Washington State Considering Several Fishing Related Measures

Last week, several fishing-related measures were discussed by the Washington State Government: approval of gillnets in the lower Columbia River commercial salmon fishery, a bill to protect Washington’s resident Killer Whale population by enhancing Chinook salmon habitat and abundance, and the Wild Fish Conservancy indicated their intent to sue the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) over violations of the Endangered Species Act. This is all happening while Washington expects another dismal year of salmon runs.

The Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) is a dedicated non-profit organization that was founded in 1989 with the goal of preserving and enhancing Pacific Northwest wild fish populations. Today, WFC sent a letter of their intent to sue the WDFW over violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Specifically, the WFC intends to sue because of the State’s summer hatchery program in Puget Sound and violations of Section 9 of the ESA, which prohibits the taking of endangered and threatened species. The WFC is concerned with the hatchery program because of its use of non-native Skamania hatchery steelhead stock, which have been deemed as threatening to the decimated and ESA-listed Puget Sound steelhead. We will follow this legal battle closely, hoping for the protection and conservation of wild salmon and steelhead.

Commercial salmon fishing on the Columbia River represents a complicated and criticized practice. Fishermen (recreational and commercial alike) and environmentalist want to see Pacific Salmon runs restored to their historic glory. Yet, there remains established commercial fisheries, including Native American Tribes, that rely on this way of life. The use of gillnets for commercial salmon fishing on the Columbia River was supposed to transition to alternative gear after the 2016 fishing seasons, but Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission opted to extend the use of gillnets for the upcoming 2019 coho and chinook fisheries. In any event, a continuation of gillnets in the Columbia River salmon fishery seems to be an irresponsible practice, regardless of set commercial salmon quotas. Gillnets indiscriminately entangle and–for the most part–kill fish, many of which are considered endangered.

Photo curtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Additionally, Washington’s Legislature considered a bill to protect the declining population of resident Killer Whales. In protecting Washington’s 74 Southern resident Killer Whales, this bill calls for substantial enhancements to the declining populations of chinook salmon, which represent “the largest portion of the whales’ diet”. The Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force has for the last year to study and identify solutions for the declining Whale populations. One goal identified by the Task Force, “is to increase chinook abundance, and actions under that goal relate to habitat protection, protection of chinook prey, such as forage fish, and reducing impacts of nonnative chinook predators”.

It will be interesting to see how these measures fare. However, underlying all of these measures is this: “returns of spring chinook to the Columbia are predicted to be down 14 percent from last year, and at just half the 10-year average” and other rivers are facing similarly poor outlooks, according to the Seattle Times. Salmon and steelhead are such an invaluable resource for recreational and commercial anglers, the delicate harmony of ecosystems, and the Pacific-Northwest as a whole. Their wellbeing must be restored, yet commercial interests are of regional importance as well. We hope Washington, and Oregon for that matter, can enact necessary measures to fulfill this goal and restore the long gone equilibrium that salmon bring to their ecosystems. Keep following the Flylords’ blog for updates and more fishing news!

This article was written by Flylords’ team member Will Poston.

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