Setbacks mount for hatchery steelhead programs

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday, May 28, that it will not release as planned early returning hatchery steelhead stock smolts into three Northwest Washington river systems, the Nooksack, Stillagaumish and Dungeness.

WDFW’s decision came on the heels of notification by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that it would not be issuing an expected formal finding of no adverse impact regarding the hatchery programs.

Following receipt of more than 2,000 comments on its environmental assessment of the three tribal-state hatchery genetics management plans NMFS officials abruptly decided to do a more lengthy environmental impact study of the Puget Sound hatchery steelhead supplementation.

Under the endangered species act the federal agency is required to ensure that such hatchery programs among many other things will not impact recovery of listed Puget Sound wild chinook, steelhead and bull trout.

“We support the conservation and recovery of wild salmon and steelhead, but we are disappointed that NMFS has been unable to complete the review of these programs,” said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. “The decision by NMFS to conduct a full and potentially lengthy EIS process will delay approval of these hatchery programs and have serious impacts on recreational fishing on several Puget Sound rivers.”

The immediate local impact of this decision is that 150,000 of the overall 400,000 now surplus Puget Sound juvenile winter steelhead, which are in fact a strain of rainbow trout, will not be released into the Nooksack.

This is the second straight year hatchery steelhead releases have been dropped and that will put in peril resumption of the program in the future should NMFS eventually approve cultured-origin steelhead production in Northwest Washington rivers .

The federal agency’s current requirement is that all anadromous hatchery fish not authorized for release must be killed, however Washington officials have promised they will find homes for the wayward young steelhead in lake waters from which they cannot migrate.

Last year a portion of the held back steelhead were put into Cranberry Lake on Whidbey Island bolstering the trout fishery. A stocking schedule delineating the destinations of these fish will be posted soon on the department’s website: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports_plants.html.


Tickets for the 2015 Bellingham Puget Sound Anglers Salmon Derby, set for Friday-Sunday, July 10-12, go on sale, Monday, June 1.

Only 500 of the $50 adult division chits will be sold, but any number of the fee-free entries in the kid’s division of this family-oriented fishing contest will be issued.

With their no-charge admissions, youngsters will compete their own special prizes including a Sony Playstation, an iPod and a bike. However, they may fish for cash with a parent’s permission as long as they have purchased for them a $50 adult ticket with which to enter their catches for the adult division money prizes.

The 2015 adult division derby purse again features a top prize of $5,000 for the heftiest chinook landed by a contest participant. Second- and third-place kings earn $2,500 and $1,000, respectively.

Two $500 hidden weight prizes are up for grabs again. A third $500 check will go to the Bellingham Puget Sound Angler member who enters the largest fish.

There are several ways to acquire both adult and kids tickets.

The first is by mail with an order form downloaded from the Bellingham PSA Web site at bellinghampsa.com/derby/tickets.htm.

The second is over the counter at any of these sponsoring businesses including:

• LFS Marine & Outdoor on Coho Way off Roeder Avenue at Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham

• Yeager’s Sporting Goods on Northwest Avenue in Bellingham

• Holiday Sports Center off Highway 20 and Interstate 5 in Burlington

• Dave’s Sports Shop at the Fairway Shopping Center in Lynden.

The third way is to contact one of Bellingham PSA’s derby coordinators, Roy Lentz at 360-734-2172.

With the Bellingham PSA events long affiliation with the Northwest Marine Trade Associations Northwest Salmon Derby Series, an added benefit coming from buying into this local contest is that all adult ticket purchasers will again be entered in the NMTA’s 2015 Derby Series September grand prize boat drawing.

For a complete set of this year’s Bellingham PSA derby rules as well as tide tables for the three-day event and suggested San Juan Islands locales good for a potential rendezvous with a derby-winning salmon, check out Bellingham PSA’s homepage at bellinghampsa.com/index.htm.

There will be more about the derby, how to fish it and how to follow the action later in June.


Early returning marked (adipose fin clipped) chinook salmon will be fair-game on Monday, June 1 in the upper Skagit River from the State Route 530 bridge at Rockport upstream to the mouth of the Cascade River.

Besides those mainstem waters, Skagit spring seekers will have about .7 mile of the smaller, occasionally wadeable Cascade River from its mouth upstream to the Rockport-Cascade Road bridge to plumb for clipped kings.

Of the expected 4,731 combined wild- and hatchery- origin Skagit springs the state/tribal 2015 pre-season forecast says will be coming back to these up-river digs, 2,787 should be of hatchery descent. These cultured-origin salmon are produced at Marblemount Hatchery, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife facility.

Another of the inaugural Puget Sound river salmon fisheries scheduled to start the first of June has been postponed indefinitely.

It is the personal use chinook fishery listed in the rule book for the lower Skykomish River from its confluence with the Snoqualmie River upstream to the mouth of the Wallace River.

The expected size of this year’s Skykomish summer/fall chinook return is 7,394 fish of which 3,235 are expected to be of cultured origin. These marked fish are homing on WDFW’s Wallace River Hatchery near Startup.

A Thursday, May 7, 2015 emergency order posted on the fish and wildlife department’s e-rules Web portal https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/erule.jsp?id=1577 announced the cancellation of this pending opener. There’s a provision that would allow an opening sometime in the planned 60-day period of this fishery if enough kings return to the hatchery.

Other stream fisheries begin soon.


Trout and other gamefish

residing in selected mainstem rivers and certain tributaries become fairgame around the state the Saturday, June 6. These flowing waters will join the upper basin set of creeks and their beaver ponds that opened Saturday, May 25. Hook and line fishers are limited to just trout, char (when legal) and any other fish species classified as gamefish (bass and sunfish).


Sockeye salmon

will become fair game in the lower Skagit River (SR 536 bridge up to Gilligan Creek) beginning Tuesday, June 16. The plan is for personal use fishers to catch up to 20 percent of their overall non-treaty allocation at which time this fishery will close. If the Baker red run comes in as forecast Baker Lake will open later.


Odd-year pink salmon

a.k.a. humpies in the lower Nooksack mainstem will be available to anglers starting July 15. Open waters are likely to be from the Lummi Nation boundary upstream to the SR 544 bridge at Everson.


The non-treaty summer personal use crab season officially kicks off in Washington’s inland waters the first of June when Marine Area 13 the South Sound opens.

Tuesday, July 2, nine more inland marine management zones open for pot soaking and other methods of Dungeness gathering.

It won’t be until Thursday, July 16, that a portion of our local waters Marine Area 7 South (San Juans and greater Bellingham Bay open.

Last to become available to crabbers is Marine Area 7 North, the greater Strait of Georgia in U.S. waters, on Thursday, Aug. 13.

All crabbers in addition to having a basic Washington license that allows the taking of crab, must have a Puget Sound Crab Endorsement and for this early fishery a summer crab catch record card on which to document their kept Dungeness.

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/.