A Look At Willapa Without The Agency Fog

A Look At Willapa Without The Agency Fog

I was recently asked to take a look at the Willapa Hatchery Complex and develop a conservation based look at the hatchery production, AHA modeled options, and HSRG. I did and I must say I was surprised by what I thought existed and what does exist let alone do the could / should / would bit with HSRG limiters. So take a read .

Almost forgot. Many ask why is Willapa so important. To end the discrimination the inriver & marine Rec fisher have suffered is the big one. Also in Grays Harbor we have the very same issues with the Humptulips Coho to be resolved. One can think of Willapa as the template of how you fix it when you have massively over harvested and nearly wiped out a salmon run harvesting a hatchery run. Another way to say it is WDF&W "screwed the pooch" so long what are we to do?

Anyhow I if you have questions on the report or anything e mail me and we will see what I can do to help. I can send you the model runs and all the associated information also.

 

HATCHERY CONDITION & POTENTIAL

 

It was requested by the Advocacy that I do a preliminary review of the condition and potential of Forks Creek, Nemah, and Naselle hatcheries.  I would point out this a simple look at the facilities not an in depth review.  I met with WDFW hatchery staff and the following are my findings.

 

Forks Creek: The facility is in reasonable condition but has the normal issues one would find at a hatchery. Limitations are primarily lack of extended rearing capacity and the lack of a weir to stop Chinook straying.

          Current Smolt Production: 3.2 million Chinook, 300K Coho, 300k Chum,      40+25K Steelhead, 4K Rainbow Trout.

 

Nemah: Although a older facility it is in reasonable condition and has a solid weir. It does have water quality issues that limit extended rearing due to low flows.

          Current Production: 3.3 million Chinook, 300K Chum, 19K Rainbow    Trout

 

Naselle: The facility is in reasonable condition but has issues. The issues reside in the fact the water supply pipeline is in poor condition. Maintenance and repair of portions of the pipeline are scheduled for June of 2015 to address this issue. Additionally the weir is prone to failure. Staff identified a lip on the weir causing debris build up and hope to address it with repairs in 2015. Additionally the weir is removed around October 15 dependant on flows permitting.

          Current Smolt Production: 500K Chinook, 1.4 Million Coho, 300K       Chum, 75K Steelhead,  

 

CONCLUSION: The 3.2 million Chinook production at Forks Creek contained in some of WDFW’s options is problematic. To get the AHA to approve this level of production WDF&W designated the Willapa river as stabilizing which is the lowest priority given to a stream  under HSRG. The issue of stream designation needs review as to compliance to the intent of HSRG reform as many see it has a innovative way to portray compliance with HSRG when in reality it a attempt to circumvent the true intention of HSRG hatchery reform.  Then one has to recognize the Willapa itself has no weir.  This creates problems for growing large numbers of Chinook due to hatchery fish straying and a difficult job in capturing natural spawners for mixing with the hatchery broodstock.   

 

Another issue is the desire of the Commission to expand Chum egg box production and explore the potential for ocean ranching similar to Alaska's PNP programs. To do this a source of eggs is needed other than continually mining prime Chum streams for brood. It would appear that the Nemah would be the best fit but it would require additional incubators. Regardless of which hatchery would be deemed the best to utilize for increased Chum production, thus far in the current process WDF&W has not addressed the issue of broodstock availability. This short coming needs to be addressed if one is go forward with an attempt to met the  Commission's directive of increasing Chum production.

 

AHA OPTIONS

 

Agency staff currently have provided three options A,B, and C available for consideration. The fundamental difference between the three are in the stream designations as to which stream is Primary and designating the Naselle as stabilizing and the Chinook production as a segregated stock. It is the altering of stream designations that allows the production values for each of the three AHA model runs.

 

I was asked  to work with staff  to develop additional AHA model runs for options based not on getting the maximum harvest but rather designed to comply with the intent of Hatchery Reform and HSRG guidelines. (see attachment A)  After input from those attending the meeting in Elma, I developed scenarios I have designated as  Maximum Conservation with Dual Prime, Willapa Prime, Naselle Prime, and North River Prime. Of the four, North River Prime made little difference so a complete AHA run was not completed, Dual Prime placed the greatest restrictions on production and harvest. Willapa Prime or Naselle Prime ended up being nearly the same when one or the other is designated Contributing. The notable exception I considered good news is that keeping the current designation of Naselle as prime and moving the Willapa to contributing, the AHA showed Forks Creek can produce 615K Chinook smolt instead of the 350,000 found in some of the WDFW options. By classifying the Willapa Contributing results  in the AHA showing Forks Creek greatest Chinook production value available complying with HSRG. Additionally if a broodstock program partnership with volunteers similar to efforts in Grays Harbor was developed for  Forks Creek, it could increase production incrementally with the improved PNI with the additional NOS broodstock incorporated in the eggtake. As the number of natural spawners is  restored the hatchery production could again be increased incrementally.   

 

CONCLUSION: It appears to me that these latest AHA model runs  using the designations of Prime and Contributing show that unless a compelling reason exist that is not known at this time,  moving the Primary stream designation from the Naselle to the Willapa gains little. Leaving the Naselle Primary and designating Willapa and North River Contributing with the remaining streams Stabilizing offers the greatest Chinook production value available complying with HSRG guide lines. Naselle and Nemah production can remain the same as it presently is and comply with HSRG guidelines

 

PROBABLE OUTCOME: In preparing this report on my finding the Advocacy  asked that I attempt to assess the impact of the Forks Creek production reduction as it would relate to the recreational fishing opportunities in conjunction with the resolutions passed by all in the meeting in Elma recommending no commercial fisheries in 2T & U prior to September 16 and the 50/50 / 70/30/ 90/10 division of Natural Origin Spawners ( NOS ) between commercial and recreational fishers. (Compromise Resolutions 1 & 3)

 

While looking into the future is not exactly a scientific endeavor one can draw some reasonable conclusions.

 

1. While the introduction of true Hatchery Reform means Chinook releases will be significantly reduced from Forks Creek, it does not necessarily mean significant recreational reductions. In past years the pool of hatchery fish in 2T was sizeable but due to the early and considerable commercial harvest the actual number of Chinook available for the recreational fisher to fish on was drastically reduced effectively negating the value of the higher hatchery production. If Compromise Resolution 1 approved in Elma is adopted, the early period of the 2T fishery would be excellent due to the larger pool of fish present with the Columbia dip in combined with commercial harvest being restrained until September 16th.  One could expect to see a small  reduction in some reaches for recreational harvest in 2T & U in the long term but again it would not be as numerically significant as the hatchery reduction is offset as commercial nets would be removed until September 16th.  Additionally  Forks Creek could expand the Coho production to the 600K range creating substantial additional recreational Coho opportunity and be in compliance with HSRG.

 

2. With the Naselle and Nemah hatchery production remaining the same in a Naselle Primary/Willapa Contributing AHA model run just completed, the Southern Bay and in river fisheries should prosper as well if Compromise Resolution 1 approved by the coalition during the Elma meeting is adopted by the Commission.     

 

It is my view that one should regard this similar to a three legged stool.  The new Naselle Primary/Willapa & North River Contributing option Chad Herring and I just ran through the AHA model can meet HSRG standards. It can do so with moderate impact to the recreational 2T & U fisheries but only if Compromise Resolution 1 & 3 are adopted. Take one leg off the stool it fails the recreational fisheries is just as bad as the other options provided by the Department.

 

Finally, it is correct to believe there are risks associated with relying upon this new AHA approved option or any AHA generated option.  In the transition period from the current hatchery production to the what is production levels of the future under the new policy one  known will exist.  The harvest impacts in the future will have to be restrained to allow for escapement of natural spawning stocks. WDF&W has a long and storied record of not being able to restrain commercial fisheries in Willapa. For any AHA option to work it is paramount that WDF&W not compound the problem by continuing to over harvest  thus making compliance with Commission directives and HSRG guidelines move from difficult to impossible to acheive.   The next three years of large hatchery Chinook returns will test the Department’s resolve to adopt HSRG and begin the restoration of natural spawners.  If it continues to “fish to the last available paper fish”, the long term prospects for recreational Chinook fishing could be bleak.  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

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