10 Year Puget Sound Salmon Plan Ignores Science!

   Below is a letter Darryl Sanford, Sequim resident and North Olympic Peninsula Puget Sound Angler member wrote in response regarding current policy and problems with the proposed 10 year Puget Sound Salmon Plan. Also note, Darrly, and his twin brother, Dave, have lived and fished the Straits of Juan de Fuca their whole life and have historical and anecdotal evidence of local fish runs, especially the Dungeness River.  Hopefully fish managers and politicians will take note, as Darrly has detailed many issues that need to be addressed before Draconian, mandated fisheries regulations made behind closed doors take effect.

Dear Fellow Fishermen and Whale Lovers,

Finally, acknowledgement from the “experts” that predators are having a significant impact on salmon stocks.  (See Puget Sound Institute articles on 1/25/17, 11/20/17, and PDN “Predators Depleting Salmon for Orcas” 11/21/17.) How can our WDFW, in conjunction with the Tribes, be adopting a 10 Year Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan which appears to ignore this ‘new’ information?   The revelation that Seals and Sea Lions alone are taking six times as many Puget Sound Chinook as Commercial, Recreational, and Tribal fishermen combined should be reason enough to put an immediate “hold” on issuance of this management plan. Until these Puget Sound Institute studies can be fully understood, it would be ludicrous to proceed. It would seem that any long term plans for the future cannot continue to ignore the enormous consumption of salmon and steelhead by predators. I suggest that WDFW issue no plans for management of our salmon until the impact of predators can be addressed and incorporated into the plan. Declines in the Southern Resident Orcas have tracked the decline of our fish. Their very livelihood may also depend on quality management plans.

   The Puget Sound Institute studies only consider the impact on Chinook Salmon; however, to a great extent, Steelhead, Coho, and other salmon are in the same predicament.  Some noteworthy statements from these articles follow.  Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), “Harbor Seals grew from a Salish Sea population of 8,600…to 77,800 in 2015”. “Today the Salish Sea…is believed to have one of the highest densities of Harbor Seals of any place in the world.” Seals consume “six times as many (Chinook) as are caught by Recreational and Tribal fishers combined.”  “Adult California Sea Lions grew from 5,900 animals in 1975 to 47,000 in 2015”.  “Steller Sea Lions increased…to 78,500”.  “…an estimated 27.4 million Chinook (were) consumed by harbor seals along the West Coast of North America in 2015”. “Seals and Sea Lions are decreasing potential returns by about 162,000 adult Chinook (in Puget Sound alone)…twice the number eaten by Killer Whales.”  “Killer Whales, however, remain the largest consumers of Chinook salmon biomass on the West Coast.  They take about 12,000 of the 16,200 tons of Chinook consumed by all the marine mammals”.  “That roughly 10,000 ton increase in consumption by marine mammals basically negates a cutback in sport and commercial fishing for Chinook salmon over that same 40-year period”.  “Total commercial and recreational catches of 400,000 Chinook in 1980 have declined to around 30,000 in marine waters in recent years”.  Please take some time to read those articles. Though I believe they greatly underestimate the take of adult salmon by Seals and Sea Lions, they largely confirm what my family (and others) have been preaching to deaf ears for years.

   The articles do not even consider the enormous consumption of salmon and steelhead by birds, other fish, other animals, nor the impact these overpopulations of predators have in competing for the same bait/food that our salmon and steelhead live on.  It is my humble opinion that the collective consumption of gulls, terns, cormorants, mergansers, other ducks, dolphins, other whales, bull trout, dog fish, river otters, sea otters, etc, would more than match the depletion in fish numbers caused by the mammals considered in these studies.  My brother and I have watched whales take in an entire ball of bait in one ‘gulp’.  We’ve caught bull trout in excess of 10 pounds on our west end rivers.  We’ve watched bull trout regurgitate a half dozen smolts while releasing these protected predators back into the river. Most bait balls in recent years have multiple seals gorging themselves right alongside the gulls, ducks, dog fish and (hopefully) salmon. We observed 30-40 seals on the same ball of bait off Ediz Hook a couple of years ago.  It seems mergansers live on our rivers year round and on an average day of fishing, one will see dozens and dozens of them constantly searching for salmon and steelhead smolts.

   After Chinook were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, experts came up with a “blueprint for Chinook recovery”.  “The plan focused on improving salmon habitat, hatchery operations and fishing regulations to restore the salmon runs”. Nothing mentioned about predators. How is that possible?  Hatchery Operations have obviously been mostly reduced or ignored in this area while Habitat and Regulations gobbled up available dollars. We’ve all laughed (or more accurately cried) while observing the millions and millions of dollars being spent on Habitat Restoration of streams where little or no water exists, and culverts being replaced by bridges while ignoring the hundreds of miles of beautiful (existing) habitat going virtually unutilized in the streams and rivers we already have (with no habitat enhancement required!). All the while watching our hatchery programs being cut back or eliminated.  Show me one study that has proven wild fish stocks  are adversely affected by hatchery programs! No one loves a wild fish more than I do but I’d rather catch a fish than nothing at all. I can see it coming…Despite overall Killer Whale populations on the West Coast increasing from 292 to 644 over the past 40 years, because the Southern Resident Orcas  (whose numbers have declined 20% in recent years) “prefer Chinook Salmon”, Recreational Fishermen will soon see opportunities to fish salmon further reduced or eliminated completely. Will we as Sportsmen simply stand by and watch this happen?  I suggest we push hard to maximize existing (and build new) Hatcheries and pursue Predator Control measures wherever possible. Those Killer Whales don’t care if the fish they catch/eat is a wild fish or a hatchery fish, nor do I. Is in not interesting that the decline of the Orcas closely tracks the cutbacks in our Hatchery programs?  Restore our fish runs and both fishermen and Killer Whales are satisfied.

   In my mind, the largest obstacle to restoring our fish, may be the misguided notion that we have to keep genetics unique to each river.  This is foolishness and simply not possible.  Fish voluntarily stray to other rivers. Hatcheries since the early 1900’s supplemented any weak runs on our Olympic Peninsula rivers with fish from other rivers, and those runs recovered and thrived for years prior to the Boldt Decision.  Check out what has happened in South America.  Chinook from Washington’s Cowlitz and Kalama Rivers were used to start hatcheries in two locations on two rivers.  That was 30 years ago and now they have thriving “wild” Chinook runs on every river for 1500 km of coast line (Argentina and Chile).* Expansion to new rivers continues and is because a small percentage of fish continue to voluntarily stray to other rivers.  They have created a thriving world class fishery, started with our West Coast salmon, while we watch our rivers die. Trying to maintain genetics unique to each river keeps our fish on the Threatened and Endangered Species Lists, keeps 350 square miles of East Marine Area 6 closed to Chinook fishing for 24 years, and keeps the habitat restoration dollars flowing in but it prevents us from restoring fish runs.  Right here on the Olympic Peninsula, hatcheries have been wildly successful in the past.  More recently, the Snyder Creek Hatchery produced world class steelhead, so we shut it down.  The Quinault Tribe has abundant and huge hatchery fish returning to the Queets and Quinault River systems. Instead of studying what’s working so well, our all-wise “experts” have informed the Quinault Nation that they will need to curtail or end that program because those aggressive hatchery fish are eating so much food that they are depriving our wild fish of enough food to survive. Say what??

   Look at what Alaska has done with ‘terminal’ salmon runs. Opportunities abound for commercial and recreational fishermen from salmon runs that don’t even return to rivers. (Now there’s an answer to those misguided purists afraid of mixing hatchery fish with wild fish in our rivers.) The last time I fished on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, the weather got bad so I went down to the Homer Lagoon and caught beautiful kings from shore, while kids and people who could not afford a boat were having the time of their lives. Alaska’s PNP (Private Non-Profit) Hatchery Program supports 25 hatcheries paid for by fishermen’s self imposed tax on landings. Huge and consistent runs of fish result. Release sites are selected so that hatchery stocks can be fully harvested with minimal impact to wild stocks.

   As crazy and backward as it seems, most of our predators are protected.  The Federal Government will no doubt require many years of studies and impact statements before ever even considering a management program for marine mammals. Perhaps WDFW could have some influence with the Feds (emphasizing the Orca issue) and expedite a management plan. I suggest we overwhelm the predators with robust hatchery programs. Operate Hatcheries at full capacity with best known practices and spread those fish to all our dead/depleted rivers. And start some “terminal runs” like Alaska has! This could stand a chance of getting ahead of the predators. A cash bounty (as was in place on seals between 1947 and 1960) on mergansers, cormorants, gulls, terns, otters, etc., is something that should be considered for the near future.

   Something needs to change.  Years of existing fish restoration programs costing hundreds of millions of dollars have failed to stem the decline of our fish runs. WDFW personnel will no doubt resist any significant changes to “the plan”. Pat Neal may be correct in believing that the plan is to “manage to extinction for profit”.  Off-the-deep-end Environmentalists will prefer to enhance predation of our fish and game through protection and reintroduction of natural predators (so harvest by non-native humans can be eliminated).  They don’t support the WDFW operations.  Sportsmen’s dollars do and it seems we deserve better, including a seat at the table during the heretofore secret North of Falcon meetings. Remember, Orcas need the salmon too.

Darryl Sanford

Sequim, Washington

Reference Materials:

“Study says predators may play major role in Chinook salmon declines”, Jan. 25, 2017, Richard Dunagan, et al, Puget Sound Institute.

“Seals and Sea Lions may be slowing salmon recovery, hurting orcas”, Nov. 20, 2017, Richard Dunagan, et al, Puget Sound Institute.

* “Chinook Salmon Rapidly Colonize Rivers”, by Liz Osborn

“Chinook Salmon invade Southern South America”, Cristian Correa and Mart R. Gross

Center for Whale Research, 2016

About John L. Beath

John Beath is a writer, photographer, videographer, blogger, tackle manufacturer & Captain at Whaler's Cove Lodge in Southeast Alaska. He is also owner of www.halibut.net and host at Lets Talk Outdoors @ www.youtube.com/jbeath
This entry was posted in Puget Sound 10 Year Salmon Plan, Salmon Fishing, Uncategorized, Washington Salmon Fishing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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