The end of Snoqualmie steelhead?

  • By Wayne Kruse, Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, September 3, 2008 9:45pm
  • Sports

Lose the Tokul Creek Hatchery and lose recreational steelhead fishing on the Snoqualmie River system. It could be as simple as that.

Or not, but it sure feels that way to this longtime observer of state fishery management and bureau-speak.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is soliciting public participation in two meetings this month to discuss “proposed operation changes at the Tokul Creek Hatchery.” After a long talk with the agency’s Region 4 (Mill Creek) fish program manager, Annette Hoffmann, I was left with no real reason to believe the proposal does not mean the end of sport steelheading on the Snoqualmie.

Under the proposed plan, still being discussed with the tribes, the department could reduce the hatchery’s steelhead production by 10 to 20 percent and shift the remaining production — 150,000 winter fish — to another state hatchery in the watershed; eliminate about 20,000 steelhead plants annually in the Tolt; and/or eliminate about 20,000 steelhead plants annually in the Raging.

The proposed changes, according to the state, are to meet requirements under the Endangered Species Act, and are consistent with the 2008 Statewide Steelhead Management Plan to support naturally spawning fish populations. The proposal is also consistent with the 2008 Statewide Steelhead Management Plan and recommendations from the Hatchery Scientific Review Group.

That’s some pretty heavy artillery. Is it reasonable to believe the “proposed operational Changes at the Tokul Creek Hatchery” are not already set in concrete?

I don’t know.

Even more disturbing is the agency’s statement that “these changes could allow for all or part of the Snoqualmie watershed to be designated a ‘wild steelhead management zone’ that would be managed exclusively for wild fish. The zone is (not “would be”) intended to help increase production of the river system’s wild steelhead populations by minimizing the number of competing hatchery fish on the spawning grounds.’”

If wild steelhead management on the Snoqualmie system is already a done deal — and that’s just a possibility at this point, granted — then any recreational fishing would be on “surplus” wild-stock fish, somewhere years down the line. If ever.

Hoffmann insisted the plan for the Snoqualmie is still fluid, still to be decided. She said there could still be fishing for hatchery steelhead on various parts of the system, while reserving other portions — maybe the Tolt and Raging tributaries — as a wild-fish gene bank.

But she also mentioned that one possible reason to keep the Tokul Creek facility operational, at least for a while, was “to collect returning brood stock in order to remove them from the system.”

So after all those dirty old hatchery steelhead have been removed from the system, would the hatchery be kept open? Closed? Switched to other functions?

Hoffmann said that was still to be decided.

The agency’s chief of salmon and steelhead management, Heather Bartlett in Olympia, said “We are improving hatchery operations statewide to help support naturally spawning fish populations. The proposed changes at Tokul Creek are part of that broad conservation effort aimed at restoring wild salmon and steelhead stocks while continuing to provide sustainable fishing opportunities on hatchery fish.”

No one can be against wild steelhead enhancement. That’s a given. But is Bartlett speaking straight when she says “continuing to provide sustainable fishing opportunities on hatchery fish”?

Or is the agency, again, consigning easy-to-manipulate recreational fishermen to the far end of the stick?

Close Tokul Creek and lose steelhead fishing on the Snoqualmie system? I don’t know, but I sure don’t like the sound of this one.

The two public meetings are scheduled for Sept. 9 at the Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Boulevard, 425-775-1311; and Sept. 11 at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, 125 West Sunset Way in Issaquah. Both meetings will run 6-8 p.m.

COHO: Creel checks in the area over the weekend didn’t show big numbers of coho in local waters (158 fishermen at the Port of Everett ramp with 13 silvers), but anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate a pretty fair proportion of larger, ocean-run fish in the catch, particularly for this early in the season. Ben Bear, vice-president of the Everett Steelhead and Salmon Club, nailed a 13-pounder and lost another large fish just south of Mukilteo on Saturday, fishing a herring ball at 35 to 45 feet, with a green/white coho fly and herring strip.

Guide and Arlington resident Sam Ingram said there also seems to be a fair number of coho in the Snohomish River system, particularly considering it’s only the first week in September. His son caught a 6-pounder over the weekend, and on a prospecting trip, Ingram saw at least a dozen silvers rolling, mostly during the early morning hours. “That’s encouraging for this early in the year,” he said.

Ingram said water levels are higher than normal for late summer, and that might be one reason why coho seem to be coming in from saltwater.

Beach fishermen at Lagoon Point on the west side of Whidbey Island reportedly caught several coho over the weekend, and checks at Sekiu showed continued good fishing and silvers still coming down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Some 211 anglers contacted at the Coho Resort dock in Sekiu had 127 fish on Sunday.

And that brings up a quick reminder that time is running out to get your ticket for Saturday’s Edmonds Coho Derby, $30 a copy at Boater’s World, Bayside Marine, Ted’s Sport Center, Ed’s Surplus, All Seasons Charters, and Outdoor Emporium. Some $8,500 in cash prizes, plus the two boats to be awarded as the last derby in this season’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series. For full rules and information go to www.edmondscohoderby.com.

BASS TOURNEY: The $1 million Wal-Mart FLW bass series returns to the Tri-Cities this year, after a successful tournament in 2007. The third National Guard Western Division tourney of the season is scheduled for Sept. 17-20, featuring top awards of $125,000 in the Pro Division and $25,000 in the Co-angler Division.

Pro angler Brent Ehrler of Redlands, California, said popular lures will include crankbaits and jerkbaits, and that competitors will likely be concentrating on shallow grass and rocks. He said anglers will likely need weights similar to last year’s event to take home top money — 33 pounds to make the cut to the final day of competition, and anywhere from 40 to 45 pounds to win.

FLW Outdoors, named after Forrest L. Wood, the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, is the largest fishing tournament organization in the world. In 2008 alone, the organization is offering more than 90,000 anglers the chance to win over $40 million through 230 tournaments in 10 circuits targeting bass, walleye, redfish, kingfish and striped bass.

DOVES: Saturday’s dove opener in the Columbia Basin was sparsely attended, according to state Region 2 wildlife program manager Matt Monda in Ephrata, probably because of high gas prices. And because there weren’t a lot of hunters in the field, there were only scattered success stories available, Monda said. There are good populations of doves in the basin this year, however, and reports from the Lind Coulee area south of Moses Lake indicated a lot of limits taken.

QUACKERS: The Washington Waterfowl Association-sponsored state duck calling contest last month in Stanwood drew 31 contestants in five different events, according to Northwest Chapter spokesman Rone Brewer. First place in the sanctioned event went to WWA Southwest Chapter member Robert Strong of Sumner, winning for the fourth time in the past eight years. Jason Gupton took second and Gavin Armstrong, third.

Strong will represent Washington at the world sanctioned contest during Thanksgiving week in Stuttgart, Ark.

SAMISH KINGS: The annual fall chinook fishery on the lower end of the Samish River has started, according to Anthon Steen at Holiday Sports in Burlington, and anglers are adjusting baits, lures and techniques to conform to the new non-stationary-lure rule on the river. Many fishermen are switching to eggs, Steen said, and reports have indicated bright kings hitting the bank on roe baits.

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