and by steelhead anglers, who benefit from the
fish produced there.
It is not one of the Hood Canal hatcheries we’ve often talked
about that are focused on rebuilding wild salmon runs. Still, the
hatchery is being operated to minimize impacts on wild salmon, as
outlined in the
Hatchery and Genetic Management Plan (PDF 188 kb).
Because of state budget cutbacks, McKernan was one of the
salmon- and trout-rearing facilities placed on the chopping block
earlier this year by the Legislature. See the story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun.
State Rep. Fred Finn, D-Olympia, and other legislators believe
that private organizations should be given the opportunity to
operate the hatchery. Perhaps revenues from the sale of eggs and
salmon returning to the hatchery could help to keep the operation
going, he said in a news
I’ve always wondered why our natural resource agencies have such
widely varying regional boundaries. If anyone knows the history of
these various regions, please let me know.
Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday announced a reorganization of the
state’s natural resource agencies. While consolidation of entire
agencies was taken off the table, plans are moving forward to
consolidate the regions and possibly regional offices of multiple
agencies. See my story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
We’ll talk more about the new Natural Resources Cabinet and
other elements of the reorganization in the future. For now, take a
look at the regional boundaries for our three major resource
Department of Ecology: Kitsap County is in the
Region, along with King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and
San Juan counties. The regional office is located in Bellevue.
Department of Fish and Wildlife: Kitsap County
is in Region 6,
along with Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Grays
Harbor and Pacific counties. The regional headquarters is in
Montesano, on the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Department of Natural Resources: Kitsap County
is in the South
Puget Sound Region, along with King, Pierce and Mason counties
and portions of Snohomish and Lewis counties. The headquarters is
in Enumclaw, northwest of Mount Rainier.
It won’t be as easy as one might think to fight tradition and
create a new uniform set of regions for all three agencies. But
times have changed, and these particular regions may not work as
well as when they were originally set up. I’m fairly certain that
agency heads will start with agreed principles for setting the
boundaries, considering population, travel time, ecological
functions and other things.
I like the idea of creating regional headquarters in the same
place for all agencies, so that various staffs could work in
concert. Because of the cost of construction, the agencies might
not be housed in the same buildings at first, but putting regional
staffers in the same town or city would be a good start.
As part of an effort to rebuild Northwest populations of
endangered frogs — specifically Oregon spotted frogs — two inmates
at Cedar Creek Corrections Center near Olympia were given 80 frog
eggs with the goal of growing them into adult frogs.
The two — Harry Greer and Al Delp — not only took the job
seriously, their frogs grew larger and with a higher survival rate
than identical frogs grown by experts at Woodland Park Zoo and
The latest episode in the battle for a boat launch at Lake
Tahuyeh focuses on four fishing groups who were under the
impression that a state boat launch for kayaks and canoes was a
done deal — then the plans were canceled.
The groups feel betrayed because an official with the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife withdrew the application for a
permit after saying that nothing would happen until November, when
a lawsuit was scheduled for trial. See my story in
Thursday’s Kitsap Sun.
This story has had many twists and turns since 2004. Officials
with the Tahuyeh Lake Community Club also have grievances against
Fish and Wildlife officials, who they believed had agreed to
abandon plans for a boat launch and sell the lakefront
Now, it appears a lawsuit filed by the community club may go to
court. The issue: whether the state has the legal right to open the
lake to the public, by way of owning a parcel of waterfront
Comments posted to my latest story generally support the
community club’s position of keeping the public off the lake. This
seems to be a turn, since supporters of the boat launch were well
represented in previous stories.
I’ll keep the informal poll open a few more days to see if
anyone wants to add their opinions on this issue. See the right
column and vote if you have not already done so.