Past effort affects 2014 personal use halibut seasons

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 5, 2014 

DOUG HUDDLE

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

With the 2013 personal use halibut season's overage and underage in the books, compensating adjustments, announced Monday, March 31, to Washington's 2014 openings in various marine zones will mean a slightly shorter inside season and a little more time to jig along the far south coast.

For the 2014 campaign the Washington sport fishery has been allocated 214,110 pounds that has been sub-divided into four allotments corresponding to major sport fishery management areas.

Changes to this year's Puget Sound fishery stem from last spring's effort in which, say managers, the inside catch cap was exceeded.

"We've seen increased interest in Puget Sound halibut fishing in recent years. As a result, we went over our quota there last year," said Heather Reed, WDFW coastal policy coordinator.

An uptake in the number of anglers (effort) and staggered openings in the two inside sub-zones during last year's proscribed opportunity led to the landing of too many hook-and-line-caught flatties.

The opposite is the case for the Marine Area 1 halibut fishery where anglers recently have not been catching their allotted portion of the Washington sport allocation, managers said.

For 2014, a total of 11 halibut fishing days (three fewer than last year) will be available for anglers plying in Marine Areas 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The first opening is Friday, May 9. Eight dedicated flattie fishing days will occur in Marine Area 5 beginning Thursday, May 22, and they will coincide with the inner area openings so anglers will have to make an either/or choice.

A multi-tasking mechanism also has been added to the Puget Sound fishery to easy a little of the pinch fishers may feel. Anglers jigging in 120 feet of waters or deeper will be able to keep coincidentally-boated lingcod and Pacific cod on halibut days.

To enable Ilwaco- and Westport-based halibut anglers to catch their due, regular early and late fisheries are planned. A near-shore alternative has been added to this spring's slate of opportunities in Marine Area 1. Together these fisheries are intended to target about six percent (11,895 pounds) of the overall Washington sport fishery quota of 214,110 pounds.

Washington is bound to manage its non-treaty personal use and commercial fisheries to keep their annual takes at or below the strict poundage limits set for them by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The IPHC is a bi-lateral panel of Canadian and U.S. commissioners who, with the aid of a significant technical staff, annually studies, deliberates on and sets harvest limits and other policies concerning halibut fisheries in Northeast Pacific waters.

As long as fishery efforts and consequences do not exceed their specific allocations, jurisdictions such as states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Washington's treaty tribes are free to organize and set their own terms for recreational, commercial and ceremonial/subsistence fisheries that pursue halibut.

The inside or Puget Sound season will unfold this way:

Marine Area 5: The fishery will be open Thursday, May 22, through Sunday, May 25, for Memorial Day weekend. The fishery will open again May 29-31 and will be open one final day on Saturday, June 7.

Marine Areas 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10: The fishery will be open May 9 and 10 and May 17. The fishery will be open Thursday through Sunday, May 22-25, for Memorial Day weekend. The fishery will open again May 29-31 and will be open one final day on Saturday, June 7.

Marine Areas 11, 12, 13: These areas will remain closed to halibut fishing this year to protect threatened and endangered rockfish species.

On the coast, fishers will have these options:

Marine Area 1 (Columbia River): Marine Area 1 opens May 1, four days per week (Thursday-Sunday) until 80 percent of the quota is achieved. If the early-season quota (80 percent of the quota) is not obtained prior to Aug. 7, the fishery will continue four days per week (Thursday-Sunday) until the remaining quota is taken, or until Sept. 28, whichever occurs first. A new incidental halibut fishery will begin May 5 in the nearshore area and will be open Monday-Wednesday, which are the days the all depth fisheries are closed. Coordinates for the nearshore fishery are available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/halibut/. The early quota is 8,564 pounds; the late quota is 2,141 pounds; the nearshore quota is 1,190.

Marine Area 2 (Westport): Marine Area 2 opens May 4, two days per week (Sunday and Tuesday) for three consecutive weeks. The area-wide fishery will be closed May 25 and 27. If sufficient quota remains, the fishery will open the following Sunday and/or Tuesday and continue until the quota is reached, or until Sept. 30, whichever occurs first. The northern nearshore area will open May 4 and continue seven days per week until the nearshore quota is reached, or until Sept. 30, whichever occurs first. The quota for the area-wide fishery is 40,739 pounds; the quota for the northern nearshore fishery is 2,000 pounds.

Marine Areas 3 and 4 (La Push and Neah Bay): Marine areas 3 and 4 open May 15, two days per week (Thursdays and Saturdays) through May 24. If enough harvestable fish remain to be caught, the fishery will re-open June 5 and/or June 7, and possibly on additional days (Thursdays and Saturdays) depending on the amount of quota available until the quota is reached or Sept. 30, whichever occurs first. The combined quota for both areas is 108,030 pounds.

In Marine Areas 1-4, seasons will continue until the sub-area quotas are reached.

In all marine areas open to halibut fishing, there is a one-fish daily catch limit and no minimum size restriction. Anglers may possess a maximum of two fish in any form and have and use a WDFW catch record card on which to record halibut takes.

BACTERIA MAY BE ELK HOOF CULPRIT

Southwest Washington elk with a heretofore mysterious debilitating ailment that causes grossly mis-shapened hooves may be infected with a pathogen linked to a similar affliction in domestic livestock.

At present the disease is being found most often in elk residing in Cowlitz, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties. Since it was first observed about 10 years ago, the elk hoof malady has been tracked though a directed department monitoring effort as well as a public online reporting program to help plot the extent of occurrences.

Though they are still calling the lab test findings preliminary, state fish and wildlife department veterinary specialists report that treponeme bacterium, found increasingly in the past 20 years in cows and sheep with deformed or missing hooves, has turned up often enough in testing of tissue samples collected in the southwest Washington disease zone to be considered the cause.

A total of 43 samples collected since 2009 from elk with obvious signs of the malady have been analyzed for a host of possible causes by five different diagnostic laboratories including Washington State University, Colorado State University, University of Wyoming the National Animal Disease Center operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Great Britain's University of Liverpool.

Three labs reported that treponeme was cultured from a number of deformed hoof tissue samples they tested.

To determine whether in fact that treponeme is the cause or simply an opportunistic bug that invades already-damaged hooves, wildlife researchers have taken additional samples from 11 elk both in and outside the known disease area and are testing them now.

Up to now treponeme's presence had been reported only where hoof deformations were occurring in livestock operations, wildlife officials said. This is the first confirmed instance of it being associated with multiple animals of a free-ranging elk or other wildlife population, researchers said.

Though there are many contributing factors to the hoof disease, investigators report that a key correlation in the infection of these hooved animals seems to be wet soil environs. This is indicated by the fact that deformities subside when infected animals are removed and repeatedly treated with antibiotics, but those same animals again manifest hoof disease symptoms once they are returned to common paddocks or pastures.

Zeroing in on a prime suspect for this debilitating disease may bring only fleeting satisfaction.

As yet, there is no vaccine for this bacterium and some infected livestock do not respond to antibiotics. Since this bacterium does not appear to harm humans nor affect the quality of animal meat, infected animals often are slaughtered for market.

Antibiotic treatment of free-range animals is not usually practical, especially if the pathogen can survive any length of time in an intermediate medium such as wet soils.

State managers said at present, until more is known, it appears there may be relatively few things that can be done to combat, let alone suppress, this disease.

The fish and wildlife department plans to convene two committees, one a technical panel of veterinary specialists and disease researchers to review pathology protocols and findings and recommend possible courses of action. The second advisory group will represent local government representatives, landowners, agriculture, hunting and conservation groups to help devise implementation of activities designed to combat the disease once technical approaches are recommended.

WDFW officials already have attended two county government meetings held previously to discuss the elk hoof disease and have two more agency-called gatherings set for Tuesday, April 15 (Vancouver) and Wednesday, April 16 (Chehalis).

Wildlife managers also may recommend that the fish and wildlife commission impose a quarantine rule, similar in kind to one now in place for chronic wasting disease that would require hunters to cut off and leave hooves of harvested elk in the Southwest Washington location(s) where the animals were killed.

For more details on elk hoof deformities, the public working group and the reporting link, visit: wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_disease/

STEELHEAD CASE MAY KILL SMOLT RELEASES

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say that among many potential consequences of the federal lawsuit filed Monday, March 31 is the possibility that more than 900,000 hatchery steelhead might not be released into Puget Sound rivers in May.

The suit, case number 2:2014-cv-00465, brought by the Duvall-based Wild Fish Conservancy in U.S. District Court for Western Washington alleges that the state in carrying out its stocking of hatchery steelhead is violating the federal Endangered Species Act in that the cultured fish are either competing and hybridizing with wild populations hindering the recovery of all Puget Sound steelhead stocks listed as threatened under the act.

Named as defendants in the case are the Washington Director of Fish and Wildlife Phil Anderson and eight of nine (one position is vacant) members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. NOAA Fisheries is not listed as a respondent in the complaint.

State fisheries managers say that despite the fact that NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency administering and enforcing the terms of the Endangered Species Act concerning Puget Sound steelhead, Puget Sound chinook and Puget Sound bull trout has not certified WDFW's hatchery steelhead program, substantial changes they've made in the last 10 years in the propagation of hatchery steelhead are likely to be found to be within the bounds of acceptable impacts to federally protected wild stocks.

Those hatchery reforms include breeding only the earliest returning of the hatchery-origin fish to perpetuate runs, limiting release sites to nine in the Puget Sound basin to make ensure surviving adults will return to traps and focusing recreational fishing effort to catch as many fin-clipped fish as possible.

Both hatchery and ESA-protected wild-origin steelhead return to both the Upper Columbia and Snake rivers under federal permit guidelines.

But agency officials, in deciding to withhold stocking if the suit is not resolved and proceeds, are acknowledging they could have legal liability under the current circumstances.

Formal federal certification of the overall Puget Sound hatchery steelhead program is pending completion in 2015 of an updated study and management plan that is to be submitted by the state. In the interim, NOAA fisheries agreed to cover the state's program under terms of its annual ESA permit dealing with chinook salmon.

If an immediate injunction barring release of steelhead smolts is granted while the lawsuit is adjudicated, the department has not announced what it may do with the steelhead. But with relatively limited options for their release into waters where they would not from a legal standpoint pose a threat, it's likely that the majority would have to be killed.

The Nooksack River is scheduled to receive some 85,000 hatchery-bred winter steelhead in May, some 250,000 also are set to be liberated in the Skagit River.

Concerned that the lawsuit was mis-applied, Chairman Billy Frank of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission issued a statement Friday, April 4 saying that salmon and steelhead hatcheries exist to make up for production of natural populations lost due to damage to their habitat and are providing fish that are essential to both Indian and non-Indian fishers.

The Puyallup Tribe operates a hatchery and releases hatchery steelhead in the upper White River, however, neither the tribe nor the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission were named in the federal court complaint.

Frank criticized the lawsuit by the Wild Fish Conservancy for forcing the state to choose not to release Chambers Creek early returning winter steelhead and for the suffering that will cause all fishers and their families in both the short and long term.

"Instead of addressing the real problem of steelhead habitat loss and damage, the lawsuit will once again force fishermen to unfairly pay the price for habitat destruction that hatcheries were supposed to make up for and that's not right," said Frank.

"Hatchery steelhead and salmon are essential to fulfilling the promises of tribal treaties with the United States," said Frank. "Those rights depend on fish being available for harvest."

LINKS TO MORE ON THE ISSUE

Here are some links to Web sites with more information and the lawsuit,

About the Wild Fish Conservancy: http://wildfishconservancy.org

WFC press release announcing suit: http://wildfishconservancy.org/about/press-room/press-releases/washington2019s-steelhead-hatchery-programs-violating-esa

Draft Hatchery Genetics Management Plan for Kendall Creek Hatchery "Winter" steelhead: http://wdfw.wa.gov/hatcheries/hgmp/pdf/2002-2005/puget_sound/steelhead/kendall_creek_steelhead3.pdf

Washington's steelhead management plan: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/steelhead/

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

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