OUTDOORS: Saltwater chinook fisheries ramping down

John Jehn caught limits of hatchery chinook out of his kayak every day he was on the water in Marine Area 6 this summer.

John Jehn caught limits of hatchery chinook out of his kayak every day he was on the water in Marine Area 6 this summer.

DAYS ARE RUNNING out to feel the thrill that caps off landing a hatchery chinook in salt water: overcoming the ensuing endorphin rush and remembering to mark the fish down immediately on your catch card.

I kid about the catch card. But the days remaining to catch hatchery kings are numbered.

Marine Area 5 and 6 will be open for hatchery chinook through Aug. 15.

Neah Bay (Marine Area 4) was at 53.2 percent of its 4,900 chinook guideline through Sunday, while hatchery coho totals were at 69.4 percent of the 5,370 coho quota.

La Push (Marine Area 3) stands to remain open for the duration of the ocean salmon season having only reached 8.5 percent of its sub-area hatchery king total and 11 percent of hatchery coho in totals released by the state.

Area 9 closed to kings

And Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) has closed to hatchery chinook retention, Puget Sound recreational salmon fishery manager David Stormer confirmed.

Hatchery coho remains open in Marine Area 9 through Sept. 30.

“We went over quota by about 400 fish or so,” Stormer said. “We were monitoring it through the weekend, trying to keep track of the creel reports as it came in and weren’t sure where it would come in and we reached about 108 percent of the quota by Sunday.

The quota was 5,587 hatchery chinook and those fish were caught between July 16-19 and 26-29, making 2018’s fishery the shortest since 2007.

“In talking with our Sport Fishing Advisory Group, this is the shortest fishery since mark-selective fisheries began in 2007,” Stormer said.

While never a fishery of great duration, 2018’s eight days on the water for chinook is three days less than the previous low of 11 days in 2015.

Stormer said Fish and Wildlife did what it could to make the season last — closing it for a few days and continuing to stick to a one hatchery chinook daily limit.

“We did close it earlier in July with the intention that some of that effort would shift to other areas like 10, or 8-1 and 8-2 for coho,” Stormer said. “We thought that was a move to try and extend the season at least until August.

“When we re-opened we wanted to protect the weekend, be open during the weekend and provide a couple of days of fishing during the week for those that do work weekends. Catches were good and the quota was exceeded quickly.”

Marine Area 9 is in a geographic pickle, half of its territory bumping against the relatively rural portions of East Jefferson County and the other much more heavily populated and fished Puget Sound.

Midchannel Bank isn’t a long trip for anglers fishing from the other side of the water, so the fish go fast.

Budget shortfall

Fish and Wildlife faces a potential $30 million budget shortfall beginning in 2019 and will be asking the public to fill in much of the gap in a proposal released recently.

Two fee increase options are potentially in play as part of the department’s $60 million proposal.

Two thirds of that money would come from the state’s general fund with the license fees making up the other 33 percent.

One is a 12- to 15-percent across-the-board hike, the first since 2011, and the other is a $10 charge that license buyers would pay once a year ($3 for temporary permits).

These increases aren’t set in stone. The Fish and Wildlife Commission first needs to figure out if the body wants to ask the state Legislature to pass such increases during the 2019 session.

Fish and Wildlife Policy Director Nate Pamplin knows the fee increases will be difficult to sell to the public and to politicians.

That’s what happened in 2017, when former Fish and Wildlife director Jim Unsworth tried to get fee increases of 10 percent for hunters and 17 to 20 percent for anglers approved as part of his Wild Futures Initiative.

A one-time infusion of $10 million helped avoid license fee increases at that time, but the funding was tied to a budget analysis, coming up with a long-term funding plan and a review of management practices.

Fish and Wildlife already has identified $3 million in spending cuts that will be implemented over the next six to 12 months, including reductions in fish stocking, habitat restoration and grants to volunteer organizations.

For more on the budget issues, including a link to a webinar hosted by Pamplin, visit wdfw.wa.gov/about/budget/development.

The department’s efforts now will be to refine the budget requests and align the fund sources and amounts based on feedback heard this summer.

Sea lion removal

Steps are being taken in the other Washington to reduce the impact of sea lions on ESA-listed chinook and steelhead on the Columbia River.

Baby steps at least.

The Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, S 3119, went before the Senate’s Commerce Committee on Wednesday and was approved in a voice vote.

The bill would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow state and tribal to remove as many as an additional 100 a year.

A similar bill, HR 2083, passed the U.S. House late last month with yes votes from every representative in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The Senate version is cosponsored by Idaho’s James Risch (R) and Washington’s Maria Cantwell (D) and was introduced in mid-June.

This legislation will empower trained state and tribal managers to better combat the negative consequences of unchecked sea lion predation on salmon and sturgeon at environmental pinch points such as at the base of dams in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Managers will take a more proactive approach to remove problem animals before they habituate to these locations, all while preserving the spirit of bedrock environmental laws.

Maybe anglers can get our elected officials to begin work on thinning out the growing number of sea lions and seals that feed on Puget Sound salmon stocks and compete with the rapidly diminishing population of resident orca whales in our waters.

Cantwell’s office can be reached at 1-202-224-3441.

Washington’s other U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, can be reached at 1-202-224-2621.

Anglers meet up

A discussion of salmon and crabbing seasons will be held at the next meeting of the East Jefferson Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

The meeting will be held at the Port of Port Townsend Commissioners Office, 333 Benedict St., in Port Townsend.

Social time and the sharing of fish stories will begin at 6:30 p.m., with the business meeting following at 7 p.m.

A raffle featuring fishing equipment will be held, refreshments will be served and the public is invited to attend.

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