Designation of at least three rivers in the greater Puget Sound basin as wild steelhead gene banks, which would be kept free of future hatchery fish impacts, will be discussed at regional meetings later this month.
One of many policy guidelines mandated by the state fish and wildlife department’s Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, wild steelhead gene banks are intended to a significant aid in the recovery and sustaining of federally protected native winter and summer steelhead populations.
The overarching management paradigm in these waters would be to protect their wild populations from hybridization or competition by not releasing any cultured- or hatchery-origin fish into them.
A stakeholder group, known as the Puget Sound Hatchery Action Advisory Committee, in 2013 recommended dividing Northwest Washington streams into three major sub-basins (North Cascades, Central/South Puget Sound and Hood Canal/Strait of Juan de Fuca) and setting aside one or more watersheds in each as designated preserves for one or both anadromous wild steelhead forms, the so-called summer-returning and the winter-running fish.
In the North Cascades sub-basin zone (Whatcom to King counties), the committee nominated the South Fork Nooksack (summer-run stock), Samish (winter-run stock), Sauk (both forms), Skagit (both forms), Pilchuck (Snohomish) (winter-run stock), North Fork Skykomish (summer-run stock) and Tolt (summer-run stock) rivers.
Stock extinction risk, robustness of current populations and history of genetic influence of hatchery fish as well as physical characteristics of watersheds on each zone were evaluated to determine likelihood for successful preservation of the gene bank stocks.
In March 2014 the Wind, East Fork Lewis and North Fork Toutle/Green rivers in the lower Columbia River basin were the first streams in the state to be designated wild steelhead gene banks as called for in the state management plan.
The wild steelhead gene bank program carries with it the potential for future recreational fisheries to take place if stock abundance goals are attained and maintained. In Puget Sound these fisheries would require an annual federal permit.
Ultimate implementation of the state’s wild gene bank initiative will require consent of Puget Sound treaty tribes who have federally protected fishing rights on these streams for both hatchery and wild stocks.
Of the three public meetings, the closest to Bellingham is the Monday evening, July 27 gathering (6-9 p.m.) at the Skagit Public Utility District offices on Freeway Drive (College Way exit) in Mount Vernon.
For additional information about the gene bank program and process, log on to wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/steelhead/gene_bank/. There is a link there to the statewide steelhead management plan and more summary and scientific information on this program.
Comments focused on Puget Sound wild steelhead gene bank candidate streams also can be made via this Web page through Thursday, Aug. 13.
HEAT, DROUGHT PROMPT CLOSURES
As water temperatures continue to rise while flows drop, a slew of emergency fishing restrictions or outright closures have been ordered by state managers on at least 25 river systems across the state.
The sport fishing regulations changes, intended to reduce impact on drought-stressed fish populations, were invoked Saturday, July 18 and will remain in effect until further notice.
Species covered by these rule changes in various waters range from salmon to trout and other gamefish.
Following discovery of a number of dead adult breeding-sized specimens, a separate order barring all fishing (including catch and release) directed on sturgeon now covers the entire Columbia River system in Washington above Bonneville Dam.
The temporary or emergency regulations fall into two categories: full shutdown orders of all recreational fishing and a so-called ‘hoot-owl’ rule that cuts back legal fishing hours to just 14 each day (between midnight and 2 p.m.).
The hoot-owl rule allows angling until the heat of the day renders fish-bearing waters tepid.
Locally, the entire South Fork of the Nooksack is now fully closed. This includes its lower reach from the mouth up to Skookum Creek and the upper basin from Wanlick Creek upstream to the headwaters including all tributaries.
The fishery for gamefish species in the upper half of the Samish River system is now on the hoot-owl restriction. Waters covered by this new order are the mainstem from Interstate 5 to its headwaters and all of Friday Creek.
Elsewhere in Northwest Washington (Region 4), the entire Stillagaumish River system has been closed to recreational fishing as have Buck, Downey and Sulphur creeks in the Suiattle River basin. Joining those in closed-to-fishing status are the Wallace River, the Skykomish River (except the Reiter Ponds reach) and the Raging River.
Going on the hoot-owl schedule are the North (above Sunset Falls) and South Forks of the Skykomish rivers and the Sauk River mainstem above the Suiattle River and its forks, the North up to the falls and the South to its origins.
Other stream systems (by WDFW region) included in these drought-wrought fishery management changes include:
Region 1: portions of Touchet, Tucannon, Walla Walla, Spokane and Colville and Kettle rivers as well as Asotin and Sullivan creek basins.
Region 2: Wenatchee, Icicle, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers together with Lake Wenatchee.
Region 3: portions of the Teanaway, Naches and Little Naches rivers along with Ahtanum and Rattlesnake creeks.
Region 5: portions of the East Fork of the Lewis and Washougal rivers.
Detailed descriptions (starting and ending points) of affected waters can be found in individual rule changes orders that are now posted on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s sport fishing regulations Web portal at fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/rules_current_order_by_date.j.
WDFW Fish Program Managers Craig Burley said that the department continues to monitor in-stream conditions around the state and could make additional fishing regulation changes if water temperatures rise and volumes dissipate in other creeks and rivers.
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.
This week’s Skagit hatchery and flow info
Marblemount Hatchery (Skagit spring chinook): 943 adults. Same week total in 2014 – 913 spring chinook.
Baker Lake Hatchery (Baker sockeye): 19,299 sockeye trapped & transferred (15,148 to Baker Lake, 3,753 to hatchery). Same week total in 2014 – 3,977 adult sockeye to hatchery.
Recent: 3,300-3,450 c.f.s. range about 3,830-3,680 c.f.s under median daily flow for Saturday, July 18. Flow volume has been flat steady flat in the previous eight days.
Forecast: No prediction for this up-river gauge, but the Skagit elsewhere is forecast to raise slightly through Tuesday, July 21.