Last week the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Puget Sound Treaty Tribes (Tribes) jointly submitted a proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan
(plan) to the federal government. The ten-year fishery plan was intended to provide the state greater certainty for its fisheries after years of acrimony and inequity in the annual salmon season-setting negotiations, but initial reviews indicate that it may result in “severe” closures to Puget Sound recreational fisheries.
You can view the plan here: http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01947/
No one questions the need to protect wild Puget Sound Chinook populations, which continue to decline since they were listed as ESA Threatened in 1999. However, it is not clear how this plan will benefit wild Chinook recovery and there are serious concerns about provisions that appear to unnecessarily constrain mark-selective recreational fisheries.
Since the plan was developed behind closed doors as part of federal court mediation, the public has had no opportunity to provide comment or understand the impacts of the plan. You can share your concerns with WDFW by emailing Director Jim Unsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org
and the Fish and Wildlife Commission at email@example.com
In addition to respectfully sharing how conservation and recreation salmon fisheries are important to you and your family, below are a few points for consideration:
Need for Public Meetings and Transparency
WDFW has provided very little detail about the impacts of the plan on recreational fisheries and how it will benefit the conservation of listed Chinook. Third-party reviews of the plan suggest there could be severe reductions to recreational fisheries, including the mark-selective fisheries that seek to conserve wild salmon while harvesting hatchery fish throughout the sound. One analysis found that the plan’s requirements for protecting Stillaguamish Chinook would result in an additional 9 native spawners at the cost of 18,000 hatchery fish harvested in Puget Sound mark-selective recreational fisheries. WDFW must be more transparent about the plan and its likely impacts to recreational fisheries, including organizing public meetings throughout the Puget Sound region to give the public an opportunity to comment.
With wild Chinook populations continuing to decline, full implementation of mark-selective fisheries – both tribal and non-tribal – is necessary to target returning hatchery fish and increase wild Chinook escapement. Unfortunately, the plan fails to recognize the opportunity to increase the productivity of the current habitat and allow us to increase hatchery production through selective harvest. Instead, the plan’s arbitrary constraints on the number of Stillaguamish River marked hatchery Chinook that can be harvested threatens to erode the extensive investments made in mark-selective fishing, which is largely responsible for maintaining what little fishing opportunity is left in Puget Sound.
In recent years, the annual salmon season-setting process - known as North of Falcon - has resulted in inequitable sharing of the harvest and impacts between state fisheries and Tribal fisheries. Unfortunately, a handful of Tribes have used a broken system to arbitrarily shut down recreational fisheries and increase their harvest share in the process. Since any new harvest management plan is likely to have lower allowable harvests due to the declining health of Puget Sound Chinook, it is critical that the state and federal governments ensure there is an equitable sharing of the available impacts.
The U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty is in the final stages of renegotiation. Currently, Alaska and Canada can overharvest the same stocks that we are struggling to conserve with no payback penalty. Moreover, if they exceed their allowable impacts in-season, our fisheries must make up the difference – a potentially devastating blow to Puget Sound fisheries struggling with even lower allowable harvest rates. WDFW must work with U.S. treaty negotiators to ensure that northern fisheries also live within reduced impacts and implement electronic monitoring to alleviate the arbitrary restrictions on Stillaguamish hatchery Chinook, which threaten severe impacts on Puget Sound mark-selective recreational fisheries.
This is just the first step in what will be a detailed process for considering this Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan. Thank you for taking the first step by emailing WDFW and be prepared for more updates on our advocacy efforts on behalf of recreational fisheries and the conservation of Puget Sound Chinook.