It’s relatively rare for WDFW directors to issue special statements, so the one that came out yesterday evening from Kelly Susewind on the loss of millions of baby Chinook at one of his hatcheries is pretty notable.
Mostly they speak through press releases, like his agency’s late Monday afternoon hit-send-and-run-like-hell announcement about the Dec. 14 windstorm disaster and which came out via email and as a link posted on Twitter, where fishing and hunting news otherwise goes to die.
Susewind’s instead went on WDFW’s Facebook page during a high-social-media-use period and its six brief paragraphs were a recap of what happened, its potential impact to fisheries, what was being done to replace the salmon, and the process moving forward.
It was also posted it in a very prominent position on the agency’s website.
Yes, it came nearly six days after the fact, as well as after business hours Thursday, but the link on social media allowed the public to vent directly at WDFW — and oh, how they continued to — for a state staffer or staffers to respond, and for key constituencies to see he was On The Job.
Indeed, among the people reacting as comments were posted to the thread was Brian Blake, chairman of the state House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, a key legislative panel for agency bills.
I’m not going to sit here behind this keyboard and pretend to be some sort of expert on hatchery operations, because I’m not, I don’t care how many years I’ve reported on WDFW, how many fishing trips I’ve taken, or how many times I’ve stopped by the facilities and ogled returnees and given silent best wishes to the wee ones on their upcoming journey.
But from what I gather the 5.7 million fall Chinook fry destined for release into the Deschutes River and Minter Creek and 500,000 White River springers had very little time to live once the power went off, the backup 350kVA diesel generator wouldn’t start and water quit flowing through their incubation trays, asphyxiating them.
A new report by KING 5’s Alison Morrow says that it’s now believed 10 percent of the fish actually survived because workers were able to get water flowing into a head trough with a gas-powered pump at the facility.
In a bad-news story, kudos to those responded as best they could and at least saved some kings.
An outside investigation will now try to determine the cause of why the generator failed, and with that tool, Susewind vowed “to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.”
Sh*t is always going to happen, but that assurance along with the state legislature funding updates to aging hatchery infrastructure could go a good way to preventing repeats of these “devastating” and “horrible” losses.
I mentioned the rarity of Susewind’s bull-by-the-horns statement.
In my decade and a half or so of covering WDFW just one other set of special remarks from the director immediately sprang to mind, Phil Anderson’s in the wake of the death of Billy Frank Jr., his counterpart at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
Anderson did make several others, I eventually realized after googling it to jar my memory (that Skagit elk hunt one, which had mixed results).
But in more recent years I don’t recall anything from Anderson’s successor (and Susewind’s predecessor), Jim Unsworth.
In fact the response to the Minter Creek situation feels like the polar opposite of the great Cowlitz summer steelhead smolt debacle that took months to uncover and ultimately put the man from Idaho on the legislative hot seat.
It’s also the second special statement Susewind, a Grays Harbor native, has made this month.
The other was a four-and-a-half-minute-long video in which he outlined his views on wolf management in Washington, and was posted to WDFW’s YouTube page.
I can appreciate that Susewind is not slowly backing into the shrubberies on two of the hottest hot-button issues in the state, salmon fisheries and wolves.
He can’t, of course, in trying to make WDFW more important to the residents of the state as a whole in furthering the future for critters and sporting and other recreation, not to mention getting lawmakers to sign off on the first fee increase since the other end of this decade and feeding the agency more from the General Fund.
It takes guts to stand up like that and be a target. But it’s also more than that.
“Our major priority is to be transparent with the public and legislature, and to make sure they know he’s paying attention,” WDFW spokesman Craig Bartlett said this morning.
Just as Susewind is paying attention, like other watchers of Washington’s fish and wildlife world, I am too and am eager to find out what happened at Minter that killed our Chinook and what will be done about it.