Curt Kraemer's Sept 3 WSC presentation
Sorry for the delay, but here's my write up of Curt Kraemer's September 3rd, 2003 presentation for the Wild Steelhead Coalition.
Curt Kraemer, WDFW Region 4 Freshwater Fisheries Program Manager
Title: "Fishing our way to recovery: Puget Sound's Comprehensive Chinook Fishery Management Plan"
For the 3rd consecutive year, Curt Kraemer spent 2+ hours speaking about his presentation topic and answering questions from an inquisitive audience. Curt’s presentation provided a detailed description of the methods used by the state and tribal co-managers for developing Puget Sound harvest plans for salmon and steelhead.
How can we have harvest salmon and steelhead fisheries in the presence of salmon listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)? This was the key question facing the state and tribal co-managers after the 1999 ESA listing of Puget Sound chinook. Because Puget Sound chinook are listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the co-managers are required to submit recovery and harvest plans to NOAA Fisheries (formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service).
The co-managers have been developing their harvest management plans for Puget Sound chinook for the past 5 years. Curt used the case of Skykomish River wild chinook to illustrate the basic approaches now being used to offer fishing and harvest opportunities for relatively abundant stocks that swim alongside the ESA listed stocks. The goal is to provide harvest and recreation opportunities without jeopardizing the recovery of ESA listed stocks. The methods used now rely on computer simulation modeling that identifies the highest harvest rate that will result in an 80% probability of meeting Maximum Sustained Yield (MSY) escapement goals. This level of fishing is termed the “Recovery Exploitation Rate” (RER).
The next 3 paragraphs detailing the RER concept were taken directly from Curt’s slides.
RECOVERY EXPLOITATION RATE
The recovery exploitation rate (RER) is the highest allowable (“ceiling”) exploitation rate for the population under normal conditions of stock abundance. This rate is designed to meet the objective that, compared to a hypothetical situation of zero harvest impact, the impact of harvest under the plan will not significantly impede the opportunity for the population to grow towards the recovery goal.
The RER is to account for all fishing mortalities (direct and indirect) defined in terms of adult equivalents (AEQ). AEQ is the potential contribution of fish of a given age to the spawning escapement, in absence of fishing. Because not all unharvested fish will survive to contribute to spawning escapement, a two-year-old chinook has a lower probability of surviving to spawn, in the absence of fishing, than does a five-year-old. Therefore, these two age classes have different “adult equivalents”.
The RER was evaluated with Monte Carlo projections of the near-term future performance of the population under current productivity conditions, in other words, assuming that hatchery and habitat management as well as current low marine survivals remain as they are now.
Said another way, this approach is designed to identify a harvest rate that, even in the presence of observed “worst-case productivity”, will allow the population to meet the recovery goals in 80% of 1000 simulations. They run 1000 simulations to reflect the large uncertainty that exists in the unpredictable factors that impact chinook production (things like unpredictable sequences of floods, drought, El Niño’s, etc.).
Once an RER is identified, the allowable harvest then depends on a pre-season run-size forecast. The allowable harvest is then carved up between various user groups in the annual North of Falcon process, what Curt described as a “political wrestling match”.
For wild Skykomish chinook, the lowest escapement was observed in 1993, with just 942 spawners. Chinook escapements (natural spawners only) have generally increased in the past decade, with ~2000 spawners estimated for 2000 and again in 2001. This near doubling in the escapements for natural spawners has coincided with a near tripling of hatchery chinook escapements, a situation that suggests something other than harvest continues to limit natural chinook production. Recall that harvest rates in recent years were just half to one-third what they were in the late 1970s and 1980s. There have been even larger differences in escapements of “hatchery supplementation” versus natural-origin chinook in the North Fork Stillaguamish and North Fork Nooksack Rivers. The basic picture is one where the hatchery spawned populations have increased more than the natural origin spawning populations.
These observations lead Curt to believe that “if we just quit fishing, everything will not be fine.” True recovery for the natural spawners requires habitat improvements in Puget Sound streams and estuaries. The problems with degraded habitat are well known: heavy silted rivers, a lack of root wads and other woody debris, fewer boulder gardens and cobbles, very large losses of off-channel flood plain habitat, and the diking and draining of Puget Sound estuaries. Curt stated that WDFW has no mandate to focus on habitat, and to change that will require a lot of political pressure. That pointed the finger right back at the angling community, a challenge that requires our undivided attention.
Here are just a few additional interesting facts that Curt shared with us:
* harvest rates (combined Pacific Ocean+Puget Sound+in-river for sport, tribal and commercial) for Skykomish River chinook were near 75% in the late 1970’s, and around 50-65% in the 1980’s. As fish managers witnessed plummeting Skykomish chinook returns in the 1980’s and early 1990’s they began drastic reductions in harvests. By 1992 harvest rates for Puget Sound chinook were down to ~25% and they have remained near that level.
* From 1980-86, about ~30% of the total Snohomish system chinook run was harvested in Canadian fisheries, about ~20% of the run was caught by Puget Sound sport fisheries, Washington ocean fisheries caught just a few percent, and net fisheries (tribal + commercial) in Puget Sound harvested about 20% of the run.
* In 2000, the harvest plan called for a total Snohomish chinook harvest rate of 27%. Of that 27%, Puget Sound sport fishers were allocated ~15%, Canada was allocated the next largest share (~5%), the rest being split between ocean harvest off the Washington coast and commercial + tribal net fisheries in Puget Sound. The bottom line: sports fishers were granted the largest allocation and impact.
* Curt also noted that the North of Falcon process can be influenced by sports anglers, as long as the make the effort to attend meetings and voice their opinions. He said that a single angler from Monroe was able to argue for, and get, an in-river chinook fishery on the Skykomish for the past couple years.
* Sampling during the June/July selective chinook fishery on the lower Skykomish found that about 50% of the chinook caught (either kept or released) were incidental catches by anglers targeting summer steelhead.
* Recent surveys show 30-50% hatchery chinook stray rates on Skykomish River spawning beds. This observation led Curt to lobby the co-managers to allow for increased harvest opportunities for fin-clipped Skykomish chinook in order to help reduce stray spawners.
All in all, it was once again a very informative evening packed with more information than I can include in this brief recap. Speaking for those in attendance, I offer a hearty Thank You to Curt for once again sharing his expertise and perspectives on some of the major fishery management issues that impact the way we fish and attempt to recover depleted stocks here in the Northwest.
VP of Science and Education
Wild Steelhead Coalition
Next time your mug ends up on THE tv, let us know so we can all tune into watch!!
Ryan S. Petzold
aka Sparkey and/or Special
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