Blackmouth luck leads to reduced daily bag limit


One salmon a day will be the new standard in Marine Area 7 starting Monday, Feb. 24.

Fishery managers, by emergency rule, ordered the reduction after the most recent "running" encounter calculation for the northern-most sportfishing management zone in Washington indicated anglers have kept or freed 4,572 kings.

Because wild chinook salmon in northern inland waters are federally protected, fisheries must be designed and managed so they stay within guidelines that minimize incidental mortality on native or unmarked fish.

Whenever the allowable encounter rate is reached, the season must be closed, even if there's still time on the calendar according to regulations.

Since the first of December in this and other marine areas open for winter salmon fishing, personal use anglers have been required to release all wild chinook they hook and bring to their boats. These protected natives are quickly and easily identified by the presence of their adipose fin, an appendage that's snipped off hatchery-produced fish to mark them as keepers.

Though anglers must take care handling these wild fish, it's assumed that a number of them will die soon after release, and that incidental mortality, by federal regulation, must be limited to only a very small percentage of the total returning wild fish to ensure that native stocks can continue to rebuild.

For this year in Marine Area 7, the ceiling for "handled" chinook set by formula is a grand total of 4,888 encounters, so mid-February's estimate approaching that number gave cause for concern that a pre-emptive closure might be triggered before the April 30 closure unless angling effort was throttled back.

State managers cite good wind and wave conditions on the salt chuck so far this winter for the better-than-expected encounter/catch rate, but they're confident that with the new bag limit the fishery will be able to run its pre-set course.

Another moderating effect on the fishery's encounter rate will be the April 1 closure of greater Bellingham Bay to salmon.

If there are any additional changes to the posted blackmouth fishery, they will be found on line at WDFW's emergency fishing regulations site at:


Two other emergency regulations of interest to river anglers were posted earlier in February.

The first involves steelhead fishing in north Central Washington, where the lower Wenatchee River, main stem Columbia reservoir pools (Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam) and the Icicle River all reopened Feb. 13 to steelhead. Lawful whitefish angling was restored on the Wenatchee, as well. These fisheries could potentially last until the end of March and are subject to additional special angling provisos that can be found online at

Posted as taking effect Monday, Feb. 24, was an order allowing the retention of white sturgeon caught in the Bonneville Pool only on the lower Columbia River until March 9. A sufficient portion of the Bonneville Pool white sturgeon were left over kill fisheries early this year to allow this brief reprise. Managers say there are enough harvestable white reserved for a summer retention opening as well.


The Whatcom Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen will hold the 17th annual installment of their fundraising auction at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, starting with a silent portion at the Everson Auction Barn (7291 Everson-Goshen Road). Live bidding program starts at 7 p.m.

Proceeds from the event underwrite the locally based, non-profit group's extensive trail maintenance efforts on private, city, county, state and federal forest lands keeping them open and ecologically sound for all users.

In addition to doing repair and upgrade work on the trails, the group also tackles improvement projects at trailheads and provides pack stock for county, state and federal trail crews to carry supplies and equipment for maintenance on more remote trail sections.

Another special activity performed by its members each year is the stocking of several backcountry lakes and ponds in Whatcom County with trout.

Whatcom BCHW meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Laurel Community Grange on Guide Meridian. For more details about the BCHW auction or to join the club, call Bill McKenna (360-599-2526), Sam Miller (360-325-2833) or Nancy Giordano (360-961-0822).


The Northwest Washington Steelheaders will hold their annual fundraising banquet and auction on March 15 at the Deming Logging Show Museum Hall on Cedarville Road.

Tickets for the event are $25 for singles and $45 for couples and are available at Yeager's Sporting Goods in Bellingham, from any club member or by calling 360-599-3161.

April 12, the North Sound Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association will hold its annual fundraiser at the Bellingham Golf and Country Club. Tickets are $75 per person or $140 per couple (includes admission, dinner and one-year CCA membership).


Three tentative razor clam openings through April, totaling 22 dig days and starting with a six-day set spanning the turn of the February/March calendar, have been scheduled by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for several Pacific Coast beaches.

These prospective digs are contingent on naturally occurring marine toxins in shellfish staying below thresholds currently considered unsafe for humans.

The middle stanza slated for the end of March also will feature the annual transition from the fall/winter noon to midnight legal digging period to midnight to noon openings, coinciding with spring's morning minus tides.

There are five razor clam beach management sectors along Washington's ocean coast that have traditionally been opened, but for this sequence only four will be available, and one beach zone, Copalis Beach north of Grays Harbor, will be open for just one day.

Dig days are selected for the occurrence of a sequence of minus- or zero-level low tides where ocean waters run out far enough to expose clam-bearing sands. Ebb slacks or turns advance about 45 minutes from day to day.

Besides marine toxin levels and cooperative ocean tide considerations, cumulative digger success through the course of the season plays a key role in scheduling razor clam digs, as do the harvest sharing plan between the state and treaty tribes and input from the various coastal communities.

A some short- or long-term version state license permitting the harvest of razor clams is required to dig. Beaches inside treaty reservation boundaries are closed to digging by non-treaty persons as are all coastal beaches under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service unless otherwise specified.

For more information about these digs, the health clearance announcement, razor clam digging tips and recipes, go to

Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 writes a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at


As of Thursday, Feb. 20, coastal river system hatcheries have reported the following hatchery winter steelhead returns and egg-takes. The deadline for obtaining adult fish to spawn was Friday, Jan. 31. For reference there are comparisons to last year's escapements in the same time-frame.

Dungeness Hatchery (Dungeness River): 15 adults with 13,500 as of Thursday, Jan. 30. Same time last year: 58 adults and 43,000 eggs taken.

Bogachiel Hatchery (Bogachiel River): 880 adults with 316,400 eggs taken. Same time last year: 2,311 adults and 306,000 eggs taken.

Humptulips Hatchery (Humptulips River): 529 adults with 225,920 eggs taken. Same time last year: 395 adults and 229,750 eggs taken.

Forks Creek Hatchery (Willapa River): 358 adults with 204,000 eggs taken as of Tuesday, Jan. 21. Same time last year: 663 adults and 200,000 eggs taken.

Cowlitz Hatchery (Cowlitz River): 643 adults with no eggs taken. Same time last year: 878 adults, no eggs taken.

Merwin Hatchery (Lewis River): 96 adults with 86,200 eggs taken. Same time last year: 264 adults and 148,000 eggs taken.

Skamania Hatchery (Skamania River): 253 adults with 212,800 eggs taken. Same time last year: 228 adults and 231,000 eggs taken.

NOTE: Wild steelhead retention began Feb. 16 in eight north coast river systems as hatchery runs wind down.

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