Each year in Recreational Fisheries: Science, Management and Policy (FISH 260) at the University of Washington (UW), student teams are required to write a position paper on topics of interest to members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and present and support their position to standing Commission members. THE REEL NEWS (TRN) has generously agreed to publish the students’ perspectives on selected topics of interest to its readership as editorials. This year, students summarized their thoughts on the North of Falcon (NOF) process and relationships among stakeholders, conflicts associated with the “protected” status of species impacting recreational fisheries, and the absence of a salmon research program focused on local issues. The students represent a diversity of academic majors across the UW Seattle campus, with the minority in the biological sciences. The vast majority of students did not characterize themselves as avid anglers, but either occasional anglers or interested in learning more about fishing.
In researching the topics, students heard from a number of those individuals intimately involved with Washington’s recreational fisheries including David Beauchamp (USGS, Western Fisheries Research Center), Bruce Bolding (WDFW), Craig Burley (WDFW), Mike Cenci (WDFW), Chris Donley (WDFW), Ron Garner (PSA), Danny Garrett (WDFW), Frank Haw (former WDFW, currently NW Marine Technology, Inc.), Clyde McBrayer (former WA Fish and Wildlife Commissioner), Bryce Molenkamp (former Team Hobie Fishing Athlete), Jason Morgan (NW Straits Foundation), Gilbert Pauley (former Advisor, Federal District Court – Boldt Decision, Pat Pattillo (former WDFW), Keith Robbins (A Spot Tail Salmon Guide), Karlie Roland (Emerald Water Anglers), Allen Thomas (The Columbian), Dan Tonnes (NMFS), and David Paul Williams (International Federation of Flyfishers).
TRN was required reading. We thank all of these individuals and TRN for contributing to the class. The NW Indian Fisheries Commission was invited to participate, but schedules conflicted. The perspectives expressed below are those of the students as presented to the Commission, and not necessarily those of the class guest speakers, the University of Washington, or the WA Fish and Wildlife Commission.
NOF: Keys to the Process and Relationships Among Stakeholders
Readers of TRN are familiar with the NORTH OF Falcon (NOF) process in which the Co-managers (Washington State represented by WDFW and the Treaty Tribes) decide how the allowable harvest of Washington’s salmon resource will be allocated among the stakeholders (non-Tribal recreational and commercial and Tribal fishers). The process, an outcome of the Boldt Decision (U.S. v. Washington, 1974) mandates that 50% of the allowable harvest (one that ensures conservation of the resource) be allocated to each of the Co-managers, that the negotiations be managed by NOAA/NMFS, and that a final agreement be reached in time for approval by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Unfortunately, declines in salmon runs, particularly in Puget Sound, due largely to the loss of freshwater (spawning and rearing) habitat, unfavorable weather events, and changes in ocean conditions that affect the availability of food and presence of predators have made these negotiations increasingly difficult.
Forecasts for historically low numbers of coho returning to Puget Sound in 2016 (-71% hatchery + wild compared to 2015) in addition to the responsibility to protect ESA-listed Chinook resulted in the lack of an initial agreement threatening all fisheries in the State in which salmon could be harvested or taken incidentally. This was the first time the “Nuclear Option” (no agreement) had occurred since the initiation of the NOF negotiations in 1984. Ultimately, it became apparent that neither Co-manager would be able to pursue a timely alternative path to obtain the necessary permits to execute harvest and after weeks of negotiations, an agreement was ultimately reached.
In 2017, the Co-managers came to a timely agreement, despite predictions of low returns of Chinook and coho to several rivers in the Sound and an 82 percent overall reduction in returning pink salmon. Key to the NOF process in 2017 was a letter from Barry Thom, NOAA’s new West Coast Regional Administrator, clearly outlining the NOF process, lack of effective (timely) alternatives, and the consequences associated with failure to reach an agreement. Opportunity for recreational salmon anglers was greater compared to 2016 in some Marine Areas (e.g. hatchery coho in MA 10), but in others (e.g., hatchery coho in MA 9) continued to be reduced as WDFW worked to balance opportunity among Marine Areas across years and still meet conservation (escapement) targets for constraining stocks. Invariably, there will be “winners” and “losers”.
We believe the future of salmon fisheries in Puget Sound depends on the effectiveness of the NOF process and how well the stakeholders deal with the factors that are and will likely continue constraining the salmon fishery in the future. In order to do this, WE must put the legacy of the “Fish Wars” behind us and focus on the reality that unless WE all work together to support Co-management and efforts to conserve/enhance salmon populations in the Sound, WE will lose OUR salmon heritage. Unfortunately, current discourse too often appears to be focused on who will harvest the last fish (i.e., allocation) versus what WE need to do to ensure opportunity in the future.
With respect to NOF, we must support the Co-managers in their efforts to balance opportunity and conservation needs. This means that recreational anglers must trust the State (WDFW) to represent them in negotiations with the Treaty Tribes and provide input on the options that are presented to them during the scheduled NOF public meetings. Much has been made about the fact that negotiations between the Co-managers are closed to the public and that in 2016-17, meetings between the State and the Treaty Tribes began earlier (without public input) in an effort to start to address key conservation concerns given the difficulties to reach an agreement in 2016. Efforts to “open Tribal negotiations” may be well intentioned, but are unlikely to be realized and convey a lack of trust in WDFW. There are 20 Treaty Tribes in Puget Sound, each a sovereign nation comparable to the U.S. Negotiations among nations are closed to the public out of respect for the viewpoints of the parties at the table and to encourage open (frank) dialogue. The Treaty Tribes and the U.S. (represented by the State [WDFW]) should enjoy the same respect. The Washington Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) simply does not apply. In addition, negotiations supporting NOF are not just between the State and the Treaty Tribes, but also between each of the affected Treaty Tribes, each with their unique perspectives, needs, and geographical location relative to the salmon runs they can harvest. Furthermore, we encourage the Co-managers to meet early and often to address major issues so that WDFW can more confidently present/discuss options for the upcoming salmon seasons during the NOF public forums. There is no reason that representatives from the recreational fishing community cannot convey their desires to WDFW prior to the NOF public process. We believe this would be energy well spent.
Conflicts Among Protected Species: Who Wins —
The petition by resident killer whale (Orca) advocates to establish a 0.75 mile “No Go” (exclusion) Zone plus a 0.25 mile buffer along the west side of San Juan Island that is currently being considered by NMFS has heightened awareness of the conflicts among stakeholders (e.g., recreational fishers, Tribal and non-Tribal commercial fishers, whale watching operators) with respect to the legal protections associated with ESA-listings and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The situation is further complicated by the ecological relationships among the primary affected species (Chinook salmon, resident Orcas, and pinnipeds [harbor seals and California and Stellar sea lions]) and the changing environmental conditions along the Pacific West Coast and within Puget Sound. Whereas we believe a “Slow Go” Zone (less than 7 knots) should be the preferred option to minimize disturbance to the Orcas while maintaining recreational and economic opportunity, the petition overshadows the primary factors underlying the failure to recover their population – a lack of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon caused by societal decisions related to land and energy use, which are much more difficult to regulate. Recent studies of the health of OUR resident Orcas indicate that inadequate nutrition is the primary factor limiting their population to which other factors, e.g. vessel disturbance and contaminants, may only act to exacerbate the problem. Is it surprising that both the predator and their primary prey are ESA-listed in Puget Sound?
If we are to be successful in ensuring the survival of OUR resident Orcas while maintaining recreational and economic opportunity and ensuring Treaty-Tribal fishing rights, WE must increase Chinook salmon populations within the Sound. Given the predicted increases in human populations within the region and associated difficulties in preserving/restoring critical habitat, it is unlikely that WE will be able to increase the abundance of Chinook within the Sound without an increase in hatchery production. Only 22 out of the original 37 historic Chinook populations in the Sound exist today and those that remain are 10% of their previous numbers with some less than 1%. In his commentary in the November issue of TRN, PSA President Ron Garner reported that hatchery production of Chinook in the State has declined 60 percent since 1989 in response to budget cuts and concerns over the interaction of hatchery fish with their “natural-origin” counterparts on the spawning grounds potentially impeding recovery efforts. Irrespective of the ongoing debate over the latter, WE will not be able to meet the needs of OUR resident Orcas or Tribal and non-Tribal fishers without an increase in hatchery production. Without opportunity for harvest by recreational anglers, funding for WDFW and hatchery operations in the form of license sales will continue to decline. Tribal Treaty rights for harvest will not be realized, threatening the foundation of Co-management and non-Treaty Tribal access to the fishery. The Treaty Tribes have the right to fish, whereas recreational and non-Tribal commercial fishers enjoy the privilege to fish. As Ron noted “Instead of all user groups coming together to work on hatchery production and making the pie bigger, we are concerned about taking each others piece. This is a problem that is eventually going to take us all off the water.”
Efforts to increase Chinook numbers in Puget Sound and in doing so, improve the nutritional status of resident Orcas, are further complicated by an exponential increase in numbers of pinnipeds (harbor seals and sea lions) that are estimated to consume 1.4 million pounds of Chinook annually, but are also federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Although harbor seals and sea lions consume a variety of fish species, 20% of the out-migrating Chinook smolts in Puget Sound may be consumed annually, potentially translating to an average of 162,000 returning adult Chinook each year. This is twice the number of Chinook consumed by OUR resident Orcas and about 6 times the number caught by Tribal and non-Tribal recreational and commercial fishers annually. The authors of the 2017 study on which these statistics are based note that the increase in harbor seals within Puget Sound “coincides directly” with the reduction seen in juvenile Chinook survival once they reach saltwater.
Prior to passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, pinnipeds were hunted for bounties (e.g., State-financed population control in Washington) and sport resulting in concerns over population sustainability. Today, the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound) supports the greatest concentration of harbor seals in the world and populations of harbor seals and sea lions greatly exceed previous conservation targets. In 1999, when the number of harbor seals in Washington waters was significantly lower, it was estimated that a reduction of 20% to protect fish species of concern would not adversely affect population sustainability.
As Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission points out, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was well intentioned and needed at the time, but has led to unintended consequences. We concur with Lorraine and others that pinniped populations “must be brought back into balance with the reality of today’s ecosystems”. In an informal survey of attendees at the PSA Sno-King Chapter meeting on 11 May 2017, 98% of the 43 respondents indicated that WDFW and the Treaty Tribes should seek the permits necessary to reduce the number of seals and sea lions in the Sound and 70% recommended the use of lethal and non-lethal methods as necessary. Efforts are currently underway in Congress (H.R. 2083) to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act in order to provide the States (Oregon and Washington) and the Treaty Tribes the flexibility to manage pinnipeds in the Lower Columbia River that threaten fish populations, ESA-listed as well as non-listed. A comparable effort will likely be necessary for Puget Sound and should be supported by NMFS, WDFW, the Treaty Tribes, the recreational angling community, and resident Orca advocates.
Insufficient Research on Local Salmon Issues Threatens Effective Management
Washington State is home to the most extensive fish hatchery complex in the United States and probably the world with 83 State (WDFW), 51 Tribal, and 12 Federal (USFWS) facilities of which the vast majority are dedicated to producing salmon or steelhead. Hatchery fish account for 75% of the salmon harvest in Puget Sound and 90% in the Columbia River and contribute more than 1 billion dollars to the State’s economy. In light of the challenges facing salmon management in the State including those highlighted above, it is surprising that there currently is no hatchery in the State focused on salmon research. The research hatchery at the UW ended operations in 2014 after more than 60 years of facilitating studies on Chinook and coho salmon. Initially founded in 1949 to explore the potential effects of nuclear radiation on salmon in the Columbia River associated with the Manhattan Project, the runs have since supported research on the factors affecting return rates (fitness), e.g., physiology and environmental factors governing homing, and the effects of contaminants and inbreeding while also providing eggs and/or fish for a variety studies by UW faculty and collaborating State and Federal agencies and public education/outreach (e.g., Salmon in the Classroom). Prior to 2005, the facility was the only salmon research hatchery on the West Coast. Unfortunately, failing infrastructure coupled with the costs of repairs and a resulting reduction in interest in use of the runs by UW faculty ultimately doomed the runs.
Today, Oregon (ODFW) maintains the only salmon research hatchery on the West Coast. Established in 2005, the Oregon Hatchery Research Center is located in the rural Alsea coastal watershed, is designed to study the influence of hatchery salmon and steelhead on their wild counterparts, and is a joint venture between ODFW and Oregon State University. We believe the absence of a comparable active hatchery research program in Washington focused on salmon in an urbanizing environment threatens effective management of OUR salmon resource in Puget Sound, Treaty-Tribal fishing rights, and recreational fishing opportunity. Given the complexities associated Co-management and ESA-listings, the economic value of the fisheries, the scope hatchery operations, and one of, if not the top academic fisheries research program in the world located at the UW, Washington should at a leader in scientific research supporting salmon management in the region and certainly Puget Sound. The lack of significant participation by Washington in the 8th World Recreational Fisheries Conference held in Victoria, BC this last July was surprising. There were only three presenters from the State – one of which spoke specifically about salmon management – amid the 396 attendees from 21 countries and 281 oral or poster presentations across 4 days. This was unfortunate because the conference was in OUR backyard. WE are not alone in having to deal with the issues comparable to those highlighted monthly in TRN and there is undoubtedly much to learn from colleagues from other parts of the world.
Chinook salmon caught off the west side of San Juan Island
– Photo: Tom Drews,
PSA Sno-King Chapter
Efforts are currently underway to revitalize salmon hatchery research at the UW through collaboration among UW faculty, WDFW, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and Long Live the Kings with primary focus on salmon within urbanizing environments, specifically Puget Sound. The facility, either a remodel or new construction, will not only support Chinook and coho runs but also provide infrastructure for other aquatic research within the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS), training for UW students and Tribal members, and public outreach and education. HGMPs are currently being updated and will be submitted as part of the Lake Washington watershed review by NMFS. Additionally, a graduate studio within the College of Built Environments in Spring 2018 will develop a conceptualization of the new facility working with the UW Planning Department. While there are no commitments by the UW for the new facility, there appears to be strong support within the recreational fisheries community and among SAFS alumni. In the informal survey of attendees at the May meeting of PSA’s Sno-King Chapter, 90% supported the revitalization of the hatchery and 71% indicated they would volunteer to help with its operation. Although production will not the primary goal of the facility, it is interesting to note that at times in the past the salmon runs at the UW contributed disproportionately to local harvest. Those of us involved are excited about this opportunity to enhance OUR understanding of the factors limiting salmon populations within urban environments and to identify the means by which we can ensure OUR salmon heritage will be enjoyed by future generations. Please join us in supporting this effort.
Final Thoughts —
What WE Need to Do
It is clear to us that WE must all work together if we are to preserve OUR salmon heritage in Puget Sound. We have used WE and OUR throughout this editorial to emphasize this point. Those of us in the recreational fishing community need to realize that the Treaty Tribes must be our allies – as they, as sovereign nations with rights to harvest salmon have the power to effect necessary changes in the politics surrounding fishery management that can benefit all stakeholders. WE must support the NOF process and help WDFW deal with the challenges of Co-management that involves the State, 20 sovereign nations, and a Sound that will continue to change. This means trusting the process and providing timely and constructive input. If we are to save OUR resident Orcas, WE must manage pinniped populations in the Salish Sea and increase hatchery production of Chinook, actions that will also benefit Tribal and non-Tribal fishers. And finally, WE must support efforts to establish a salmon research hatchery on the UW campus that will provide the science necessary to ensure salmon in Puget Sound’s future and serve as a model of the cooperation and collaboration necessary to be successful.