OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a new management policy designed to restore depleted runs of wild, natural-origin chinook salmon in Willapa Bay during a public meeting June 12-13 in Olympia.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the Governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also approved several land transactions and a proposal to reopen fisheries for some flatfish in portions of two bays in Hood Canal.
Developed over the past nine months with extensive public involvement, the new salmon-management policy includes three basic strategies for rebuilding natural-origin chinook stocks in Willapa Bay:
- Fisheries: Mortality rates for wild chinook intercepted by sport and commercial fisheries returning to the Willapa and Naselle rivers will be limited to 20 percent a year through 2018, declining to 14 percent thereafter. If fisheries exceed projected levels in any year, WDFW has the authority to reduce the next year’s limit by a corresponding amount.
- Hatcheries: WDFW will reduce hatchery production of chinook salmon at three hatcheries in the Willapa Bay watershed by 36 percent to curtail interference with natural-origin fish on the spawning grounds.
- Fishing gear: The commission directed WDFW to pursue options for introducing new types of commercial fishing gear that improve survival rates for natural-origin salmon and steelhead released in accordance with state fishing rules.
The new policy takes effect immediately, replacing a one-year interim policy approved by the commission in April.
“This policy clearly establishes rebuilding natural-origin chinook runs as our top priority for salmon management in Willapa Bay,” said Brad Smith, who chairs the nine-member commission. “It is consistent with similar actions this commission has taken in recent years to restore wild salmon and steelhead runs in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Grays Harbor.”
The new management policy also establishes new guidelines for coho and chum salmon, but does not call for significant changes in fisheries or hatchery programs for those species.
Jim Scott, director of WDFW’s Fish Program, said surveys conducted by WDFW estimated last year’s return at approximately 975 fish to the Naselle River, 780 to the Willapa River, and 100 to the North/Smith rivers – all well below the natural annual spawning capacity of those rivers.
“The new policy adopted by the commission will help to ensure that future returns of natural-origin chinook salmon meet annual spawning goals for Willapa Bay tributaries,” Scott said.
The final Willapa Bay Salmon Management Policy will be posted on WDFW’s website within a few days at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/willapa_bay_salmon/ .
In a separate action, the commission approved a proposal by WDFW to reopen recreational fishing for flounder, sole and other flatfish – except halibut – in some areas of Quilcene Bay and Dabob Bay in Hood Canal.
Due to low-dissolved oxygen conditions, all areas of Hood Canal have been closed to fishing for flatfish since August 2004, but fishery managers believe they can now allow recreational fishing for some flatfish in shallow areas of the two bays and still provide adequate protection for those stocks.
WDFW expects to issue a new rule by early July authorizing fishing for most types of flatfish in waters of Quilcene and Dabob bays shallower than 120 feet.
In addition, the commission approved several land transactions proposed by WDFW, including one to sell four properties in Skagit and Whatcom counties at auction this fall. The four properties, ranging in size from 7 to 13.7 acres and zoned for agricultural use, were purchased in 1944, but do not provide suitable habitat for fish and wildlife.
Other transactions approved by the commission include:
- Acquisition of 15.4 acres in Kittitas County adjacent to Interstate 90 to improve elk fencing.
- The purchase of 3.1 acres in Snohomish County to meet mitigation requirements for the construction of a King County bridge approach on WDFW owned land. This property will provide additional public access to the Wallace River.
- A 1.2-acre conservation easement to meet mitigation requirements for restoring the Point No Point boat launch in Kitsap County.
- An easement for a land exchange that will allow Clark Public Utilities to construct underground water pipelines under WDFW’s Two Forks property to provide potable water to Ridgefield, Battle Ground, and other communities.