The following is the response to my objections to the Chehalis Closure. It is missing the graphs but unedited .

July 31, 2019

Dear Mr. --------,

Thank you for your e-mail and comments regarding the closure of all fishing in the Chehalis, South Fork Chehalis, Newaukum, and Skookumchuck Rivers. The Department values public input and transparency and works to implement those comments into fisheries management for the Grays Harbor watershed.

This closure is a conservation measure to protect spring Chinook in the Chehalis River basin. Spring Chinook in the Chehalis system are a true “wild” stock, in other words, there is no hatchery supplementation of spring Chinook in this watershed therefore, all returning adults are produced by the natural environment. The forecasted return of spring Chinook to the Chehalis River watershed for 2019 is predicted to be quite low, at 581 fish it is less than 42% of the established escapement goal of 1,400. Compounding the concern is that the preliminary estimate of spring Chinook spawner escapement for 2018 in the Chehalis River system is 495 fish; merely 35% of the goal. With these points in mind, and consistent with Fish and Wildlife Commission Policy on Grays Harbor Salmon Management (C-3621) which directs the Department of maintain fisheries impacts below 5%, staff sought to limit impacts on this stock for the 2019 fishery season from terminal fisheries (either directed and non-directed) to near zero.

As you mention in your e-mail, this closure is not unexpected given this year’s forecasted return but you disagree with the “lower than normal stream flows” as a justification for the emergency regulation closure dated July 2, 2019. Unfortunately, the “reason for action” in the Fishing Rule Change form dated July 2, 2019 inadvertently omitted language referencing the forecasted return of spring Chinook in 2019 combined with small population sizes typical of spring Chinook populations in the Chehalis. The forecasted return in relation to the spawner escapement goal is the primary justification for this closure. The environmental conditions referenced in the “reason for action” are accurate, however, this closure is a necessary conservation measure to protect spring Chinook.

Another point raised in your comments is that the closure is too expansive and indicated that implementation of alternative management strategies such as shifts in time, area, and gear may limit impacts to spring Chinook to acceptable levels. This argument is not without merit and was discussed as part of the Agency’s deliberation around how to best implement effective conservation measures for the Chehalis River spring Chinook stock in 2019. While indirect mortalities on spring Chinook resulting from the prosecution of gamefish fisheries is likely low, the Department does not have data that would indicate the impact would be zero. To the contrary, the available data on spring Chinook run timing in the Chehalis River watershed would indicate there is some probability of encountering spring Chinook during gamefish fisheries. Figure 1 (below) shows the average monthly Catch Record Card (CRC) harvest estimate of Chinook in the Chehalis River from 1986-2016. The CRC harvest estimate for the Chehalis River shows, when spring Chinook directed fisheries were open, 24 spring Chinook were harvested on average in July. Spring Chinook directed fisheries in July make up 13% of the total annual spring Chinook harvest when open. Figure 2 (below) shows the average weekly Chinook catch in Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) fisheries from 1996-2015. The QIN prosecutes sturgeon directed gillnet fisheries in the spring and summer; spring Chinook are encountered and harvested during these fisheries. These QIN fisheries occur in their usual and accustomed fishing areas, from the mouth of the Chehalis River (Hwy 101 Bridge in Aberdeen) to the confluence of the Wynoochee River. From the graph you can see the average QIN harvest of spring Chinook for the years listed is 12 fish. Quite simply, these two data sources would suggest spring Chinook are present during the prosecution of gamefish fisheries and do have a probability of encounter. Specific quantitative data around that probability of encounter and any associated mortalities is unavailable.

The Department considered all the data and factors above in relation to reaching a management objective of a near zero impact. Given the lack of specific information around the number of impacts likely to occur in gamefish fisheries, forecasted runsize, recent year abundance trends, and environmental conditions the Department decided upon a conservative approach and closed all fishing where the probability of a spring Chinook encounter was likely.

As mentioned above, the Agency had a management objective of near zero impact to Chehalis River spring Chinook for 2019. During the 2019 North of Falcon process, beginning with the public meeting held on February 26, 2019 at the Montesano City Hall, agency staff gave a presentation on performance of Grays Harbor’s fisheries for 2018 and forecasts for the 2019 salmon return. In that presentation on Grays Harbor fisheries, slide 12 (Figure 3 below) identified spring Chinook as a constraining stock for 2019. During the forecast meeting and other successive NOF meetings there was discussion that the directed spring Chinook fishery would need to be closed given the forecast in relation to the spawner escapement goal and the objective per Commission policy of having less than a 5% impact. During the month of May, agency representatives meet separately with representatives from QIN and the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation (CTC) around the shared conservation concerns regarding spring Chinook in the Chehalis River Basin. These discussions resulted in the shared management objective between all the management entities of near zero impact to this stock in 2019. Both the QIN and CTC spring and summer fisheries that could have direct and non-direct impacts to spring Chinook have been closed with the exception of one adult spring Chinook harvested by CTC for ceremonial purposes. As described above, the action WDFW took around this shared management objective was to close all fishing where encounters of spring Chinook may occur until July 1, 2019. This was the first emergency regulation that was put in place on May 13, 2019. The co-managers (QIN and WDFW) had some follow-up discussion at the end of June over the conservation concern for spring Chinook. During that discussion, conversation centered on the lack of information to update spring Chinook runsize as well as worsening environmental conditions that would only exacerbate the conservation concern. This discussion, our associated data and the information described above was what led the Department to file the emergency regulation closing all fishing effective July 2, 2019.

It is of critical importance that the public be fully informed of the rules and regulations that the Department utilizes to reach conservation and management objectives associated with managing natural resources. It is also important that the rules and regulations that are adopted and translated into Washington Administrative Code (WAC) are easy to understand and are enforceable. The Department encourages an open dialogue with the public to ensure that the WAC’s adopted meet the desired outcome in terms of the conservation and management objectives for those specific natural resources. The Department manages natural resources for the public benefit and it is vital that the public have a say in how they are managed in order to have trust and support in the Department’s actions. The Department recognizes that in order for the public to trust and support our actions those decisions must be made in a transparent manner. The Agency is always looking to improve on the transparency of our decision making processes as well as making fishers aware of emergency actions that have taken place.

As we look to strengthen our commitment to transparency and information sharing, your comments will be considered.
Dazed and confused.............the fog is closing in