Director Susewind agreed to unequal allocation of the allowable impacts on natural-origin Stillaguamish chinook and this was the primary factor limiting recreational fisheries for 2022-23. Recreational fisheries ended with an allotted impact on wild Stillaguamish chinook of just 3.4%, or 38% of the total allowable impact, whereas Agreed Tribal fisheries have 62% of the total allowable impact. Just one example of lost opportunity in 2022, a February winter blackmouth fishery in Area 7 proposed by WDFW to the tribes on March 17 had an estimated impact of just one-half of one wild Stillaguamish chinook salmon.
At the beginning of North of Falcon 2022 things were looking pretty good. Initial sport fishing proposals offered to the public by WDFW for review were positive. WDFW’s opening proposals would have provided for a decent summer season and even a few weeks of winter blackmouth for the northern Anglers of Puget Sound. Restrictions and constraints for managing northern Puget Sound sport fisheries in recent years had been defined by agreements for impact limits to Stillaguamish River hatchery and wild chinook stocks. Yet, initial WDFW calculations of the allowable harvest in 2022-23 fisheries, with those same restrictive limits in place, showed there was room for increased opportunities.
In addition, the newly submitted Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan endorsed a 50% sharing of Stillaguamish Chinook harvest. With that agreement in place, WDFW could identify limits applying to non-Indian fisheries in general and for use in constructing recreational sport fisheries that adhered to the new plan. Consequently, early in the public North of Falcon process, it was clear that the number of harvestable Stillaguamish chinook was sufficient to support expanding sport fishing opportunities in 2022-23.
But, things went south rather quickly as the outcome of the publicly inaccessible North of Falcon negotiations reflected a different intention by some than described by the new plan. In public meetings of the 2022 North of Falcon process, WDFW consistently stated that 2022 fishery opportunities were constrained by the 9% limit on Stillaguamish unmarked natural origin chinook. Indeed, the agreed fisheries package for non-treaty and treaty fisheries combined is estimated to be at the limit (8.9%), but recreational fisheries ended with an impact on wild Stillaguamish chinook of just 3.4%, or 38% of the total allowable impact, whereas Agreed Tribal fisheries have 62% of the total allowable impact.
What’s more, additional mark-selective fishing up to the allowable impact limit of 14% on Stillaguamish hatchery fish could have been used to provide additional sport fishery opportunities – consistent with both conservation and sharing agreements of the new Puget Sound chinook plan – harvesting more than 3,000 additional, harvestable Puget Sound hatchery chinook. As just one example of lost opportunity in 2022, a February winter blackmouth fishery in Area 7 proposed by WDFW to the tribes on March 17 had an estimated impact of just one-half of one wild Stillaguamish chinook salmon.
The plain fact is that Director Susewind agreed to unequal allocation of the allowable impacts on natural-origin Stillaguamish chinook and this was the primary factor limiting recreational fisheries, rather than conservation of wild Stillaguamish chinook as was publicly stated. This little maneuver crushed Marine Area 7’s summer fishery and eliminated the chances of restoring the beloved blackmouth fishery.
Now some folks would say Director Susewind caved to the demands of the Stillaguamish due to pressure from Governor Inslee. Others would say he was using the Stillaguamish Chinook issue as cover for appeasing those claiming to be looking out for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. In the opinion of Fish Northwest, both would be correct. History has shown that when it comes to appeasing Inslee, the co-mangers, and the whale crowd, Susewind has only one tool in his chest, a machete, and he uses it to slash recreational fishing seasons year, after year, after year. He will not stand up for you the tax-paying, fishing license-buying citizen of Washington State. If you think your beloved fishing spot in your particular marine area is safe from this calamity you are a fool. If you think we will hatchery our way out of this dilemma, you are an even bigger fool, because ultimately this isn’t about how many chinook are returning to the Sound, is it?
President, Fish Northwest