State Senator Kirk Pearson, who grilled the Wild Fish Conservancy over its Puget Sound hatchery steelhead lawsuit this summer, was named Legislator of the Year by the Washington chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association.
“Senator Pearson has been a champion of the immense economic, social, and conservation benefits of recreational fishing here in Washington, efforts to restore the popular sockeye fishery to Lake Washington, and defending the important role that well-managed hatcheries play in sustaining our salmon and steelhead fisheries,” said the organization’s Nello Picinich, according to a report yesterday in the Tacoma News Tribune.
CCA pointed to the Monroe Republican’s efforts during this past legislative session to secure funding to study northern pikeminnow and cutthroat trout predation on sockeye smolts during their year in Lake Washington.
Not enough of the red salmon have come back to allow for the popular fishery since 2006, a season that yielded an estimated $8.6 million in economic benefits.
Pearson, whose 39th District includes famed steelheading rivers such as the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Sauk and Skykomish, among others, also took WFC as well as WDFW and NMFS to task in a special hearing in July.
The Duvall-based organization sued WDFW in federal court over lack of federal permits for its Chambers Creek hatchery winter steelhead program on Puget Sound rivers, leading to an out-of-court settlement that saw 80 percent of this year’s planned smolt release put into landlocked lakes such as Green, Cranberry, Sprague and others.
During that hearing, Pearson asked WFC’s Jamie Glasgow if the litigious group planned to continue using the courts to ax releases of salmon and steelhead which power recreational and tribal fisheries.
“Do you plan more lawsuits, and are you going to try to cut hatchery production in other parts of the state?” the Monroe Republican asked.
“The answer to that question is quite simple,” said Jamie Glasgow, WFC’s science adviser. “It depends. We need to see how the Department of Fish and Wildlife and how NOAA decides to moves forward, and whether or not they are considering the science as they make these policy decisions.”
Pearson followed up with, “Are there any hatcheries you do support in the state?”
Glasgow’s answer was astonishing, even if obvious by the numerous lawsuits WFC has filed over the past decade.
“There are several that have closed over time – those would be ones that we support,” he said.
“That are closed. Which means you don’t support any hatcheries,” summarized Pearson.
“There is a very limited roll for hatchery production in this state, we feel,” responded Glasgow. “They are going to be very kind of extreme situations where conservation hatchery may provide some benefit if they’re used for a very limited duration. For the most part, the way we seem to be using hatcheries I think is an abuse of the wild fish that they impact.”
Thanks to hatcheries and smart management, winter steelhead and summer chum runs are rebuilding in Hood Canal, and most notably this year, the Nez Perce Tribe’s use of coho eggs from Lower Columbia stocks resulted in the best return on record to Central Idaho, allowing for tribal and sportfishing seasons.
The Western Washington-based Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission has also questioned WFC’s arguments.