Pete Heley Outdoors 11 / 28 / 2018

As in most years, a lot is happening around December 1st.

(1) -The 2019 fishing regulation booklets should be available at licensing retailers, tackleshops and sporting goods stores. (2) – ODFW licenses and tags for 2019 should become available for purchase at your regular license retailers – or online. (3) – The new online ODFW licensing system should go into effect (expect major glitches.) (4) – Recreational ocean crabbing resumes – although the commercial crabbers have delayed their season opener until December 15th because of low meat percentage in recently tested crabs.

NOAA Fisheries approved Oregon’s request to lethally remove up to 93 sea lions per year at Willamette Falls where the pinnipeds are eating as much as 25 percent of wild winter steelhead adults and up to 9 percent of wild spring chinook, both threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Sea lions are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, but after trying hazing and non-lethal removal of the California sea lions for years to discourage them from hanging out at Willamette Falls, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife last year applied to NOAA for authorization to lethally remove a limited number of California sea lions under a MMPA Section 20 permit. The ODFW applied for the permit Oct.6, 2017, and this August NOAA convened an 18-member Willamette Falls Pinniped Task Force that in an Oct. 15 recommendation said the permit should be authorized.

Oregon filed for the application because its analyses showed that the high levels of predation by sea lions (25 percent of the steelhead run in 2017) meant there was an almost 90 percent probability that one of the upper Willamette steelhead runs would go extinct, according to an ODFW news release. The level of predation on spring chinook, although lower (7-9 percent each year), was still enough to increase the extinction risk by 10-15 percent.

“This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said Dr. Shaun Clements, ODFW policy analyst on the sea lion issue. “Before this decision, the state’s hands were tied as far as limiting sea lion predation on the Willamette River. We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location.”

Clements said the permit to lethally remove California sea lions does not apply to the much larger steller sea lions, which are present at the Falls in growing numbers and that prey to a large extent on white sturgeon in the Willamette River. “Steller sea lions are preying heavily on sturgeon in the lower Willamette, but current federal law prohibits us from doing anything about that,” said Clements.

California sea lions in the U.S. are not listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The most recent population estimate for the sea lions in the U.S. was 296,750 animals in 2016.

An angler in Lake Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake in eastern Washington caught a 47.5 inch, 27.5 pound northern pike in the lake and another angler caught a pike just 10 miles from the rim of Grand Coulee Dam, which forms the lake, – much further downstream than previous sightings of the predatory fish.

Biologists, as well as Northwest Power and Conservation Council members, are feeling an urgency to keep the pike from moving downstream beyond the dam and into the anadromous zone where, as a voracious and fast growing predator, they could threaten endangered salmon and steelhead.

A hot subject last week on one of the online fishing sites was an individual being cited for keeping a crab limit for the two year old he was supervising. The numerous comments regarding the post were almost evenly mixed and most negative comments were about taking children along strictly to achieve a larger legal limit. The other side stated that if the young children were being taught how to identify crab gender, baiting the traps, or any other type of “slight help” – they should be allowed to keep their limit – even if they are too small to actually pull or empty the crab-catching devices being used.

The key thing to remember is that the enforcement people you will be dealing with are not identical clones and may have varying opinions of what constitutes “compliance”. If a regulation is viewed as being consistently abused – count on it being changed.

We’ve received a fair amount of rain in the last several days and could certainly use more, but the rain we have received, combined with some very high tides, has allowed some good things to happen. Coho salmon can now enter and navigate Tenmile Creek to reach the lakes; Tahkenitch Lake should receive some new cohos and there should be enough water coming down the Siltcoos River to make the fish ladder usable – should they close the dam gates again.

Hopefully when the cohos reach the tributaries of these lakes, their usual spawning sites will still be viable.

Farther south, the Elk, Sixes and possibly Floras Creek should have chinooks in them and they should be able reach the upper portions of these rivers.

It also appears that the rains came before the more shallow sand dunes lakes near North Bend, like Horsfall and Beale suffered a fish kill – or major population shrinage.

Locally, crabbing is not yet over in coastal rivers and bays, but the most productive crabbing will move closer to the ocean as river flows increase.

With the possible exception of the Umpqua River, it’s still a little early for winter steelhead.

Butterfield Lake and Saunders Lake should be the top bets for uncaught planted trout. But anglers willing to travel might consider Junction City Pond which is located on the west side of Highway 99 between Eugene and Junction City. The eight acre pond is heavily planted all winter long and gets some broodstock fish that can weigh more than eight pounds.

Pete Heley works parttime at the Stockade Market & Tackle, across from A’ Dock, in Winchester Bay where he is more than happy to swap fishing info with anyone.

About Pete Heley

Writes and self-publishes Oregon and Washington fishing books.
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