WHATS UP & A MOMENT WHERE THE LIGHT BULB CAME ON!!!

WHATS UP & A MOMENT WHERE THE LIGHT BULB CAME ON!!!

Hi all,

As the fall salmon seasons have continued many have questions on, well about everything. So what gives? The simple answer is business as usual but that would be correct and incorrect. In Willapa the agency has been in a all out effort to attempt to begin to truly quantify Commercial impacts rather than just run on auto pilot but in Grays Harbor not so. As things unfolded I have tried to get information out as best I can but the agency has struggled. Sure up on WDF&W's website harvest numbers are being posted along with other information but as to processes underway. but not much else. In Willapa much has been going on behind the scenes with just about zip put out to the public as to what is going on. It is conference call time thing with Advisers & not much else. I have suggested, asked, nearly demanded that this practice stop but with little success. I even urged to use the contact list from the GH & Willapa policy processes to just E mail simple updates out but this is such a departure from how Fish Program works that it does not appear to have gained much traction. Ah that is wrong, it went nowhere so far maybe ( hope hope ) later. So here is what I have gathered up from other observation & folks.

In GH from the start the QIN schedule appeared a bit aggressive, in particular with Chinook.  Then from the beginning the Chinook numbers went well past what we should see. Week 38 the QIN hit nearly double  what was expected and pulled for week 39. Coho started slow and do not appear to be catching up. In fact it appears to well short of the 158K forecast. That immediately begs the question why not pull back as they did in week 39? Because the seasons are set on preseason forecast of the 158K and all harvest to it. All folks Rec, Tribal, NT Nets. It is more or less auto pilot time in Grays Harbor. So at this minute it appears Chinook came early, in large numbers, and continued through the modeled weeks so far. Then this folks, we only have week 38 reports of QIN harvest and Rec observation as there is apparently some problem with getting QIN harvest numbers. So it appears Chinook doing OK but again it depends how many were taken in the QIN fisheries. Remember last year the Chinook looked normal then just dropped of the map resulting in a failure to make escapement AGAIN and there was no way WDF&W or the QIN could have caught it until too late which is why auto pilot management really really stinks up the place. It appears Coho are in the dumpster big time but again it is Rec observation & only week 38 ( which is early for Coho ) reports. Now Chum have been encountered since early September which is strange. Too early to make any call on Chum.

Now Willapa is different. With the state managing the show ( no tribal ) it is much different, in fact a total departure from the past. With one exception and that is it is being done with little information provided to the general public which is ABSOLUTELY NORMAL for Fish Program which has just used any public participation or dispersing of information as a " dog & pony show ". So what's up?

Well the agency has made a all out effort to get the harvest & escapement numbers right. This includes DNA testing, intense observer monitoring of harvest, and stream surveys of some sort. The DNA testing resulted in some changes for the Chinook harvest but has helped staff truly know just what fish was being caught by who where. Right out the door the Commercial impacts on NOR's ( wild ) went due South in a New York minute. Test fisheries showed them continuing to bump up against the NOR cap endangering the Commercial Coho fishery in the first two weeks of November. Then comes Chum which are limited to 10% impacts due to past years failure to make escapement. I mean then comes the Chum EARLY resulting in the Commercials blowing through numbers again so now by advocating the Chinook harvest thus far the Commercials have put their Coho season at risk restrained by Chinook & Chum.

Add to the mix in the Naselle we had a die off of Chinook of substantial numbers. It was a natural thing and unfortunate but nature does that. The key to this? It is not in the model so now how do you manage around it for both Rec & Commercial? No idea but it will challenge R-6 to be sure.

Then the final shoe to drop. Just as in GH the Coho run is not materializing as forecast. So how do you have a Commercial Coho fishery constrained by Chinook at the front end of the run timing and Chum at the back end? Coupled with the Naselle Chinook die off ?  No idea again but we will see after the next Willapa test fishery.

Some odds and ends that are out and about. As to R-6 management being gone on vacation in the middle of fall salmon season. Yup Fish Program's Manager Steve Thiesfeld was gone and it is a 100% load of something to unload on him for that. He won a hunting trip that was a chance of a lifetime and took it and Mr. Scott stepped in to deal with Willapa to insure continuity. Yes I know in the past this was not the case but that was then and this is now. Mr. Thiesfeld is back hobbling around ( he was injured on his trip ) doing his best to catch up so you folks might want to cut him some slack on this issue.

As to the question as to why the Willapa numbers are taking such a drastic departure from the past? Accountability plain and simple. Prior to the Willapa Policy the effort to insure correct selective fishery  harvest information was little more than a token effort. Think of it this way. With the 2T Commercial exclusion many of the dead Chinook not counted in the past or even recognized went right into the bay and staged. Then we start the Commercial season and from the get go the hatchery / NOR ( wild ) mix was way wrong with the NOR limitations growing fast. Then it appears the Chinook run came back larger than expected adding more NOR to the mix. But you say more hatchery also so it should be a wash. Yup except it rained early the hatchery fish headed instream. This is the rub proportionally a far greater percentage of the hatchery Chinook come early with the NOR peaking later. You now have the perfect storm as Chinook harvest  modeled will not track true. For Mr. Thiesfeld this is a no win thing if ever there was one so we wait. I could be wrong but doubt if we will know until the end so as always more to come here also.

Then last but not least this harvest accountability thing. For many years the Chehalis inriver fishers noticed a pattern of runsize that did not fit the model. Model says not nets XXX number of adults would come through in that time frame but way more showed than modeled. Did not seem to matter if it was QIN or NT Commercial but it was most dramatic with the NT's to be sure. Now this accountability thing applies to the Rec fisheries also as the preseason modeling does not reflect effort only similar harvest impacts from previous years.

So this year being retired I and others started tracking this thing and folks no way no how did we this coming. So let's do it fishery by fishery. The Rec bay fishery has been OK but few Coho. This resulted in a disproportionate mix of Coho / Chinook made worse by the apparently larger return of Chinook than anticipated and less Coho resulting the likelihood of more mortalities than modeled. Which means our anticipated C&R numbers are not going to be correct. The accountability thing is important as this fact as the agency has zero ability to get a true picture of how much as they were focused on Willapa.

Next up the drift net fisheries both QIN and NT Commercial with the NT's yet to hit the water. I think right here is the issue and it is Pinnipeds! I watched three tribal drift boats working above and below the 101 bridge and the Pinnipeds wailed on them. It was not that this happened but rather how bloody many fish they got that surprised me. The drifts started a little below Lakeside and pulled prior to the bridge. Each time the boats pulled and went up to start over the Sea Lions went right with them and drifted down with them. I would watch 5 to 10 fish come up over the bow but here is the rub. The Sea Lions got one or more for every two the boat did. You easily count as they come up flipping the fish around feeding and the Gulls are right there also. Here is the thing while all fisheries have a dropout  rate or C&R a release mortality it does not cover this. After faithfully watching this for most of the season so far I can safely say without a doubt that the drift net impacts both QIN & NT  unseen & unaccounted for are far greater than anyone has admitted to. Folks we have a real problem here. In a Public Document Request one document was comments from a WDF&W Observer on a Willapa drift netter in which he identified that for every fish that was brought into the boat a Seal or Sea Lion got one. This is a problem in both GH & Willapa.

QIN set nets. Again I was surprised by the difference between reality and perception. The set nets loose fish the same as nets to Pinnipeds but way less. Unattended the Seals get less than I thought as they do not seem to like dead fish that much. Lots of fish the fisher stays with the net and picks them rapidly to avoid being robbed by Seals. So where I always had assigned blame for the unseen mortality to the set nets I was not just wrong but not even close. The QIN fishers do need to quit leaving the nets unattended for such long periods of time though.

Now inriver tide water we have issues also. I have lost three Coho & three Chinook so far to seals with thirteen Coho punched. That is a 23% rate for Coho and it is not accounted for in the modeling. Sure we have a mortality rate but it is not near that. Additionally the three Chinook I released before they got fifty feet from my boat a Seal got one and was in hot pursuit of the others. The thing that impressed me is the way that the Recs have really tried to do Chinook releases properly. Little of the photo op thing ( mostly ) dragging the fish around in the boat to get that photo of catch of the day. Not bad guys. Upstream some issues but it revolved around a few fishers and no enforcement around as they are stretched pretty thin. That said one officer found the time to hassle the low income folks behind Wal-Mart which frankly is the LEAST abusive fishery. Could have made better use of his time I think.

Dave