The reason for poor resident coho fishing this winter

Discussion in 'Saltwater' started by Roger Stephens, Mar 15, 2014.

  1. Roger Stephens

    Roger Stephens Active Member

    These "critters" sure like resident coho as a snack to fill their bellies. There must have been several hundred seals "hauled out" alone this section of beach. That is quite a guantlet for resident coho to get by:). Maybe that is why the resident coho fishing was so poor in Marine Area 13;).


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  2. rotato

    rotato Active Member

    What a stack
    Was that south of Johnson point?
  3. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

    Roger -
    With the limit numbers of coho do you think that the seals will switch to cutthroat? If so how long until that population crashes?

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  4. Pat Lat

    Pat Lat Mad Flyentist

    Its the same issue that you hear about when they release steelhead smolts in a river. A massive ammount of rezzies get released in a concentrated area and theres a feeding frenzy between the predators. I'm sure seals and sealions are smart enough to remember these patterns.
    I wonder if theres a way the can spread out the releases a bit, maybe start releasing a few thousand at a time near creek mouths that could use a few returning coho. At least they'd have somewhere to aim for when they mature. I caught a mature, minter creek-clipped coho staging at a creek in MA11, I think it was lost:confused:.
    At least a staggered release wouldn't be a giant buffet for the pinnipeds.
  5. Pat Lat

    Pat Lat Mad Flyentist

    I sure hope not. I would miss all of Rogers great MA13 reports and their catchy titles.
    But it sounds like what might happen if the population is only that large due to the artificial food source we provide.
    Does anyone know if the seal population has always been sizable in the south sound or is there maybe a correlation between the rezzie releases and some sort of spike in seal population.
  6. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

    A little background on harbor seal numbers. Up to about 1960 bounties were paid on harbor seals. By the early 1970s (the marine mammal protection act happen in 1972) it was estimated that there 4,000 to 5,000 harbor seals in Washington state waters (of which 2,000 to 3,000 were in Puget Sound). The latest census I have seen is that the harbor seal population has increased to 32,000 statewide. I suppose we can assume that somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 of them can be found in Puget Sound and the straits.

    I raised the question about the cutthroat because as we know they seem to being doing OK so it seems unlike the seals would take the coho and not the cutthroat. If one is really interested in harbor seal prey species the following may be of interest -

    Bottom line during the winter the diet is mostly various bait fish species (mainly herring) and some other non-salmonids. During the summer and early fall salmon (mostly adults) become a significant part of their diet.

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  7. cabezon

    cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Two points. First, here may be a reason to release the smolts all at once and that is predator saturation. Even the most voracious harbor seal will become satiated (eventually) and do what Roger observed, sit out in the sun digesting. While those seals are digesting, the smolts have the chance to disperse. That makes it harder for the predators to then find them. This is the same reasoning for why bait fish school; yes, a few will be caught but the group can escape when the predators are full. And when the predators are full again, they need to find a high density of prey in a huge area. This is the same reasoning behind the concentrated hatches that we have all observed in freshwater. If WaDFW dribbled the smolts out, there would be greater overall loss in the long run, especially with a constant supply of naive smolts.

    Second, that is a huge concentration of harbor seals and one wonders what is attracting them. It could be for reproduction. I doubt that it is because of a surplus of resident coho. Those coho can wander anywhere to feed and so avoid predators when they are in such huge numbers. An alternative is that the harbor seals are attracted by some concentrated prey that has other imperitives to be in a concentrated space. I wonder if they are after breeding herring. Historically, there has been a major herring breeding area in Quartermaster Harbor off Vashon and there may be other minor sites in the South Sound too. Winter is their time to do their thing. Of course, if I were a resident coho, I would certainly find somewhere else to be. Even if the seals have herring on the mind, they might fancy a change of pace of young salmon.

  8. Pat Lat

    Pat Lat Mad Flyentist

    That all makes sense to me guys. Thanks for the info...again:)
    I do still feel as if there has to be a saavy group of seals that are keyed into the late release coho "hatch"
    And amongst that group of seals there's one seal saying to the other, every year, "you shoulda been here yeasterday, there were fish every where."
  9. Ed Call

    Ed Call Mumbling Moderator Staff Member

    Amazing discussion with far reaching fisheries implications. Thanks to all for the contributions and background information.
  10. Steve Knapp

    Steve Knapp Beach Bum

    I've thought quite a bit about seal predation on cutthroat. I think that although seals most definitely feed on cutthroat, I believe the cutthroats habits save them.

    When you see a pod of coho cruising a beach they stick close together and in deeper water, allowing the seals to feed on them at their leisure, and the fly fisherman to lose their minds trying to cast 110 feet to reach them. The cutthroat stay much closer to shore in shallower water and are much more likely to spread out. In early spring when the cutthroat are keyed in on salmon fry I have seen large pods of them work up and down a shoreline much like coho, but generally they are solitary, or with a couple of other fish.

    It's my opinion, or hope, that these habits are what keep the population of Puget Sound cutthroat healthy despite a growing seal population. Obviously these are just my observations.

    Sent from my SCH-I535 using Tapatalk
  11. Patrick Allen

    Patrick Allen Active Member

    I didn't know that Puget sound had that large a population of Hake. Per Salmo's link it looks like the seal population certainly has some correlation with the crash of Puget sound herring. Sounds to me like sea runs might just be an occasional snack and not on the preferred seal menu
  12. wadin' boot

    wadin' boot Donny, you're out of your element...

    It does seem harder for a seal to corral a solitary Cutt in shallow water than to torpedo from below on a ball of feeding resident coho. Mind you the seals will go estuarine and patrol shallow seams of murky water that would befit any predator, coho, cutt, sculpin, bull...
  13. Bob Triggs

    Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    I think that the river otters have an easier time of catching and feeding upon the sea run Cutthroat. I witness this often, especially with female otters that are nursing or feeding baby otters in a den. Sometimes they scamper right past us on their way to their fishing. We watch them dive into the water and slip beneath the surface, and within moments they are returning, with a trout gripped in their teeth, just like a good Labrador retriever with a duck in its mouth. The seals around here are often seen to be chasing schools of forage fish, herring, smelt and sandlance. No doubt they take Cutthroat too. But we have a lot of seals around here. And if they were focusing in on the Cutthroat I think that the Cutthroat trout would be gone in short order. We have some breeding populations of Shad here too, cousins to the herring. They are descendants of the Atlantic Shad that were planted in San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River near the turn of the century. Now there are Atlantic Shad spread all of the way up the Pacific Coast and across the Bering Sea and down the coast of Kamchatka Russia. So they must be figuring in to the diet of seals here too. Just as they do on the Atlantic coast.
  14. Bob Triggs

    Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    There is a disease that is affecting herring in Puget Sound. It reduces lifespan, fecundity, and ultimately the population. The U.S.G.S. Western Fisheries Research Station at Marrowstone Point is focusing on this issue, as they are with other pathogens and diseases of other species of forage fish.
  15. Roger Stephens

    Roger Stephens Active Member

    It is the shoreline of Eagle Is. between Mc Neil and Anderson Islands. Over the past + 20year this shoreline has always had several hundred seals hauled out everytime I have gone by it no matter what time year. Don't know why it is such a popular haul out location!

    Steve Knapp's response is "right on the money". I could not have said it any better!

    All the great locations that I fish for sea-run cutthroat only occasionally have had seals present. They are usually out in deeper water and appear to be just cruising by. Even if a seal is 100 to 200 feet away when I hook a sea-run cutthroat, they only occasionally are interested in the hooked fish. IMHO seal do not seem to be targeting sea-run cutthroat due to reasons stated by Steve Knapp and other.

    Now hooked resident coho are a different story. In the winter of 1996 there was a location that held large schools of resident coho for several months. After awhile a several seals got smart enough to grab most resident coho that I hooked. It got so bad that I could not fish the location because of the aggressive/bold seals. One seal learned to "sit" under the transom of my boat and waited for me to bring a hooked fish up the back of the boat. The first couple of times I nearly fell overboard when the water surface erupted by the "take" of the seal a couple of feet from the boat. Now that is some top water action or were they trying to give me heart failure. It seemed like they waited for me to show most days!

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  16. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member


    I agree thatsSeals (and sea lions) taking fish off anglers lines is becoming a huge problem through out Puget Sound. This is especially acute with Chinook and it has reached the point there are times and places that I just no longer fish; a high likely that any fish hooked with end up dinner for a seal. I have also lost fish in the lower ends of some of our rivers. One particular scary moment occurred on the Lower Skagit where as I lifted a3# bull trout's head out of the water to roll the barbless hook free an adult seal shot out from under the boat and took the fish from my hand. Its teeth were literally a whisker from my fingers.

    I also agree that Steve nailed the issue with the coho. I would add that the fact that cutthroat are typically found in smaller/less dense "pods" that coho also makes them a less frequent prey target. However back to the original question while the numbers of seals through the Sound could be a concern I doubt they are the major reason for the lack of resident coho in south Sound this year. From the reports I have seen here on WFF those fish have been largely MIA from last fall. In fact it has been my observation that "shaker" numbers of both small coho and Chinook though last summer, fall, and into this winter have been well below average in the waters I have fished in MA 9 and 10 as well. This kind of variable abundance (at least over the last couple decades) seems to be pretty normal. Have to wonder that when the small smolts hit the salt on those years they are not finding the food item densities needed to for them "to stay at home" so they continue on out to more productive waters. While those years of low "shaker" numbers often lead to fewer year-round resident numbers I have not notice significant declines in adult returns from those brood years.

    If folks want more background information on Puget Sound herring the following link might be interesting -

  17. CLO

    CLO Boats and cohos

    There were no seals 100 years ago, that's why the fishing was so good.
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  18. I'm curious about the historical abundance of pinnipeds prior to protection under the law. There is evidence of indigenous human populations harvesting pinnipeds and it seems clear that prior to the law, American humans were thinning the population as well. So I suppose my questions there a legitimate case for allowing the harvest of pinnipeds? Is there a market? Is there anything that can be done to increase "natural" predation by resident or transient orcas? As I mentioned, I know nothing of historical abundance so I don't know if we can accurately compare current population volumes with prior eras when thinning was "allowed" or harvest occurred as a necessity. It does seem that there are too many currently and ecology teaches us that predators are generally more scarce in "stable" ecosystems.

    I hope no one will misinterpret what I'm asking here or try point out minuscule flaws in my logic (which likely exist) and rather, help us to better understand the impact current abundance of pinnipeds is having on current Salmonid abundance.
  19. I should add that I know that the J,k, and L, pods of resident orcas are primarily fish eaters and probably only utilize pinnipeds opportunistically, so are unlikely to make any dent in current pinniped populations.
  20. Dipnet

    Dipnet aka Tim Hartman

    Bit of an over-simplification, don't ya think?
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