Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Today's Catch: Closed

If you fish commercially in Washington State waters, you’re wasting valuable taxpayer money. At least that’s how the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) sees it. To save those poor taxpayers from financial ruin, the WDFW wants to cut back on commercial fisheries, starting with the closure of the commercial salmon fishery in Puget Sound, Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

The State says it needs to find some money somewhere. State agencies in Washington submit supplemental operating budget proposals every two years. This year, Governor Jay Inslee wants those agencies to cut 15 percent from their share of the general fund. The 6-member Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission decided that the best place to find it was in the commercial fishery budget.

On September 4th, the commission voted 5 to 1 to approve the proposal from the department’s budget officer, which, along with closing the aforementioned fisheries, will close four hatcheries, reduce funding for two more and reduce commercial Puget Sound shellfish fisheries. “I proposed it,” says outgoing director of Fish and Wildlife Phil Anderson, of the budget, noting that a similar proposal four years ago was put before former Governor Christine Gregoire, who didn’t approve it. Now that the commission has voted on the budget, Anderson says, it goes to the Governor. It’s his decision on whether to take it to the legislature for a vote.

“In the past, the Governor and legislature have chosen not to take the cuts,” Anderson says. “Some of the budget cuts don’t make good sense from a cost / benefit perspective.”

The commission also proposes doubling the fees for commercial fisheries statewide.

Not all fisheries are on the chopping block. In the case of recreational fisheries, the commission recognizes “the benefits of sport fishing across the state in generating funding for agency activities well beyond fishery management cost.” The commission further believes “it would be beneficial to look for ways to make practical commitments to expand sport fishing opportunities at the same time that it pursues a course during this Legislative Session that avoids the need for additional license increases in the next two biennia.”

The budget concessions to the recreational fishermen coincide with the recent decriminalization of minor recreational fishing violations, leading Snohomish County to instruct fish and wildlife officers to no longer pursue criminal prosecution for unlawful recreational fishing in the second degree – essentially fishing without a license.

The budget vote, according to commissioner Robert Kehoe, was 5 to 1 to submit the proposal to the Governor. Kehoe, the Executive Director of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association, represents commercial fisherman on the commission, and was appointed by Governor Inslee in July of last year. 
The commission sets policy for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Members are appointed by the governor to six-year terms and are subject to state Senate confirmation. Prior to Kehoe’s appointment, the required commercial fishing spot had been vacant for more than a year, and the seventh voting position has been vacant for more than two years. Only four of the voting members have been confirmed by the state legislature, but the vote is considered binding, and the proposal is on the Governor’s desk. The Governor’s office has declined to comment on whether he will accept the proposal.

The current commission has demonstrated a marked indifference, if not outright contempt, for the Washington State commercial fishing fleet, and Governor Inslee has been careful to remain above the fray, choosing to remain silent on the closure of the lower Columbia River to commercial gillnetters. If he approves the budget, the State Legislature will be the last chance to save Washington State’s commercial salmon fishery. Contact the Governor’s office today and tell him not to approve this budget. Also contact your legislator, and educate him on the value of the commercial fishery to Washington State, and tell your friends and family to do the same.

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