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February 12, 2010

Nooksack River to close to fishing

Action: Close the Nooksack River and all forks to fishing.

Effective closure dates: Feb 18 through June 4, 2010.

Species affected: All game fish species.

Locations: Nooksack River from the mouth to the confluence of the North and South Forks.

North Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Nooksack Falls.

South Fork Nooksack from the mouth to Skookum Creek.

Middle Fork Nooksack from the mouth to headwaters.

Reasons for action: The closure will reduce incidental hooking mortality on wild steelhead. The Nooksack River basin wild steelhead returns have been trending downward and is thought to be well below escapement goals.

Other information: These rivers will reopen to fishing on June 5, 2010, as will be listed in the 2010/2012 FISHING IN WASHINGTON sport fishing rules pamphlet.

Information Contact: Brett Barkdull, District 14 Fish Biologist, 360-466-4345 x 270, [email protected]
 

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You're not the only one. There were at least two drift boats and three bankies fishing yesterday.

I passed Dave Jones, WDFW Enforcement, on 542. I'm sure the folks out there fishing were going to get an ear full, knowing Dave.

We ran into another couple at the North Fork Brewery last night who was headed out to fish today....

Crap! I saw the Feb. 2nd announcement that it was reopened, but not the Feb. 12th announcement. Thanks.
 

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Provided that the illegal anglers are practicing C&R on the wild fish, I don't much care if they fish. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that they won't hurt a single fish. Now if they bonk the odd hatchery fish they are probably helping.

It seems to me that there is a higher probability of a wild fish being wasted by getting it on with a hatchery fish then there is anyone killing a wild fish with C&R. Our beloved sledders do catch hatchery fish right up to the normal Feb. 28 closure. I've caught a brat as late as the 26th or 27th. I am quite sure that all the wild fish I've landed on the Nookie have survived their dance with me. Even the net scarred fish I caught 3 seasons ago swam off with strength to spare. The closure has nothing to do with conservation. It has to do with justification, and WDFW is not willing to try and justify our season. To do so would really make them have to justify that hatchery. That's my couple of pennies.

Lester,
cds
 

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It's consistent with all other river closures and measures. Everyone complains about the Department/Commission not accurately counting or protecting wild fish, then when rivers are closed to protect them we all bitch.

The amount of late hatchery fish is probably negligible and the possibility of them mingling with wild fish is small as well. The greater concern is the mortaility the wild fish are experiencing in the river, tribs and in the ocean. The Skagit has had huge declines in wild fish, yet we had over 1.2million pinks return. So in that instance, the river appears to be good in habit, nutries, etc but the unexplained decline in wild steelhead returns is alarming. Again, huge returns of hatchery fish and the Department/Commission might the right call in closing the river early to protect those runs despite how bad it sucks not being able to fish.
 

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The Skagit has had huge declines in wild fish, yet we had over 1.2million pinks return. So in that instance, the river appears to be good in habit, nutries, etc but the unexplained decline in wild steelhead returns is alarming.
Comparing steelhead and pinks is in essence comparing apples and oranges. Both fruit grow on trees as both fish use a river to spawn; after that they have almost nothing in common
 

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Leopardbow,

Let's say, for instance that the run size on our lovely river is 2000 fish. Due to the fishing expertise of the average 'hampster (myself excluded) every wild fish is caught and released. Now we know from the Vedder study to expect about a 2% mortality on the C&R fish (there are other studies that would put it lower yet). This means that C&R will kill 40 fish. Mind you, this is with every wild fish in the river being caught.

Now if we do in fact have a wild run size of 2000 what is the chance that there are 40 left over hatchery fish, that could have been caught by our startlingly efficient 'hampster anglers? I would guess it's pretty high. Don't get me wrong, I understand the reason for the closure. I just don't believe that it's actually conservation.

If they were to have left the river open until Feb. 28. I honestly believe that more hatchery fish would have been killed then wild fish. In this scenario, killing hatchery fish is the only justification for leaving it open. In order to use this justification, WDFW would have to admit that there is an issue, if even a small one, with hatchery fish eliminating the reproductive success of wild fish (wild X hatchery=0). Then they'd have to justify the hatchery. There is no good justification for that hatchery at this point.

If we went down the the road of justifying puget sound winter steelhead hatcheries, WDFW would have a hard time justifying any of them save for possibly the one on the Sky.

You are correct in that near shore and marine survival seems to be the issue with PS steelhead. How are hatcheries helping in this regard? How is C&R hurting? I'll answer this one. The hatchery fish have an "unknown" impact on marine survival. C&R has no impact.


All Sox have reported,
cds
 

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Comparing steelhead and pinks is in essence comparing apples and oranges. Both fruit grow on trees as both fish use a river to spawn; after that they have almost nothing in common
I would agree it is apples and oranges as is comparing the Skagit to the Nooksack, but what the enormous returns of Pinks do indicate is that you have what appears to be a healthy river system. Unlike the Skagit, the Nooksack is managed as a secondary or auxillary river system, which means it is considered to be unable to support wild salmon and steelhead. So at present, until things improve, it is managed for hatchery stock.
 

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Leopardbow,

Let's say, for instance that the run size on our lovely river is 2000 fish. Due to the fishing expertise of the average 'hampster (myself excluded) every wild fish is caught and released. Now we know from the Vedder study to expect about a 2% mortality on the C&R fish (there are other studies that would put it lower yet). This means that C&R will kill 40 fish. Mind you, this is with every wild fish in the river being caught.

Now if we do in fact have a wild run size of 2000 what is the chance that there are 40 left over hatchery fish, that could have been caught by our startlingly efficient 'hampster anglers? I would guess it's pretty high. Don't get me wrong, I understand the reason for the closure. I just don't believe that it's actually conservation.

If they were to have left the river open until Feb. 28. I honestly believe that more hatchery fish would have been killed then wild fish. In this scenario, killing hatchery fish is the only justification for leaving it open. In order to use this justification, WDFW would have to admit that there is an issue, if even a small one, with hatchery fish eliminating the reproductive success of wild fish (wild X hatchery=0). Then they'd have to justify the hatchery. There is no good justification for that hatchery at this point.

If we went down the the road of justifying puget sound winter steelhead hatcheries, WDFW would have a hard time justifying any of them save for possibly the one on the Sky.

You are correct in that near shore and marine survival seems to be the issue with PS steelhead. How are hatcheries helping in this regard? How is C&R hurting? I'll answer this one. The hatchery fish have an "unknown" impact on marine survival. C&R has no impact.

All Sox have reported,
cds
I would agree there is unknown or undocumented impacts of hatchery fish on wild fish and the ultimate goal is to remove all hatchery fish from the systems so that they do not impeed with the spawning of wild fish. As I mentioned to Kerry, at present the Nooksack is managed as a secondary or auxillary river system, meaning that the system can not or at present does not sustain wild populations of wild salmon and steelhead.

The closure of the river is to protect the very small runs of wild steelhead. While we all want to have the right to fish, thie early closure was done to protect those wild runs. I would think of everyone you would be the biggest supporter of that cause. The C&R impact as many say is anywhere from 2% up to 6% or more, the Commission and the co-managers believe that this is an impact and an impact that can be managed. It isn't always fair, but there are groups that fight for those fishing rights, conservation, etc. I think we can all agree thatt there are many factors, some of which we can't at present control that aren't helping on the Nooksack. Until those change, we have to do our part.

You aren't a fan of the hatchery, I think this is well known and during the last two weeks of the closure, while there are early wild fish coming up most likely most catch would have been of straggler hatchery fish. I strongly believe if the hatchery is closed, which may be the case if they continue falling short of escapment, that it will close. With that closure, we could very well not see fishing opportunities past November when all the hatchery chum and coho finish there runs.

Until the river system improves, we see increases in wild runs of Chinook (North and South), more wild Coho returning and steelhead, and without the push of changing the management classification of the river, the February 15th closure will seem like a gift.
 

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I can't argue any statistics. I'm not sure how many wild fish are killed on accident by anglers, but I did see two dead wild steelhead in the shallows/on the bank this year. I also had a conversation with an angler whose son had caught his first steelhead, and told me that it was, "A five to seven pound native that took him over fifteen minutes to land." Do I think that this fish made it (not sure)? I hope so, but that long of a fight seems excessive for a smaller steelhead.

I have to take a hunters safety course if I ever want to hunt, maybe individuals should have to attend a basic angling and ethics class to be able to fish the rivers where Wild Steelhead may be present. (Just an idea)

I will take my lumps along with every one else on this closure. I want to see the wild fish protected, but I want to see them protected from more than just me, and I don't see the state making any efforts to do anything else.

The only group I do see making active efforts on my home river is Nooksack Salmon Enhancement and a few dedicated individuals.
 

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I would agree it is apples and oranges as is comparing the Skagit to the Nooksack, but what the enormous returns of Pinks do indicate is that you have what appears to be a healthy river system. Unlike the Skagit, the Nooksack is managed as a secondary or auxillary river system, which means it is considered to be unable to support wild salmon and steelhead. So at present, until things improve, it is managed for hatchery stock.
The large number of pinks returning might be an indication that the river provides a lot of good spawning habitat for pink salmon but does not indicate a healthy system. Pink parr leave the river system almost as soon as they hatch thus not relying on the system for sustenance. Steelhead and Chinook parr both spend considerable time in the river after they hatch. 2 to 3 years are spent using the river and estuary as a nursery, depending on the system for food and shelter. It is interesting that both Chinook and steelhead are in decline while other species that don't depend on the river as much seem to be stable. This could very well indicate that something is wrong with the river system.
 

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There would at least be some intellectual honesty in closing sportfishing for steelhead and closing the failed hatchery. I could deal with it. At present the only user group impacted by low returns are those with the least impact (C&R anglers). Oddly that is the same user group who most depends on a healthy wild run.

As far as the small amount of wild steelhead or managing it as an "auxillary system", there is as much information to prove that the steelhead run is fairly robust as there is to say that it is small. We've had exactly one succesful steelhead count in 15 years. For a variety of reasons WDFW refuses to try a new approach to getting a spawning survey done. The minimum escapement number that would be used to calculate a viable run has not been updated in 25 years or so. Anectodally, I can tell you that the population on the Nookie produces more fish for me in less time than the Skagit system. I know that I am not alone either.

WDFW, by their actions, has shown that they care very little for the river. They deserve to take their lumps for this. The native fishermen deserve to take their lumps, as do the loggers, and farmers. In the end, only C&R anglers do.

Given that I'm home sick today, I'll spend my time formulating another letter to the WDFW. Thanks for having a thoughtful and respectful discussion on the topic.

Go Red Sox,
cds
 

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Charles -
I think it is important tokeep in mind that the spawn timing of the early hatchery fish has and is changing. Just becasue there were reasonable numbers of hatchery fish in late February a couple years ago doesn't mean that there are now. My experience on the Nooksack goes back to the days of the first steelhead hatchery retruns (the winter of 1973/74). During the mid-1970s saw unspawned hatchery fish (those first few years all the Nookack hatchery fish were marked) through the last day of the season (end of March). During the late 1970s/early 1980s approx. 15% fo the hatchery fish caught on the Skagit was in March. However WDFW folks recognized the problem of hatchery/wild intereactions and worked to eliminate those late spawners. By the late 1990s or so the spawning of the hatchery fish was done before the end of February. In the last few years the State has chopped off the spawning of hatchery brood stock before the end of January. As a result the chances of finding unspawned Chamber's Creek hatchery fish on the Nooksack or other Puget Sound rivers is greatly reduced from what was common even a few years ago.

This of course reduces the potential of genetic interactions between hatchery and wild fish. It also means that seasons that are shaped to target hatchery steelhead is considerably shorter.

Leopardbow -
Yes some of the Nooksack stocks are managed as secondary stocks however I think you will find that even within the Nooksack stocks such as steelhead. sea-run cutthroat, bull trout, pinks, etc are not included in that secondary management.

To expand a bit on Kerry's point. He is right on the money with his comments about the time pinks and steelhead spend in the rivers and the implication of steelhead's need for more complex habitats. All the pinks need to producefry/ smolts is large amounts of good and stable spawning gravels. With steelhead and their extend freshwater rearing history they need much more. The young fry have specific summer and winter habitat requirements and the older juveniles (parr/pre-smolts) have another set of summer and winter habitat needes. If just one of those pieces are missing steelhead smolt producion will fall. Further once pinks and steelhead reach the salt they have different requirements so it should be expected to see different survivalsa between the two. In fact the conditions under which steelhead do poorly are often favorable for pinks.

I offer the all the above only to provide some context upon which we can discuss/debate issues surrounding these closures.

Tight lines
Curt
 

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Curt,

Fair points. I was aware that hatchery spawning ended on after Jan. That's when they open the N.Fork to fishing again. I still think that we'll see hatchery fish in the mix later in the year. There are 3 reasons for this. First, their will be natural variation in spawning times in the hatchery fish. Second, Vedder river hatchery fish. Third, the potential exists that there are early spawning fish on the Nookie, especially on the main stem. Since WDFW does not seem to look for them we don't actually know.

I find it interesting that the state takes an effort to reduce the interactions hatchery and wild steelhead on the gravel but turns a blind eye to interactions in the salt where we see the mortality issues crop up.

Go Sox,
cds
 
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