WDFW, Tribes Watching Sockeye Numbers to Determine Chance for Fishery

News Release
Washington Department Of Fish And Wildlife
600 Capitol Way North
Olympia, WA 98501-1091

Contact: Dick Geist, (360) 902-2733
or Jim Ames, (360) 902-2725

(See Note at end of story)

State and tribal fishery biologists are monitoring the number of sockeye salmon returning to Lake Washington to determine if the run is sufficient to allow for sport and tribal harvest this summer.

Last year a return of over 400,000 Sockeye provided a sport sockeye season in Lake Washington for the first time since 1996. The sport fishery opened on July 4 and, in about 10 days, anglers caught about 62,000 fish. Tribal net fisheries in Lake Washington, the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Shilshole Bay harvested about 60,000 sockeye.

Although hopes are mounting for a repeat of last year’s fishing opportunity, tribal and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists caution that this summer’s return is not likely to be as large as last year’s. Preliminary forecasts are for slightly less than 300,000 fish. However, at least 350,000 returning fish are needed for spawning so that future runs are strong enough to support fisheries.

The decision whether to hold a fishery typically is made during the first half of July, depending on the abundance and timing of the returning run.

Tribal and state scientists make daily counts of Sockeye passing through the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard to estimate how many fish will eventually enter the lake. Sockeye counts began June 12 but sufficient data to make a decision whether to hold a fishery will not be available until at least late June or early July.

Fishery managers will be updating the run’s status weekly, and more frequently as the peak of the Sockeye run approaches on or around July 8. Updated fish counts from the Locks and information about possible fishing opportunities will be posted as they become available on WDFW’s website on the Internet.

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(PIF Note: They need to wait until the fish are in the river so to speak because the 42,000 WDF&W employees are unable to do what the managers of the old International Pacific Sockeye Commission routinely did for 60 years. The IPSC was disbanded in 1985 with the tacit approval of the Washington Department of Fisheries, amid much glee at seeing this hated rival removed from the salmon management scene; the IPSC was continually held up to WDF as a real samon management agency which could accurately forcast returns and harvests years in advance, as well as actually restore salmon runs (from 1,200 in 1916 to 30,000,000 fish in 1993) and habitat using spawning channels and hatcheries.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this article is the combined harvest is put at 122,000, which leaves 278,000 for escapement – far below the minimum needed to sustain the run.

Now before someone yells foul, read this true story. Else one is left with deliberate mismanagement and THAT is impossible for such a prestigious State agency – Washington State’s largest employer.

Why would any agency deliberately manage a salmon run – by it’s own PUBLICLY available numbers – to create a scarcity, mandating: draconian laws & regulations, federal intervention, increased agency hiring to deal with the problems created, increased State funding to said agency for more studies by it’s personnel and personnel from the University of Washington’s School of Fisheries? Job security for all concerned couldn’t possibly be a motivation, could it?

One should also point out that this same agency refuses to permit a non-Indian Commercial fishery on this stock. Their so-called reasoning, if you were to use last year as an example, is that the sport quota – 62,000 Sockeye – cannot be split evenly between sport and non-Indian commercial, as it would be too few for either sports – representing themselves, or the non-Indian fleet – representing the non-fishing general public, since there are more sports than commercial, best to give them all the the sports.

One might question how denying access to the non-Indian commercial fishermen furthers WDF&G’s State Constitutional mandate to provide a strong and healthy commercial fishery; such a fishery would have provided some $194,000 (ex-vessel) into the economy in just a few days. Of course, that would have also helped the commercial fishermen economically, and provided them incentive to remain in the fishery, supplying manpower, dedication and expertise in restoring salmon habitat and runs.

Lost in all this is, this Sockeye run was deliberately created by the old Department of Commercial Fisheries for exclusive harvest by the commercial fleet, which, then, consisted of both tribal and non-tribal commercial fishermen. Sport fishermen had little interest in Sockeye then. My, how times have changed!

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