No March/April Fishery [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: No March/April Fishery

11-15-2000, 01:53 PM
Just got off the phone with Curt Kraemer (district 4 biologist), and the bad news is that it's all true: No spring catch and release season in 2001 on the Snohomish system or the Stilly. No word yet on other Puget Sound rivers. He also said that since there isn't any way to do an in-season run size assessment, there is no chance of an emergency opener. The decision has already been made, and it will be signed into law early next week. So that's the bad news. The good news is, well, I still haven't figured that out. Apparantly, this closure is based on low returns the last two years coupled with poor in-stream survival of smolts for the returning year classes of wild steelhead. The escapement goal on the Snohomish system is 6500, and last year their numbers were only 2800. They arrive at this figure by counting redds from air, floating and walking. Although we may find flaws in their technique, since it's been the same year to year, it appears that at least the numbers relative to the goal are probably good. Of course, this doesn't account for exceptional ocean survival, which may have taken place on our returning 2-salt fish, but as Mr. Kraemer said,"We can't bet the house on that." This also doesn't account for the continued kill fishery we've seen over the last few "down" years, or a policy of management that always puts a priority on killing fish wherever and whenever possible. It seems like the WDFW is constantly looking for any tiny "surplus" to allow a kill fishery, then having to have emergency closures--but maybe that's just the political climate of this state. So, what do we do now? I'm not sure. I'm still reeling from the loss of a fishery I look forward to all year, and wondering what to do with the extra 40 days I will now have in March and April. We should be thankful that if there is a depressed run, the resource will be protected--but it's pretty darn tough to take. If the Skagit system stays open, I can only imagine the pressure it's going to get. Anyway, just thought you guys might want to know so you can go ahead and make plans for the spring. Golf, anyone?

11-15-2000, 03:09 PM
Damn, Damn, damn!!!!

I'm sick here.

11-15-2000, 03:53 PM
Skookum -

Thanks for the update, I had just found a phone # for a friend working in Olympia for fish and game but I won't need to call him now. It's bitter-sweet; my thoughts are all over the place on the matter.

Since the fishery is not just fly fishermen but includes plug pullers in driftboats, corkies, hardware, etc - pounding the river as well, I have to think the impact on the fish can be pretty significant. That's not to say that fly fishermen are better than gear guys - it's just to say that the impact on fish would be less if it were just FF than the way it is today. I'd also go as far as saying that the impact would be less if it were "FF only" than "gear only" as well, but that's another story.

So that leaves me with a few things to consider - (a) what about a FF only season when runs are down as an intermediate measure? (b) or a shorebound single barbless hook season as an intermediate measure (eliminate the plug pulling, netting and boating of fish)? (c) Perhaps a closure is the only way to be fair? (d) Having fished the Green for a dozen years and seen how spring closures have caused a boom in native populations, I can't say it's all bad to close a run to angling once in a while.

My personal preference would be for a fly-only season, but I can hear the screaming now. If the closures have a profound effect, the angling will return to normal and abstaining for a season or two will be worthwhile.

Looks like the peninsula's gonna see more anglers this spring too!

11-15-2000, 07:56 PM
Well, the news is getting worse. Just talked to Mr. Kraemer again--the closure includes the Skagit/Sauk system. As for your suggestion of FF only, Juro, no go. The political forces that be in this state won't go for it, even if we fly-fishers think (and know) the impact would be reduced. In the eyes of the general public and the gear fisherman, as you can understand, it would be unfair. My suggestion would be to use this year's returning hatchery 2-salt fish as an indicator of ocean survival before closing the season. If we get an unusually robust return--enough to mitigate the lower number of 3-salt and repeat spawning fish, I think they should go ahead and open it. How to get this idea to them, I don't know. Sounds like it may already be a done deal. I guess as sorry as I'm feeling for myself, I feel even worse for the guides and shops that are going to be in serious trouble over this. Ah, what to do, what to do...It's a tough spot, because if we fight like hell to get them to open it and it really is a depressed return, we will be guilty of shooting ourselves in the foot. On the other hand, the state is basing this on poor outgoing smolt number, which is proven to be a lousy indicator of returning adult numbers, and poor ocean conditions, which many feel is just not the case with the 2-salt fish that should be returning this year. So there could be a great run this year. The state's going with "better safe than sorry" and I don't know what to think. Any thoughts?

11-16-2000, 10:34 AM

Thanks for the continued updates. Damn, I didn't think that I could get any more depressed than I already was over the closure of the Sky. Well, I was wrong. I spent an hour talking with my wife last night about the Sky/Stilly closure and went to bed feeling better because she pointed out, you can still fish you just have to get up earlier and drive further. A lot further it appears now.

Putting the self pity aside, I agree with being torn on this issue. If the runs are really that depressed, I fully support a closure. If however the data is flawed or just that the last two years were an anomoly, I have serious issues with it. In thinking about this, and believe me I have been thinking about it, I keep coming back to two issues. First, if the runs were so depressed in 98-99, why have a kill fishery in 99-00. Secondly, is it just possible that the 99-00 run was late and the air survey of redds didn't pick up on it? I know that I was picking up bright strong native fish the first couple of weeks of June after the river reopened. These were not downstream spawners but rather hard energetic fish not long out of the salt. Since the river levels were up then and water clarity down, is it possible these fish's redds were never counted? Maybe I'm grasping at straws?

I guess the worst part is that I don't see this as a one year closure. My guess is 2-3 years at a minimum. Any thoughts?

Still hoping for a miracle --- Duggan

11-16-2000, 12:07 PM
Duggan - I agree with many things you pointed out, particularly your questioning of a kill fishery. It's easy to forget that the reason our natives run in the spring is due to selective modification of the native runs by early season kills to support quotas (Boldt decision, etc). In other words, before we screwed with it the whole thing was a native run and it didn't just show up in March/April.

By introducing hatchery fish and allowing early season kill harvesting, we segregated the runs into early hatchery and late native over time... as a general rule. But when you consider the numbers of native fish being caught at the big eddy on the Snoqualmie in late November, December etc. - it's amazing for a river that ends in a waterfall taller than Niagra with a few tribs on the way. Then count in the Skykomish, a river in which native fish are (relatively) prevalent and common throughout the season. Finally, the Stilly - which is also a segregated late native run as far as my experiences would indicate (except for Deer Crk and South Fk fish, etc).

Sustaining a kill season prolongs the separation of runs and threatens native fish that respond to rain, weather or other signals leading to migratory activity.

I believe that just cutting off the late season with a kill season during the artificial harvest period is not as effective a solution as making the whole season a no-kill resitricted fishery and keeping April open to single barbless no boats. The latter would be far more effective if the goal is to protect the native fish.

11-17-2000, 04:09 PM
Let me get this straight, the C&R season is closed - due to an anticipated low return (which though painful, is reasonable) - yet during the period in which hatchery fish can be harvested any wild wild fish caught can ALSO be killed? This does not seen to be even remotely logical - tell me it isn't so. If mortalities on catch and release steelhead are too high to risk during the C&R then how can there even be ONE wild fish to spare while caught a few weeks earlier? Help me, this is far too deep for my simple mind - tyler.

11-17-2000, 05:51 PM
Hey Kush Et Al,

The word is that C&R on wild fish will begin Dec 1, so at least that is consistent.

This is a tough one for us all to swallow, but people more knowledgable than I about the #s tell me this is the right thing to do.

I just hope that, with good returns this year, we get the fishery back next year. Otherwise, it could become an ongoing thing like the Wenatchee (closed for the last 4 years).

I also hope that somebody's warned the OP regional biologist, cause those rivers are going to get a LOT more pressure this year.

11-17-2000, 06:46 PM
I may be off base on this one but Skookum asked me earlier today about experience in activism. Well I don't have any but driving home I got to thinking about the political process. It occurs to me that we may be going about this all wrong. If I understand the petition currently being circulated correctly, we are signing up to tell WDFG that we want a statewide C & R of native fish. Unless I'm wrong, they can look at ourlist of 150,000 signatures and say, f*** you. So what other avenue can we use? Since Tim Eyman can get the proper number of signatures on an initiative to cut mass transportation or lower car tabs, why couldn't we do the same. Seems that taking this to the voters might be the answer. We could make C & R of natives the LAW. I know we have tried this route before with Ban All Nets but that was a horse of a diff. color. This would potentially get the sportsmen, the environmentalists and buisness behind it. Heck, if those more informed than I think this worthy, I'm willing to dedicate my time pulling it together and stumping for signatures. Besides, I suddenly have a lot of free time this spring.


11-17-2000, 09:23 PM
Duggan -

I'm with you, there really is no reason to keep a native fish, period. We would need to decide whether this meant C&R by sportsmen only, or also by commercial and Indian interests. Indians would have to stop gill netting during certain seasons because it kills indiscriminately. It would have an impact on fishing all seasons and maybe even gear restrictions. These are all good things if you ask me... but it raises some new questions of it's own.

Impact on harvesting methods:

It would force harvesting techniques throughout the steelhead season to permit selective return of natives w/o killing them. This would in effect make gill netting illegal when steelhead are present. It would not however prohibit them from gillnetting ocho species in summer and fall. Even then summer steelhead natives would suffer because they would be killed in salmon gillnets "incidentally". Making the killing and keeping of native steelhead illegal would have a profound effect on fishing methods throughout the region.

Strangely our existing laws allow loopholes to harvest native fish indiscriminately as "incidental" in gill nets in all seasons where gillnetting is allowed. I hate seeing those 20 pound summer runs at Pike's Place from the Hoh. If we could succeed in legislature to make it illegal to kill a native steelhead it would have a profound effect on the way fishing is conducted through the season, preventing this kill fishery. Our trip to the Hoh last April really drove the point home... we witnessed a parade of native fish bonking gear chuckers killing some of the most beautiful native peninsula fish my eyes have ever feasted on. It was senseless, totally senseless exploitation without any concern for the health of the fishery. I wish there were a way to show these people what has happened in other rivers in WA, or beyond in CA, atlantic salmon rivers in the Canadian Maritimes, etc. By all means fish for them but let them swim and buy a salmon fillet at Costco on the way home to eat (that's another story I could get hot about).

Benefits of this law:

It makes financial sense - because of the relatively low price per pound of steelhead, some Indian hatcheries have converted to chum to collect roe instead of meat. I can deduce from this that steelhead does not bring significant commercial value. Without looking into it further it's obvious that commercial fishing of steelhead is not a significant source of commerce for the region whereas steelhead (and salmon) sport angling is worth billions (according to an article in the Seattle Times). The health of a native steelhead population has tremendous importance in commerce across a wide range of beneficiaries (as opposed to a few fish mongers).

It is responsible fisheries management - the region is blessed with indigenous steelhead, in and of itself a near miracle with respect to the explosion of commercial and residential growth. These populations are on the edge due to habitat loss, incidental kills, open sportsmen harvesting, and perhaps most importantly - hatchery intervention. If we are going to continue to saturate these ecosystems with pellet-pout drones of inferior brood, we need much more aggresive ways to prevent the impacted native fish from being roadkill on the capitalist highway. As radical as it may seem, I'd be all for destroying hatcheries and going to policies that nurture wild / native reproduction with C&R access only. Certain rivers, like the Cowlitz, would be maintained for put and take steelheading if there is such a thing... but rivers like the Sky should be restored to natural reproduction. As we learn more about naturally sustained C&R runs, we can adapt this knowledge to other river systems where it would make sense - like the Wynoochee (although I can hear the kicking and screaming now) and rivers out on the Peninsula that already support stream born populations despite our gene pool pollution with Chambers Creek "rags".

The other side of the coin: if an angler accidentally kills a fish (re: a summer fish fights like hell and comes to shore ready for the morgue and can't be recovered) is he or she then breaking the law? Something to think about.

<font size="1">BTW -

I don't remember - was the "ban nets initiative" seasonal banning? I seem to recall it was open seas netting? In any case, this is different because it is not about a practice but a threatened indigenous organism of a specific genus and species.</font><!--1-->

11-18-2000, 06:46 AM
About the only thing I know about the Steelhead out there is that I would love to get out there and fish for them someday. So I feel a bit uninformed replying to this thread but I think you can learn from our mistakes with our Atlantic Salmon on the east coast. When you see something wrong if the numbers show a downward trend over a period of time if the biologists tell you there's a problem then take matters into your own hands and do something. Do it as soon as possible and do it like their existence depends on it because it just may.If there is anything we can do to help say the word.

October Caddis
11-20-2000, 01:06 PM
On this site we seem to be of agreement on C&R. There are PLUNKERS out there who feel C&R is foolish and harassement to our Native Steelhead. They also mention that because of the Bolt desision that the Native Americans would be entitled to more fish because there would be more fish available if C&R fishing did help increase the amount of fish in the rivers. They technically are right on that issue but it should not be an issue if we could make fish trap netting an economically viable wat to fish.
I've put out this issue last year and hoped that the WAA would become a real organization and research this way to save fish and at the same time let our Native Americans and Commercials be able to continue their way of life.
What I've found that the high end markets and resteraunts are interested in enviromentally friendly caught fish that they could marke as such and sell at a good price such as they do with free range chickens and beef now. As it stands the tribes are getting 50 cents to 1 dollar a pound now for the fish they catch. If they used fish traps to catch marked hatchery fish and co-oped them directly to the markets on a daily basis they could easily make 3 dollars a pound or more and allow all Native fish to swim free. They would have to comply with a set of guide lines to qualify but at 3 bucks a pound the insentive is there. The commercials I've talked to like the idea and hoped more research would be done in this area. The Native Americans I don't know about as I do not have any formal plan to discuss with them. The traps are expensive but the federal goverment just spent $500,000 on buying the Native Americans on the Columbia new Gill Nets, we know that too much money is being spent in all the wrong places.
I feel that if we could ever suceed in a C&R fishery both sport and commercial we have a bit of a chance to save our Great Native Steelhead.
What do you all think of the enviro friendly fish idea, would like some feed back both positive and negative on this. Rememeber the Bolt ruling is real and will never be repeled with friction on our part we must look for ways to work with our fellow fishermen, the Native American and Commercials. They should be our partners in saving native fish not our enemies.

11-20-2000, 01:50 PM

Some good input. I think you are right in that 1) we can never change the Bolt ruling and 2) the only way to make a lasting difference is to get all parties on board.

The initiative process that some of us are exploring would not impact the Native American fishery as State law can never supercede Federal. It would however stop the sport killing of native fish. Would this mean more fish for the tribes? Yes but the tribes are not stupid, they realize that an ESA listing will impact them as well. So far they have shown flexibility in shifting of netting dates so as to minimize native catches. Now I still think the 5% rate that is being thrown around is 5% too high but it is better than it has been in the past. I like you live trap idea and think it has merit.

As for the plunkers that view native catch and kill as a right, you are right, they do exist and they are quite vocal. I disagree with that view and believe that the majority of sportsmen do as well. I also think that if it was phrased in the right way, the voting public would support a ban on the killing of native fish. Either way, we switch to C and R now or nobody will be fishing at all in the future.