At the December 13 Commission meeting several Gillnetters testified in the open public input portion of the meeting on how badly the Grays Harbor Management Plan ( GHMP ) had failed. Their rational was that many fish had been allowed to go up stream unharvested by the Commercial fleet. I mean like those darn pesky inriver Recs actually got fish to catch! Other than the rains just how did this happen?
One of the elements of the Grays Harbor Management Plan is 4/3 which simply means three consecutive days in a calendar week net free in the fall salmon fisheries. This does not apply to the Quinault Nations fisheries if they choose to go five days but to the Non Treaty side. The tribe seldom run fall fisheries that exceed four days.
It was a question as to just how well this would work in getting fish up river for the inriver Rec and a safety net for Natural Origin Spawners. Frankly I think it worked well and addressed the issue in November to the Commission and my rational is outlined in the letter.
I am writing to update the Commission regarding another success of the recently implemented Grays Harbor Management Plan. ( GHMP ) It resides in the Wishkah River sub basin and some history is required to fully explain the success.
The Wishkah River is a Southern Olympic stream that flows into the Chehalis at Aberdeen near the 101 Bridge or downtown Aberdeen. With a long history usage dating back to the time of pioneers it had declined to such a state of affairs that by the 1990's the local community and then Senator Brad Owen ( our current Lt. Governor ) was able convince the former Northwest Renewable Resource Center to use it for a pilot program to restore Chinook & Coho. The pilot project became Long Live the Kings ( LLTK ) located at what is the Mayr Hatchery. While the LLTK project did have some success it struggled do to a very high exploitation rate by both Tribal and non tribal nets. It was a victim of its location as tribal and non treaty commercial fishers pretty much corked off the river for years.
With the GHMP requiring 3 net free days ( 4/3 ) myself and others wondered just how the Wishkah would perform. Would the window of non net time be enough to overcome the ravages of the past and neglect by WDF&W? My bet was on yes / maybe but the answer appears to be resounding yes, which came as a somewhat of a surprise. Just as its location worked against the river for years it reversed with 4/3. How one can ask and the answer again is location. In the Chehalis tidewater reach all three species of salmon stage going into a holding pattern after transitioning from salt to fresh water waiting for the fall rains. The river staging reach primarily runs from the 101 bridge to what is known as Pump House ( former water intake for the unfinished Satsop Nuclear Plant ) about 15 miles upstream. In this reach the Quinault Nation has its commercial fishers as well as the NT Commercial at the lower end of tidewater. The combination of the two commercial fisheries and WDF&W's steadfast refusal to modify the Non Treaty harvest to allow protection of the Wishkah needed due to its unique location was most devastating to the fish and Recreational fishers.
So what does this have to do with 4/3 and the Wishkah? Well frankly everything. Wishkah fish do not stage in the Chehalis as the fish from most the Chehalis tributary streams do but rather in the tidewater reach of the Wishkah itself. Simply put they are able avoid the harvest levels applied on the other Chehalis tributaries because of the location of the mouth of the Wishkah River on the Chehalis main stem as 4/3 allows fish into the Wishkah tidal staging reaches. The difference this makes can be seen in the 2014 hatchery returns as of October 30, 2014. Bingham and Satsop Springs on the East Fork Satsop have had a combined return of approximately 11,893 Coho as of October 30th while Mayr Hatchery on the Wishkah has had returns of 9,729 Coho. Commissioners the production of Mayr Coho is fraction of that of the two facilities on the Satsop and the difference in returns is simply the exploitation rate applied by the QIN and WDF&W managed NT commercial fisheries on the mainstream Chehalis River. The benefit of restricting NT Commercial harvest to the Wishkah River has been dramatic and undeniable with the hatchery returns. Additionally the number of Wild Coho reaching the spawning reaches will benefit just as much or more. I am sure the NT commercial gillnetters will complain and call this a waste but frankly Commissioners the NT Commercial concept of the only good fish is a dead fish, in a gillnet, in a tote, being sold ended with the new GHMP.
In closing Commissioners the tide water reach of the Wishkah was once the best " Mom & Pop " recreational fishery in the Chehalis Basin. If a boat floated folks put it in the river and trolled the tidewater. Not much skill needed just a rod, spinner and something that floated with a motor! I believe the Wishkah will continue to rebuild with 4/3 and return substantial benefits to the local recreational community. Just as importantly Commissioners 4/3 has emerged as the safety net for the Wishkah Wild Salmon stocks that have been brutalized by the Chehalis Basin combined Maximum Sustained Yield ( MSY ) harvest modeling that resulted in overharvest of the Wishkah and several Chehalis tributary streams for so many years.
I am not sure what one can or should say to the Commission at this point except thank you. Your courage and vision of implementing the GHMP and 4/3 is paying dividends far beyond expectations.
I wanted to comment on this earlier but hadn't found time....
I've followed Rivrguy's lead and emailed the Commission to sing the praises of the 4/3 management change. We'd be severely remiss not to credit the tremendous coho returns this season as the primary reason for the great fishing we've enjoyed, but the example of the Wishkah seems to be an indication that the 4/3 policy not only has merit, but may prove to be the best win for sportfishing and conservation advocacy in our region in recent memory.
We must remain diligent in our defense of this policy in the coming years, as the view that the "excess" hatchery fish are a waste will be a popular one with the commercials (and likely the Legislature as well). Perhaps what we need is a good counter argument, and I think we may have at least a couple. First, improved fishing leads to more angler effort, which means more $ injected into local economies (we'll need to prove this by actually fishing more, but I'm willing to do that . Next, I don't think it's a big stretch to suggest that the stream nutrients the additional carcasses provide effectively represent habitat improvement for wild fish (without additional budgeting), which actually suggests efficiency more than waste.