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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

January 3, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Learn about Lake Washington sockeye at Jan. 8 CCA SeaTac Chapter meeting

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The Coastal Conservation Association SeaTac Chapter meeting is 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m . Jan. 8 at the IBEW Hall, 19802 62nd Avenue South in Kent.

Guest speaker Frank Urabeck an advocate on restoring Lake Washington sockeye returns will provide his insightful take on the issues and keys to rebuilding the stock back to fishable levels.

This past summer more than 145,000 sockeye returned to the lake, one of the largest returns in the past six years although falling way short of the 350,000 spawning escapement goal needed before a fishery can be considered.

Urabeck was also one of the people involved in helping to get a permanent hatchery facility on the Cedar River, which this past fall collected 20-million eggs.

Here are some of the topics that Urabeck will discuss include, and his take on what will be needed to restore a fishery on the lake by 2016:

What happens after 2016 depends a great deal on mother nature and what she allows as survival during the various life stages of sockeye. Incubation during the flood season, survival during the year most juvenile sockeye spend in Lake Washington, and the three to four years in marine waters as the survivors grow to adult are largely out of our hands. However, broodstock collection and hatchery fry release decisions made by Seattle Public Utilities with the advice of the co-managers (state of Washington and the three tribes having a right to harvest Lake Washington sockeye) are critical too in terms of production.

These are program elements undergoing serious debate by the Adaptive Management Work Group that advises Seattle Public Utilities on the hatchery program. Several of us that serve as advisors represent the sport fishing community. We have argued that the hatchery program should be focused on getting the Cedar River sockeye run back up to harvestable levels, sooner than later. That is not yet the focus of the program. There are legal constraints stemming from five years of litigation in state and federal courts that sought to block the new hatchery that must be considered too in making operational decisions.

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As with most everything it is a matter of balance. If we do not achieve better balance then there will be much more uncertainty about future sockeye fisheries. If we get a fishery in 2016 it will be a decade after the last fishery in 2006 when 18 days were enjoyed by sockeye anglers. In my view the main purpose of the new hatchery is to achieve harvest objectives within the constraints of meeting ESA protection requirements for listed Chinook salmon which spawn in the Cedar River at the same time as the sockeye.

Another factor which is finally receiving some public attention is the need to reassess the fishery threshold which is based on the counts at the Ballard Locks. For decades no directed sockeye fishery has been allowed on Lake Washington unless the co-managers concluded the run – based on early sockeye counts -would exceed 350,000 which was thought to be the natural spawning capacity of the Cedar River below Landsburg. Anything above this number was available for harvest. Most experts now believe that the threshold should be significantly reduced, say to 200,000 or lower. We been having significant tribal and sport fisheries on Baker Lake sockeye with runs less than 40,000 because the Baker run is mostly sustained by artificial propagation facilities including a new hatchery and spawning beaches.

I hope to see the co-managers address the Lake Washington sockeye fishery threshold in 2013. Maybe we need to consider moving to the Baker Lake sockeye production model if we cannot get natural production in the Cedar River back up to meaningful levels on a sustainable basis.

Urabeck has noted, survival of juvenile sockeye in Lake Washington is an issue. While experts at the U of W still believe the plankton food supply is adequate for the fry entering the lake from the Cedar River, studies have shown huge losses of juvenile sockeye in some years due to predation. Walleye are now in the lake adding to the cutthroat consumption and that of other species of juvenile sockeye. This issue needs to be addressed by the co-managers and the public.

For details on the meeting go to the CCA SeaTac Chapter website or email Joe Slepski at jmslepsi@comcast.net.

(Photos courtesy of The Seattle Times archive)

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