Loc: Somewhere on the planet,I hope
While designated as Area 3 by WDF&W and the GHMP in reality it is two distinctly different fisheries. Separated by Rennie Island the South channel, commonly known as Johns River, is natural channel with modest tidal surges. The North Channel is a deep dredged channel to accommodate ships to Port of Grays Harbor and subject to strong tidal influences.
As distinctly different as the two channels are so is the manner salmon and recreational fishers utilize them. Coho travel the North Channel from the Eastern Johns River boundary of Area 3 with some Chinook but do not hold or stage but simply move right upstream. The North Channel fishers are primarily local small boat fishers targeting Coho and this fishery is commonly called a mom & pop fishery. The Johns River channel is just the opposite as mostly Chinook travel this route with some Coho both do have a tendency to hold before the continuing upstream. This fishery is primarily fishers from outside the local area, is utilized by those with larger boats, and is the premier Chinook catch and release fishery on the Washington Coast.
Both these fisheries are governed by the GHMP 5% of the run size impact limiter for all non treaty fishers and WDF&W opens and closes both areas at the same time. The issue is simply sooner or later the Coho run will be down which would limit both sides of Rennie Island even though the Southern Johns River side is primarily a Chinook fishery. In a year of a depressed Chinook runs it would limit the North Channel mom & pop fishery even though Chinook impacts would be very minimal. Both these fisheries are excellent for the anglers but the North Channel Coho fisheries opens later than the Chehalis mainstem fisheries as the South Channel Chinook impact governs both. The manner in which Chinook move through the South Channel is such that the low release mortality is simply about as good as it gets. It could be reduced further by requiring bait with barbless hooks and requiring that the fish not be netted but rather cut the leader for release. In the North Channel the fish are just a few miles out of the ocean and moving resulting in a very low release mortality.
When this concept was briefly brought forward by a Grays Harbor Adviser the staffer lamented he did not have any data. True but WDF&W did not have data on the effects of separating the Humptulips from the Chehalis to manage harvest. It did not have data when it implemented the GH Bay fishery. Data and statistics can be used to help a process or used as shield for WDF&W to do nothing. In the GHMP is a provision called 4 / 3 which requires 3 days a calendar week for the Chehalis River to be net free. Deeply disliked by WDFW Region 6 staff and non treaty gillnetters it prevents 7 days a week gill netting and guarantees equitable harvest sharing for the inland communities and Chehalis Tribe. It also is a major safety net preventing over harvest of the fish. Any error in an estimate of Coho harvest would be more than covered until data could be developed.
For the South Channel the GHMP has a directive that if a stock fails to make escapement 3 out of 5 years harvest is limited to 5% of the runsize and Chehalis Chinook are under this provision. Again any error in an estimate of angler impacts would more than covered protecting escapement objectives. The fact is that CWT's estimate 50% of Grays Harbor harvestable Chinook are harvested prior to entering Washington waters, NOAA estimates the number could be as high as 86% of harvestable Grays Harbor Chinook if all associated impacts are calculated in. Terminal it is only the Quinault Nation fishers that have directed harvest of Chinook. The Chehalis River recreational and non treaty commercial fishers have the least impact of any harvester on Chinook a fact the lack of data argument conveniently ignores.
Reality is in this case data is being used as a shield to inhibit and deny innovation .The purpose of using the Grays Harbor Bay fishery as an example is simply this, rules can be proactive. By using a well known and established standard accepted by the angling public years of depressed runs does not need to totally remove angling opportunity. Rules can be flexible and the rules making process does not need to be a hidden secret but rather opportunity to protect both the fish and recreational anglers. Emergency Rules are seldom proactive but rather reactive to circumstances of the moment and are often used to avoid APA and OPMA requirements to engage the public. In these days of declining revenue for WDF&W and the lost of trust with the angling public WDF&W should build bridges within the angling public rather than continue to offend the angling public on every manner imaginable. There need not be a Emergency Rule closure for the Chehalis River to protect Spring Chinook but rather a rules modification that was outlined prior in this paper that protects both Spring and Fall Chinook.
Let's be honest here; the agency is facing an active revolt from long time anglers that are fed up with the continuing reduction in opportunities. Many of those anglers are taking their recreational dollars out of state which ultimately will compound the agency budget problems. The agency is in dire need for a paradigm change that preserves opportunity not take it away.
Solutions and opportunities exist but the question is whether or not WDF&W have the will to look at another way of doing business. That question still begs an answer.
Acknowledgement- As the “prime author”, I would like to recognize the effort and values provided by all of those who contributed to the creation of this paper. If they had not invested their time to share their educational knowledge and personal experiences on the water, this project could never have been completed.
Dazed and confused.............the fog is closing in