Loc: Somewhere on the planet,I hope
July 12, 2019
Director Susewind WDF&W Commission
Director Susewind I am writing to express concern regarding the recent actions by WDF&W to close the Chehalis River to all recreational angling opportunity under the premise of conservation of Spring Chinook due to low predicted returns on May 13, 2019 and July 2, 2019. The following rational was given in the WDF&W press release May 13, 2019.
Reason for action: Low predicted spring Chinook returns make them more vulnerable to fishing pressure. Spring Chinook stage in the Chehalis River, South Fork Chehalis River, North and South forks of the Newaukum Rivers and the Skookumchuck River. Any incidental encounters of spring Chinook during game fishing could subject this fish to stress, injury, or death, which during a year of low predicted returns could harm future runs.
With the low forecasted returns this appears to be a reasonable action as this was the primary time frame that Spring Chinook enter the harbor and migrate upstream. What is not reasonable is the failure to fully vet this issue in the NOF meetings in Montesano and the Grays Harbor Adviser meetings at Region 6 offices. I realize the new LOAF process was time constraining but in my view staff went out of their way not to discuss the evolving issue of low Spring Chinook returns. The issue could have been presented at NOF and the GH Adviser meetings with full public participation to form a consensus rather than blind side the public by utilizing a Emergency Rule to limit public input. Director your goal of transparency was the first victim. Additionally I have been told that the Quinault Nation ( QIN ) and Chehalis tribal government agreed with this action. Frankly this is a good thing and the public should have been made aware of this cooperation rather than just a press release.
On July 2, 2019 WDF&W again took the action of closing the Chehalis River and tributaries to all angling opportunities to further notice identified in the press release for Spring Chinook conservation with the following rational.
Reason for action: Reason for action: Streams and rivers where spring Chinook hold and stage through the summer are experiencing lower than normal stream flows. Spring Chinook hold and stage in the Chehalis River, South Fork Chehalis River, north and south forks of the Newaukum River and the Skookumchuck River. Low stream flows decrease holding and staging refuges and elevate vulnerability and pressure on these Chinook. Any encounters of spring Chinook could subject these fish to stress, injury, or death.
While supportive of the conservation objectives and actions taken on May 13, with the exception of the complete lack of transparency and public involvement, I find the closure of July 2 to be one of the most misleading to uninformed decisions I have seen WDF&W make in some time. To better understand my objections one must look the justification of low flows and angler contact with the returning adults. To fully understand my objections I will start at the Highway 101 bridge located at Aberdeen on work upstream.
• From 101 bridge to South Montesano bridge is tidal exchange water and the low flows have zero effect on returning adults in this reach of the river. Additionally this reach what is known as big water and frankly the QIN have difficulty harvesting Spring Chinook with a gillnet. Spring Chinook move but do not hold or stage. • From South Montesano to Fuller Hill bridge near the mouth of the Satsop River is again in tidal exchange water and flows have zero effect on the Spring Chinook. Within this reach an area does exist where the river narrows that allows some success angling for Spring Chinook but the success rate is very low and about zero success with trout gear. • From Fuller Hill bridge to the South Elma bridge reach is above tidal exchange but Spring Chinook move but do not hold or stage to any great degree. Flows do play a role but it is due to Dissolved Oxygen ( DO ) levels not volume which normally come into play in September or October and almost never in recent times. Additionally except for a short section near the Fuller Hill boat launch the river parallels a county road making it very difficult to fish illegally. • From South Elma bridge to the Porter bridge Spring Chinook do begin to hold and stage but as this closure is in July the numbers have greatly decreased as the returning adults continue to move upstream. Additionally access for anglers in summer months is limited as the Porter boat launch is nearly unusable due to river elevation. The only access from the South Elma bridge is downstream at Fuller Hill and the river narrows below South Elma bridge limiting boats to jet boats only and is so treacherous that few attempt to run the narrows. Additionally any bank angler on the North side of the river must walk across the river bottom farms making a poacher rather obvious. The same applies to the South side of the river with a few exceptions but this in no way would be considered a poachers paradise. DO levels can play a role but again it is September or October but again not in recent years. • From Porter upstream to Newaukum is a reach utilized by Spring Chinook and the fall salmon seasons start after October 15 to protect Spring Chinook. A better option here is gear restrictions rather than closure. Something like a bait ban ( eggs / shrimp ) and floating lures ( plugs ) with a hook size limitation would be effective. In simple terms simply restrict fishing to spinners and flies and problem solved. Again DO levels can play a role but again it is September or October and it is not water volume. • The tributaries outlined in the press release are areas of concern but volume and DO levels again are a not concern until very late summer. That some anglers ( as with any harvester ) will violate the rules is a given but well thought out restrictions better serve the fish and angling public rather than the draconian approach chose by WDF&W staff. You do not remove a gillnet fleet off the water due to one gillnet boat using the recovery box for a trash can rather than reviving non targeted species. The examples are many to this double standard WDF&W applies to fresh water fishers vs marine and commercial fishers. This double standard is not acceptable. • Finally the Skookumchuck River and the use of flows as a just cause for a closure. At the time the Skookumchuck dam was built Region 6 argued and carried the day with the argument that the augmented flows the dam reservoir provided would provide for flows robust enough that mitigation hatchery production would not be necessary for Spring and Fall Chinook only Coho and Steelhead needed mitigation. This brings forth the question, is Region 6 staff now saying that assumptions made for mitigation when the dam was constructed are wrong? That we now need to mitigate for Spring and Fall Chinook as the augmented flows the dam provides are not as once thought? It is unfortunate that former hatchery lead Mr. Harry Senn passed away recently because this and what WDF did with the Governor Dan Evans fisheries enhancement package with the Skookumchuck facilities coupled with the Skookumchuck dam mitigation not treating Chehalis basin citizens fairly was a subject he was passionate about. Needless to say the Chehalis Basin communities were misled and it appears to be continuing today.
The next issue I wish to address is the emergency rules implemented May 13 and July 2 and how an average citizen would be aware of and actually find out they exist. The average angler would go to the rules pamphlet that is available either at retail outlets that sell licenses or online at WDF&W website. That said the two closures were emergency rules requiring a citizen to know how to find these rules which require the following steps.
These actions will bring one to this press release.
July 2, 2019 Chehalis River and tributaries to close to fishing Action: Closes Chehalis River, South Fork Chehalis River, North Fork Newaukum River, South Fork Newaukum River and Skookumchuck River to fishing. Effective date: Immediately until further notice. Species affected: All species. Location: Chehalis River, South Fork Chehalis River, North Fork Newaukum River, South Fork Newaukum River and Skookumchuck River. Reason for action: Streams and rivers where spring Chinook hold and stage through the summer are experiencing lower than normal stream flows. Spring Chinook hold and stage in the Chehalis River, South Fork Chehalis River, North and South forks of the Newaukum Rivers and the Skookumchuck River. Low stream flows decrease holding and staging refuges and elevate vulnerability and pressure on these Chinook. Any encounters of spring Chinook could subject these fish to stress, injury, or death. Additional information: Please see the 2019-20 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet or visit the WDFW website at wdfw.wa.gov for additional fishing opportunities and regulations. Information contact: Chad Herring, Willapa Bay/Grays Harbor Fishery Policy Lead Region 6, 360-249-4628, ext. 299. Fishers must have a current Washington fishing license, appropriate to the fishery. Check the WDFW "Fishing in Washington" rules pamphlet for details on fishing seasons and regulations. Fishing rules are subject to change. Check the WDFW Fishing hotline for the latest rule information at (360) 902-2500, press 2 for recreational rules. For the Shellfish Rule Change hotline call (360)796-3215 or toll free 1-866-880-5431
To my question, whatever would make WDF&W staff think that every fisher would know how to find and use these links? That they would have the proper electronic device to access and utilize WDF&W's website? That they would have any idea that each time they go fishing they would need to take these steps or risk be issued a citation for a violating rule that is not in the fishing pamphlet? To even consider that a game fishery that primarily uses worms & spinners, sucker bait, or flies would be closed for Spring Chinook conservation that fishers utilize a completely different gear type under the ruse of low flows? I could go on but I think my point is clear the average fisher would not know. I realize that agency staff have a difficult job but this manner of rule notification is both lacking in clarity right down to be intentionally misleading as to rationale let alone meet the standards required by the APA process and Open Meetings Act.
In closing Director I urge you to review the actions taken by Region 6 staff in the two Chehalis River Basin closures and take the necessary remedial actions. Second I urge you also review the manner in which the Rules Pamphlet does not reflect the actual rules in place at any moment in time due to the use of emergency rules that the general public has little to no knowledge that have been put in place. The following notification, Check the WDFW "Fishing in Washington" rules pamphlet for details on fishing seasons and regulations. Fishing rules are subject to change. Check the WDFW Fishing hotline for the latest rule information at (360) 902-2500, press 2 for recreational rules. For the Shellfish Rule Change hotline call (360)796-3215 or toll free 1-866-880-5431, is a woefully inadequate manner of proving anglers notification of rules changes.
Bottom line is the Dept could have provided the protection needed for Spring Chinook without closing the near entirety of the state's second largest stream. It chose to block out input from the citizens who live and fish the river and replaced that knowledge with an inaccurate blame on low flows. This manner of doing business is simply unacceptable.
Dazed and confused.............the fog is closing in