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Fishing Show Host Blasts WDFW Over Proposed Puget Sound Chinook Plan

WDFW’s proposed 10-year Puget Sound Chinook plan drew more strong negative reaction over the weekend, and a “possible decision” on it by the Fish and Wildlife Commission looms later this month.

First, the latest loathing for the plan.

After a 13-minute interview with an author of a Tidal Exchange article out last week looking at Stillaguamish River fall kings and the basin’s deep-seated habitat problems, local radio show host Tom Nelson went off.

RADIO SHOW HOST TOM NELSON, THE YOUNGER OF THE TWO TOM NELSONS INVOLVED FOR DECADES IN PUGET SOUND FISHING ISSUES. (TVW)

“I’ve never been so disappointed in WDFW that they would come out with this tremendously misguided and useless piece of public policy,” said the cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line on Saturday morning. “It’s the worst plan that I could have possibly envisioned with regard to actually addressing the situation and helping the industry.”

(Full disclosure: Northwest Sportsman and our many advertisers are part of said industry.)

The Stilly portion of the proposal, which the state agency as well as 17 Puget Sound tribes sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service for review last month, could sharply reduce salmon fishing opportunities across the North Sound and Straits because on its own, it does not seem likely the river will suddenly start producing enough Endangered Species Act-listed Stilly Chinook in the future, despite new, lower impacts.

Indeed, 30 years of restricted state and tribal fisheries on that system haven’t had much if any affect on rebuilding the stock so far.

“Just go to WDFW and run down to page 167 of the plan with regard to the Stilly, where it says, ‘Due to habitat constraints, this plan won’t work,’ essentially. I mean, it says so in the plan — in the plan!” Nelson said.

The portion of the 388-page document he’s referring to reads: “Due to the limited productivity of existing habitat, it is unlikely that fishery actions alone can rebuild abundance of Stillaguamish Chinook to higher levels.”

This new harvest management plan arose out of the highly contentious North of Falcon 2016, which took WDFW and treaty tribes two months longer to resolve than usual.

Afterwards, the state received a request from the U.S. Department of Justice and tribal officials to “meet and confer,” which resulted in confidential discussions mediated by a U.S. District Court judge, according to a Attorney General’s Office deputy.

The top priority was an updated 10-year resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook, one that would also provide more surety of seasons.

But word of the yearlong closed-door talks and their final product took not only anglers but the Fish and Wildlife Commission by surprise.

Anglers are hoping the commission can do something.

Nelson and cohost Rob Endsley urged them to contact the citizen oversight panel — along with state legislators — to ask that the plan be altered as it applies to the Stilly, one of 15 management units it addresses.

Besides sending emails to the commission, fishermen can also speak to the members during open public comment at next week’s meeting.

The Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan is the subject of an hour-and-a-half briefing by Kyle Adicks, intergovernmental salmon policy advisor, on the afternoon of Friday, January 19.

Interestingly, the words “possible decision” accompany that agenda item.

It’s a relatively rare placeholder that’s mainly been used with legislative proposals in recent years. It’s meant as a heads up “that the commission preserves the option to provide further guidance,” according to the office of the commission.

Yet as much heat as WDFW is taking over the plan, on the flip side, it appears to be utterly screwed by three little letters:

E, S and A.

With Puget Sound Chinook federally listed since March 1999 and declines continuing, WDFW is more and more straitjacketed to protect the salmon so it can get federal permits/ESA coverage to hold seasons on and/or around the fish.

It can’t very well go ahead and ignore that requirement either, as without the permit, it faces lawsuits, like with the basin’s steelhead a few years ago now, or it would leave us all on the beaches and boat ramps for who knows how long, like it looked might happen for awhile in 2016 as the agency considered a go-it-alone NOF permit.

Without casting aspersions on the scientific- and conservation-oriented nature of WDFW and its dedicated staffers, I suspect they probably would not have come up with let alone agreed to this new Chinook plan if they had the choice.

To be blunt, Unsworth et al don’t make money to run their programs off of closed fisheries whatsoever.

And they’re not really in the business of deviously figuring out ways to piss off some of the most fervent of Washington’s anglers.

(OK, so it kinda looks like that more and more every day.)

What they are is stuck trying to provide opportunities in the ever-tightening vice of ESA and with critically damaged habitat that in some places is, frankly, unrepairable.

Part of me wonders if that line that Nelson referred to is being slightly misinterpreted, that it was actually written into the plan by WDFW and its tribal coauthors to catch our eyes to raise hell about its futility, or as a plea for help.