This is a C&P of a article from the Aberdeen Daily World regarding the last Commission meeting.

The possibility of an Endangered Species Act designation for salmon in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay is a major driving force behind modern salmon management and was part of the discussion at the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia a week ago.

It is the potential conflict between hatchery-produced salmon and wild salmon that has federal fish managers pushing for a management plan for Willapa Bay salmon that favors naturally occurring salmon over their hatchery counterparts, despite recent DNA testing that has shown there is no distinction genetically between the two.

“We had no genetic separation between hatchery and natural origin Chinook in the bay or any of the sub basins,” said Fish and Wildlife biologist Chad Herring. “That is the goal, to not have a distinction.”

Fisheries managers generally try to manage fish to protect the weakest stocks of salmon in a particular river system and most biologists believe that hatchery salmon present a competitive threat to the wild fish.

In the case of Willapa Bay, the conflict between hatchery and natural origin fish and the attached threat of listing led the state to radically drop Chinook hatchery production from the Forks Creek Hatchery near Holcomb on the Willapa River from 3.3 million fish to 350,000 last year. Since the Willapa River has been designated a “primary river,” the majority of the effort in the Willapa Bay system is focused on its Chinook salmon. “Some runs of each species will be considered primary runs, the most important runs in that geographic region, and those runs will be taken care of more carefully and aggressively than other runs designated less important for that species,” said Commissioner Miranda Wecker, who resides in Naselle. “We designated the Willapa a primary river for natural origin Chinook.”

Careful study of data collected from this primary run led state fish managers to conclude the number of hatchery fish returning to the spawning grounds used by natural origin Chinook was too high, prompting the cut in hatchery production.

“What you want to do is keep natural origin fish in the purest form of natural selection,” said Wecker. “Hatchery fish that make it into the spawning grounds degrades the productivity of the natural origin fish.” She said the natural origin fish that spawn, go out to the ocean, compete for resources and return are more fit than hatchery fish, and will continue to get even more fit if the number of hatchery fish supplying their genetics is cut down.

Herring says biologists have a tool called the all-age analyzer that, when fed with current data, including harvest, hatchery production and habitat, can produce a model of what those factors might do to a species of fish out to 100 years. The model that produced the best results for naturally occurring Chinook on the Willapa River was one where only 350,000 hatchery fish were released.

“We have something called the ‘pHOS,’ the proportion of hatchery fish on spawning grounds allowed,” said Herring. The state’s management policy for primary systems like the Willapa River and contributing systems like the Naselle River, “the pHOS needs to be 30 percent or lower,” he said. “Right now we have a pHOS in the Willapa in the high 70s, and the low 80s in the Naselle. Because of that we had to reduce the hatchery program at Forks Creek. The modeling showed that if we reduced hatchery Chinook to 350,000, when the fish return in 2019 the model shows we would be more likely to meet the pHOS. The policy is there hopefully to deal with situations before we get into the critical area where an Endangered Species Act designation is imminent.”

Grays Harbor biologist Mike Scharpf provided his annual fisheries management review, the highlight of which was a much larger than expected run of chum salmon and more coho than predicted.

“We had chum escapement nearly double the forecast,” said Scharpf. He added that the non-tribal commercial impact on the run was “pretty low” because the run came in after the three-day non-tribal commercial season.

Early data from the 2016 season suggests non-hatchery escapement goals will be met for Humptulips Chinook, Chehalis coho and Grays Harbor chum, but not for Humptulips coho or Chehalis Chinook. Preliminary information also showed that all fisheries impact limits were obtained in 2016.

Scharpf noted that 2017 could be another difficult season. Chehalis River Chinook natural stocks are expected to be below goal, as are Humptulips River natural origin coho. He added the Grays Harbor Control Zone could be closed if the final escapement estimate for Chehalis River non-hatchery Chinook is less than the objective set forth in the plan.

Management challenges were discussed. Commissioner Bob Kehoe asked Scharpf about the apparent inflexibility when it came to in-season adjustments for commercial take commenting, “The policy seems to be so constraining it doesn’t let the Department of Fish and Wildlife make adjustments” to seasons when the returns are higher than expected or when the return arrives at a time outside of the very short commercial season. “Why do we not take advantage of active management? Why not let them fish?” asked Kehoe.

Scharpf replied, “The effort was lower than it has been historically, so we didn’t have the data we usually have to calculate the impact of the fishery.” He noted the only successful week was the week after the commercial fishery ended, and that the salmon didn’t return when expected, adding “There are no reliable in-season updates to make in-season changes to the seasons.”

Commercial and recreational anglers were given a chance to talk about Grays Harbor salmon management. Several complained about being shut out of talks about the seasons.

“Welcome to the food fight,” said Twin Harbors Fish and Wildlife Advocacy President Tim Hamilton. When it comes to fish management, “The dilemma is, fish will trick you.” He says the uncertainty of nature and salmon runs in general require more boots on the ground data gathering. He added the importance of a policy for Grays Harbor salmon that takes in federally required guidelines of naturally spawning fish versus hatchery fish can keep Grays Harbor salmon stocks off the federal Endangered Species List. “I lived through the spotted owl, and I don’t want my people to have to go through anything like that now.”

Willapa Bay fall Chinook numbers were lower than predicted in 2016, both natural stock and hatchery. Likewise for the coho run. Goals for Chinook spawner escapements were not met anywhere in the system; the best performance was 69 percent of the goal on the Nemah. Coho on the other hand nearly doubled expectations for escapement, and chum performed even better.

“I spoke to a manager at the wildlife refuge and she said you could literally walk across the bay on the backs of chum,” said Herring. “She said she saw chum where she had never seen them before.”

As with Grays Harbor, the difficulty of data gathering was listed as an issue when it came to management. Data collection was difficult here because of an emphasis on alternative catch means for commercial fishermen, including the use of tangle nets instead of gillnets, led to lower than usual fisheries participation.

Looking ahead to the 2017 season, stocks that are expected to perform poorly are Willapa River fall Chinook, Naselle River fall Chinook and Willapa Bay chum. Herring says new tools for better in season fisheries updates are being developed and refined to give managers better tools to work with.

As for alternative gear, floating fish traps were something Herring said he was in talks about. These traps are movable and designed to catch and hold fish, allowing for less net mortality and more selective harvest targeting hatchery fish. One public commenter was quick to point out he had experimented with a floating trap on the Columbia. “We couldn’t catch two fish in a floating trap. The seals ate every fish that went into the trap. I’m just afraid you’re going to spend a lot of money on something that does not work, even during the large runs.”

Commissioner Kim Thorburn from Spokane asked Herring about the importance of harvesting larger numbers of hatchery fish to favor the survival of wild spawning fish. Herring said the harvest of hatchery fish is important to that goal, but adjusting seasons to target hatchery fish over non-hatchery fish is difficult at best, and very hard to do when data collection during the season is so spotty.

This was just one of many meetings leading up to the April 7-12 final meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Sacramento, Calif. There the 2017-18 ocean fisheries regulations and state-tribal fishing plans are finalized for all inside area commercial and sport salmon fisheries. A list of these meetings can be found on the WDFW website.

Edited by Rivrguy (02/21/17 07:24 AM)
Dazed and confused.............the fog is closing in