The public will have two chances this week to comment on the future direction of the program that produces blackmouth chinook salmon in Puget Sound.
The Puget Sound Recreational Fishery Enhancement program produces delayed-release chinook salmon, better known as blackmouth, and researches factors that limit marine bottomfish populations and methods to raise marine bottomfish in hatcheries.
Blackmouth are hatchery-raised chinook that are held in freshwater longer than they naturally would remain. This reduces their tendency to migrate to the ocean, and helps creates a recreational fishery in Puget Sound. Their name comes from the black gum line of the fish.
Production of blackmouth and other fishery-enhancement initiatives within the program, mandated by the state Legislature in 1993, were intended to improve fishing opportunities in Puget Sound. A citizen oversight committee was established in 2003 to advise the department on the program.
Earlier this year, the state auditor’s office released a performance audit that recommended revising the annual production goal for blackmouth.
The audit was to determine if the state Department of Fish and Wildlife had reached the mandate of producing and planting 3 million blackmouth annually by the year 2000 and was it using reliable and high quality data to monitor the activity and support management decisions.
Among the key findings in the audit:
• The department, overall, is not reaching goal of releasing 3 million fish. Only twice, 1996 and 1997, did the agency release more than the required 3 million fish.
• That goal is not an effective or efficient strategy for restoring the recreational Puget Sound chinook fishery. Declining survival rates have driven down the number of fish caught. In the 1970s, about once blackmouth was caught for every 66 fish released. By the 1990s, the catch rate was one blackmouth for every 904 released. In the 1990s, survival rates by hatcheries varied from 1 percent at Icy Creek to .03 percent at Whatcom Creek. Because of the decline, the average cost of producing each fish caught rose from $56 to $768 over that time period.
• While the department does have the mandated data for making management decisions, that data has not always been used to support policy decisions and decision making by the programs oversight committee, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Legislature.
Wednesday: 7-9 p.m., Room 175, Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
Thursday: 7-9 p.m., state Department of Fish and Wildlife Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek.