As predicted, and based on last night’s NOF meeting, it appears a near certainty that the winter blackmouth fishery will again be closed for the majority of Puget Sound in 2022. What the WDFW and the Stillaguamish Tribe point to as the reason for this is a low return of both hatchery and wild fish to the Stillaguamish River. And yet, the Stillaguamish continue to refuse alterations in their hatchery practices which would alleviate massive cuts to recreational winter blackmouth seasons. One of the reasons given for not altering the hatchery practices is sampling errors induced because of the way BC samples their fishery for data.
We believe if the operators of the Stillaguamish hatchery were truly interested in not crippling the blackmouth fishery, but still desired a hatchery fish program to supplement the wild run, the fish produced would be coded wire tagged and not marked (effectively making every fish that left the Stillaguamish River a “wild” fish). This would ensure the highest accuracy of BC sampling data and would yield the highest return of fish to the Stilly because the entire Puget Sound is a mark selective fishery. The downside is that there would not as accurate a picture of where Stily fish are being impacted/encountered, but you would still have the ocean, BC, and SE Alaska fisheries, as not all US or Canadian fisheries are mark-selective (meaning they can retain unmarked fish, and those fish can be wanded for a coded wire tag). This method is actually employed by other tribes in the region, as they are tagging and not marking their hatchery-produced fish. What’s more, BC samples all hatchery and wild fish caught in their commercial fishery, which means only the recreationally caught fish are not accurately being sampled.
It should be pointed out that problems with Canada’s sampling program apply to every other hatchery managed by the tribes, but is not being used by the other tribes to shut down marked selective fisheries. However, the Stillaguamish Tribe continues to claim that BC’s methods are undermining the accuracy of their program. They fail to acknowledge that the percent of Stillaguamish fish caught in Canadian recreational fishing is very small compared to the commercial fishery. In other words, the sampling errors in the recreational fishery have little impact on the data for the Stillaguamish hatchery program.
It appears that the real effect of the Stillaguamish hatchery chinook program was to shut down the winter blackmouth season. We believe this has been a calculated effort on the part of the Stillaguamish Tribe, and the WDFW is allowing it to continue by not demanding changes to the hatchery practices which would in-turn help keep the state-managed winter blackmouth seasons open. Entire fisheries are being lost over this one issue.