Many demanded refunds on their licenses, threatened to hit the water anyway, pointed to crowding at still-open stores, or berated WDFW, with comments piling up so fast on the agency’s Facebook page as to make reaction to wolf news updates there look like cute kitty videos.
To be sure, it does mark the most stomach-churning step down the ladder of recreational lockdowns that have come in recent days, as coastal communities began acting to keep out-of-towners away, a razor clam opener was called off, state lands were closed for camping, Governor Jay Inslee announced his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and then yesterday wildlife areas and water access sites were shut down to all recreation.
As deaths piled up during this outbreak and Washington residents were increasingly advised to socially distance, many assumed that fishing fit right in with that goal, because it does and in uncertain times it is something to hold onto tightly.
Yet it’s also clear these are Extraordinarily Different Times than a typical spring in which anglers would be happily plunking off a dock with others at recently stocked lakes, hoglining on the Columbia for spring Chinook or piling out of hotels to board charters heading out of Westport and other coastal ports for rockfish and lings, then loading up on ice, snacks and other supplies at stores on the drive home.
Speaking during this evening’s North of Falcon salmon season webinar on the coronavirus closure, WDFW’s Ron Warren said that after seeing people gathered on streams and lakes, as well as on trails, in recent days, “We knew that were aiding the possible spread of the virus.”
The grim tally of Washingtonians who have died from coronavirus grew again today to 132 and the number of confirmed cases is now approaching 2,600.
Even as angry emojis outnumbered all other reactions on WDFW’s post announcing the news, there was also support for the state’s move to shut things down for at least the next two weeks.
“I have had a license in Washington state my entire 50-plus years and I think WDFW does a great job you will never satisfy the masses and anyone who thinks it’s their RIGHT to go out in a pandemic is just a selfish narrow minded person,” posted Paul Pettigrew. “You have my support 100%.”
Reacting on that thread, WDFW spokespeople pointed to “a cohesive plan” put together with sister natural resource agencies DNR and State Parks following Inslee’s order.
Yesterday’s ban on using the estimated 500 state boat launches and other waterside spots was a prelude to this afternoon’s move.
“Closing public accesses but allowing fishing to stay open encourages people to congregate at private launches and accessible spots on shore, which is exactly what we are trying to prevent,” WDFW explained on Facebook. “Allowing those with private access to continue also isn’t fair to those who rely on public accesses and gives some an unfair advantage.”
Holding fisheries has become trickier and trickier here, given all the Endangered Species Act listings in early parts of this century, The Blob leading to widespread stream restrictions in summer 2015 to protect salmonid stocks, a lack of agreement with tribal comanagers closing many waters for a month and a half in late spring 2016, and low Chinook, coho, steelhead and other returns in recent years — hangover from The Blob — yielding what feel like slimmer and slimmer opportunities.
But this will go down as unlike anything else.
Not that it matters in the grand scheme but I hope to have more thoughts on things later this week. My apologies for getting this blog out so late — I had website issues, then dinner, North of Falcon webinar, and after being at this stupid computer for 12 hours outside of a gardening break I’m a bit brain dead,
I’ll wrap up by saying that I commiserate with fellow anglers over our loss of opportunity and I feel for my industry and WDFW and the economic blow. This utterly sucks.
But this temporary closure is for the greater good. I don’t want to be the guy to spread this virus to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have died. This too shall pass, and all the sooner with our help.
Undoubtedly you’ve read it by now, but here’s the official news from WDFW:
WDFW closes recreational fishing statewide in wake of governor’s order to ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ in response to COVID-19
OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced its decision to temporarily close recreational fishing and shellfishing statewide in the wake of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s order directing Washingtonians to stay home and stay healthy to limit the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19.
The closures will begin at midnight Wednesday, March 25 and last until at least 5 p.m. on April 8, 2020. WDFW will re-evaluate on April 6 whether the closure may need to be extended.
“This is not a decision we take lightly, but it’s the right thing to do for the health and well-being of Washington’s families,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “Monday’s extraordinary order for the residents of our state to stay home requires all of us to work together to ensure these measures have the intended effect.”
Fishery managers have reported that some anglers have been seen crowding banks as concerns over coronavirus have continued.
“We’ve seen an uptick in outdoor recreation at some locations in recent weeks as people have looked for ways to get outside,” said WDFW Fish Program Director Kelly Cunningham. “We’ve had reports of crowded boat ramps and busy fishing on some rivers, which runs counter to the governor’s direction to stay home and practice social distancing.”
In addition, many salmon and steelhead fisheries require regular monitoring under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which includes conducting angler interviews at access sites surrounding the state’s marine waters. The on-site, face-to-face nature of angler interviews puts people at potential risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Without such monitoring, these recreational fisheries must close to ensure ESA protections.
WDFW and other state agencies previously closed all of their water access sites, including boat launches, and other public lands where people may gather. Local and tribal governments are taking similar actions across Washington.
WDFW Enforcement officers remain on duty and will be enforcing these new closures.
The lowland lakes opening day for trout remains scheduled for April 25, but will be evaluated depending on whether the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order might be further extended.