RAYMOND — A shortage of returning salmon and the eggs they produce to sustain runs in future years dominated the discussion during a Willapa Bay Salmon Management Advisory Group meeting in Raymond on Oct. 24 at the Raymond Elks.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife session got off to a slow start because WDFW officials spent just over an hour reestablishing meeting rules. A mediator was brought in to ensure everyone “behaved,” including the audience. State management of Willapa salmon has become an emotionally charged topic in recent years, with disagreements over commercial-recreational catch allocations and other matters.

It wasn’t until the last 40 minutes of the 2-hour long meeting anything regarding the fishery was discussed and debated.

The short-lived debate was about what to do about the lack of returns and spawning at the Nemah and Naselle hatcheries. Both hatcheries are just barely closing in on 50% of preseason predictions, while the Forks Creek Hatchery near Lebam is over five times more than what was forecast.

The advisory group debated whether to move the extra eggs from Forks Creek to Naselle and Nemah, just Naselle or not move any. The board was split three ways on the three possibilities.

Regardless of their recommendations, the advisory group cannot change any of the policies, a power vested in the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. Recommendations from the meeting will be handed off to the commission before the next commission meeting on a date yet to be determined in December.

It’s unclear what officials will do to remedy the problems at the Nemah and Naselle hatcheries. Nemah has been pummeled with a large mortality rate due to river conditions. The source of problems at Naselle are less clear but sea lion predation is assumed to be part of the problem.

Washington state salmon management policies have been a hot topic over the last four or five years. In Willapa Bay, artificial salmon production was cut dramatically in 2015 and the last two years of low returns have shown the results, fisherman point out.

Last year marked the first time in memory that WDFW officials had to shut down fishing in Willapa Bay and its surrounding tributaries. The closure lasted several weeks and only reopened for a coho fishery that was mediocre at best, according to fishermen.

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