4 Wells Hatchery Workers Fired Following Investigation Into Activities

A high-ranking state lawmaker and a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner are calling for changes within WDFW after reports surfaced that a highly sexualized culture also existed at an Eastern Washington hatchery, where four workers were fired last week.

Two stories out this morning paint an ugly picture of goings-on at the Wells Hatchery on the Upper Columbia, where the manager and three top hatchery specialists allegedly “routinely talked about sex and asked explicit sexual questions of coworkers” and made remarks about “the bodies of women who visited the hatchery.”

The pieces are reported by Walker Orenstein of The News Tribune of Tacoma and Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

They’re based on a 30-page report by Daphne R. Schneider and Associates commissioned this March after workers at a nearby hatchery expressed their concerns about alleged behavior at Wells to a WDFW officer.

Northwest Sportsman has filed a public disclosure request for the document, but in the meanwhile the reporters’ articles paint a picture of both the alleged activities and the workers’ defense.

The four men who were fired passed their conversations off as “locker room talk,” but it was allegedly so bad for one coworker that she left for a position elsewhere.

WDFW said that it is not pursuing criminal charges against the quartet “because their misconduct did not appear to rise to that level, agency spokesman Bruce Botka said. Also, the consulting firm did not conclude anyone had been sexually harassed,” Orenstein reported.

They can appeal their removal.

For WDFW, the latest story is effectively a one-two punch.

Early last week, Orenstein and Jenkins reported about a law firm’s investigation of sexual harassment claims at the agency’s Olympia headquarters.

Afterwards, Botka told Northwest Sportsman that “Director Jim Unsworth again today said he has no tolerance for the sorts of allegations that have surfaced in these stories and in this case.”

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

This latest incident left Unsworth “startled and taken aback” and he felt that the firing of the four would send a strong message throughout WDFW’s 1,500-plus employees.

Certainly, a problem was identified, investigated and action was taken, but some are calling for even more.

Rep. Brian Blake, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which many WDFW-related bills go through, called on WDFW’s overseers to put their foot down.

REP. BRIAN BLAKE, D-ABERDEEN. (TVW)

“The [Fish and Wildlife] Commission who governs this agency needs to step up and through the director communicate very strongly that there needs to be somebody in charge that does have this expertise in the ability to change cultures,” Blake told the newspaper and radio reporters.

One of those members, Commissioner Barbara Baker, who was appointed earlier this year by Governor Jay Inslee, said that even more stringent training is needed, it was reported.

IN THIS TVW SCREENGRAB, WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONER BARBARA BAKER SPEAKS BEFORE THE SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE PANEL, SET TO RUN AT LEAST THROUGH 2022. (TVW)

Wells Hatchery is owned by Douglas County PUD and operated by WDFW. It rears hundreds of thousands of summer steelhead, summer Chinook, trout and kokanee for fisheries, as well as sturgeon for conservation programs.

Troublingly, Jenkins’s report mentions possible misuse of state equipment by the former manager, while Orenstein’s article says that the WDFW officer’s initial report suggested hatchery workers had been “coached to provide false numbers for fish stocking records.”

This is not the first time WDFW hatcheries have been in the news for sex-related activities.

In 2012,  Carl E. Jouper, the former manager of the George Adams Hatchery in Mason County, was jailed for 90 days after pleading guilty to voyeurism, putting a camera in the women’s bathroom there.

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