Anglers' questions pepper Fisheries official

"Questions were plentiful but simple answers were scarce when a representative from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife spoke to the Puget Sound Anglers Saturday night at the Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club.Chuck Phillips, regional fish program manager for F&W, spoke to a dinner audience of about 80 that included Congressman Jack Metcalf and his wife Norma and State Rep. Dave Anderson and his wife Karen.Phillips was not the advertised speaker for the evening. He was filling in for department head Dr. Jeff Koenings, who pulled out at the last minute. “I feel like Don Knotts when you’re expecting Tom Cruise,” Phillips told the crowd.Phillips mainly urged members of the anglers organization to take an active role this year as state and federal officials set salmon fishing seasons and regulations, and to keep a close eye on Olympia where the Legislature is dealing with the impacts of I-695. “It’s going to be a heck of a session,” he predicted.Both Anderson and Metcalf expressed concern about the impact that seals and sea lions are having on salmon and steelhead populations. Anderson noted the increasing numbers of such animals in Puget Sound, which he said has resulted in “the decline of blackmouth... and bottom fish.” And Metcalf added that sea lions are “a tremendous problem.”Phillips doubted that salmon are being extensively harmed by seals and sea lions. Scat analysis show they dine mainly on bottom fish and herring, he said. And small salmon going out to sea fall prey to an increasing population of such birds as cormorants and mergansers, rather than marine mammals.Phillips had no answer as to why the fall 1999 coho salmon season was so poor in this area, and could only express hope that a slow-starting steelhead season improves. “We expected a good steelhead return, but they just drizzled through in December without us seeing much at all -- I hope they’re late,” he said.As for coho, Phillips said the run started well “and all of a sudden dropped off and never came back -- this is absolutely something new.” He said information on how many coho did return and which rivers they returned to should be available in about two weeks.Someone also complained that the crab season was closed just before Christmas again, and Phillips admitted the timing was poor. Better data being collected now should make future crab seasons more predictable, he said.One man recommended that more artificial reefs be built to attract more bottom fish, but Phillips put the damper on that idea by alluding to the Endangered Species Act, which may soon be applied to some types of bottom fish. “Reefs do work,” he said. “But do you want them to work?” Fishing might be banned at such reefs to protect the fish, he said.Phillips ended on an optimistic note, expressing the belief that a program to mark almost all hatchery salmon entering Puget Sound will ultimately result in better fishing, albeit a more selective fishery. “It’s going to be a lot better,” he assured the audience. “And not in the distant future, but in the near future.”"

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