With state hatchery steelhead egg-take needs nearly met, the Dec. 16 sport fishing closure order protecting adult broodstock has been rescinded by fish and wildlife department allowing the Nooksack River and Whatcom Creek to reopen to fishing New Year's Day under the permanent sport-fishing regulations.
State fish hatchery program officials reported that as of Monday, Dec. 29 some 206 marked adult steelhead (including 73 females) had arrived at the Kendall Creek facility on the North Fork of the Nooksack. The 2014-15 Nooksack hatchery steelhead spawner recruitment target is 143 adults of which up to 90 need to be female.
The spawning goal to continue the Nooksack River steelhead program this fall is 200,000 eggs. Under the department's tentative plan, these eggs will be hatched and the young fish raised to smolt size in 12-13 months for release in May 2015.
However, for that and any future releases to actually happen, NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency overseeing the recovery of threatened and endangered wild chinook, steelhead and bull trout stocks, must issue a permit authorizing the state to produce and release salmon and steelhead from its Puget Sound hatcheries.
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Such federal permits currently authorize the state to do this in the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. Those releases plus real-time monitoring allow selective recreation fisheries for steelhead and chinook to occur in the two ESA wild fish recovery zones.
The main Nooksack (from Lummi Nation boundary upstream), lower South Fork (up to Skookum Creek), lower Middle Fork (up to City of Bellingham diversion) and North Fork (from Maple Creek up to Nooksack Falls) will be open under permanent regulations until Saturday, Jan. 31.
The North Fork Nooksack from its confluence with the South Fork upstream to Maple Creek will be open to steelheading through Sunday, Feb. 15.
Whatcom Creek, from the footbridge below Dupont Street upstream to the Woburn Street bridge, will be open from New Year's Day through Saturday, Feb. 28.
The in-river treaty fishery (Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe) is expected to run five days a week through Thursday, Jan. 15.