I have procrastinated for sometime about trying to bring the issues surrounding Willapa salmon forward but I think it is time everyone has a general idea of what is going and the probable outcome of WDF&W's actions so here we go. Oh keep in mind this is my opinion and others have a different view. In the past few months WDF&W has been attempting to move a process forward to install a commercial trap for salmon in Willapa Harbor. The primary objective being to remove hatchery fish, primarily Chinook, from the Naselle. This is driven by the fact that WDF&W violated both the legislative mandate that the funding to increase Naselle Chinook obtained by Rep. Blake had the caveat that they must meet HSRG requirements which the Naselle Hatchery cannot due to a failing weir. Right here right now everyone get their arms around this fact. Ron Warren who heads fish management made the decision to release those smolt, with the approval of the Director I assume, and those two gentlemen own this mess and why will become apparent in a bit.

This process that was assigned to Region 6 staff who started forward and at this point I will say I cannot explain it. From starting with a request for alternative harvest methods in the bay it appears from statements that a trap concept in the bay was the preferred solution and participation was limited. Only one individual stepped forward with a acceptable plan but in short order that stumbled as it needed to be in small water to succeed so it is my understanding that Ron Warren authorized the move to fresh water. This is where I stop trying to even explain what happened and is still happening. From meetings that some call secret to changing protocols to benefit one person ( claimed by some ) to limiting input I mean folks this is ugly. The documentation for this can be viewed at http://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regulations/development.html including tapes of the meetings under Trail Fishery Willapa Bay. Key here is the jump from marine to fresh water of commercial harvest and that is a big deal. To accomplish this the process gives the word strange a bad name. I am going to ask the Advocacy to put this process and time line on paper for you folks but to call the process strange is really an understatement of epic proportions.

So putting that aside for follow up let us go to just what this means for all of us commercial and Rec. So first up let us say that the trap concept evolves through trial and error and is successful. To keep our eyes on the football success is defined as " The removal of a very substantial portion of the hatchery return with a mortality rate of between 4 & 10% of the natural production adults released ". This would bring the Naselle into HSRG compliance on straying rates which would insure the Naselle Chinook program could continue. At this point one should come to grips with this fact. While the Rec and Commercial fishers in Willapa have benefitted from the Chinook production in Willapa its purpose was to feed the ocean pool to increase the availability of Chinook for harvest in targeted marine areas well North of Willapa. So it is important to WDF&W that they solve this issue on the terminal end but the solution of ending straying does not necessarily mean to the benefit of terminal fishers or local communities but rather WDF&W's ability to feed low cost Chinook production into the marine Chinook harvest.

So the trap concept is successful but that will come with a price as only so many NOR ( wild ) impacts are available. This first year it is 24 or so for the trap which is not many but now it is successful and to be successful you need to operate darn near 7 days a week. So where do those impacts come from? Well first up is the Commercial gillnets and I doubt if they will care for that much and the hit can, could and likely will rather large down to maybe restricting their Coho fishery depending on runsizes.

Now on the Rec side the Marine fishery should be the same but WDF&W would try to chip away at things like always and don't say not because a Zebra does not change its stripes anymore than WDF&W changes its ways. In river? This will dramatic as the Naselle fisheries have benefitted greatly from the straying so if you remove the vast majority of stays you are down to fishing in a river that has not made natural escapement with the straying. My crystal ball is not that good but one thing for certain is that the C&R mortality with the vastly reduced hatchery fish in the pool would require additional NOR mortalities. In this scenario the conflict between the marine Rec, NT Commercial, and freshwater Rec would be intense to say the least and my guess is inriver would not get the gold mine but rather the shaft.

So to the second part and what happens if the trap concept is a total failure and WDF&W continues production to feed the ocean pool. Failure is defined as " The failure to removal of a very substantial portion of the hatchery return with a mortality rate of between 4 & 10% of the natural production adults released ". To be honest with this scenario I doubt the marine Rec fisher would notice much change if any. The NT Commercial would see a lot of fish but the limiter is the NOR adults and frankly I do not see long term they pursue Chinook as a target fishery. Common sense says just drop this fight of the last few years and use their NOR Chinook impacts pursuing Coho. They darn near lose their shirt purchasing and maintaining the tangle nets and it is a losing proposition when you add the Willapa Policy which dictates reducing the Commercial NOR impacts. It is a no brainer to back up and use their NOR impacts where they get a bang for the buck and have a chance to survive. What about the freshwater REC? Well now this changes with failure as they will benefit from some to hugely. The straying will likely be similar or greater than at the present so dependent on the NOR returning adults being the limiter the NOR hooking mortality would be the only harvest side issue.

So now to the fish. The Willapa Chinook wild population is rather small in comparison to the hatchery returns. Additionally I have been told than genetic sampling has shown that Willapa Chinook as a whole are genetic similar be it hatchery or wild, in other words the same fish genetically. This came about over the years with harvest and hatchery programs during times when the view how to manage the resource were much different than the present. HSRG addresses this but in a big picture sense, think of it as fundamental guidelines or a road map out of the wilderness.

That is good folks it really is but as in all things this one size fits all usually does not work every time everywhere and you could make the case Willapa is one. If you forget the past and look only at the present and future one will have questions. If the Willapa Policy succeeds will the salmon be better off? Yes / no because WDF&W is trying create a new different Chinook Salmon that resembles the past and they will fail. The greatest damage to Willapa Chinook ( and Washington State as a whole ) are the marine intercept in Alaska and British Columbia. The vastly increased ocean impacts are the primary cause for decrease in size as you reduced 5 & 6 year fish genetic input and alter the gene pool. Now hatchery practices can do that but in my life it has been the terminal harvest after the marine intercepts that have had the greatest impact.

So with all the gyrations around HSRG and hatcheries, harvest, just plain us will the effort succeed maybe yes maybe no but the most likely outcome is not much change genetically for the Chinook as they are the same fish. The reality is you could maintain the Naselle Genetics with the hatchery staying by incorporating the wild in the eggtake as HSRG requires and simply maintain the Naselle Chinook both hatchery and wild being the same. Then sometime in the future when the Naselle Hatchery is no more control harvest and over 3 to 5 generations the fish will sort themselves. Never completely due to the marine impacts but the fish will move forward to achieving greater genetic diversity.

The obvious answer is to build a bloody weir that works but that seems to elude WDF&W and I am clueless as to why other than has a dollar sign with it and they do not want to spend the money. Then why are we pursuing this approach? The fish is not benefitting from HSRG as envisioned and the citizens of Willapa Harbor most certainly are not. Then again why are we doing this? A pragmatic approach would be recognize the impacts on the fish that we have had on the Willapa Chinook, manage for production that does not make it worse, take steps to insure Chinook genetics are protected, and plan for the day when the Naselle Hatchery is no longer in production. Accept the limitations that wild Chinook present but maximize the hatchery production with genetic stability your objective both wild and hatchery with both eyes to the future when the Naselle Hatchery is gone and the Chinook truly begin the journey to genetic diversity.

Everyone needs to draw their own conclusions on what exist and what WDF&W's efforts are intended to be and will be but from my seat in the nose bleed section this approach underway is the most ill conceived, poorly managed fiasco I have ever witnessed. I will hop up and take one in the snout for the R 6 staff here. They had little to no chance to get a functioning trap as originally envisioned in the marine area. When Mr. Warren inserted himself he created a absolute disaster playing out in slow motion out of the public's eyes. R6 staff did not do this but rather they did as instructed and will continue to do so. The guilty parties are Mr. Warren and Director Unsworth and they own it lock stock and barrel.

PS: mercy on typos as tight on time

Edited by Rivrguy (07/22/17 11:42 AM)
Dazed and confused.............the fog is closing in