Tag Archives: ron garner

WDFW License Bills Moving Again As End Of Regular Legislative Session Nears

After hibernating for the past two months, WDFW’s fee bills have woken up and are moving again, but what will emerges from the den that is the Washington legislature remains to be seen.

Both the House and Senate versions include the 15 percent increase to fishing and hunting licenses and extend the Columbia River salmon and steelhead endorsement, but also contain sharp differences that will need to be reconciled before the end of the session.

“This is pretty intense, from zero bills moving to two bills moving,” said Raquel Crosier, WDFW’s legislative liaison, this morning.

The upper chamber’s bill would sunset the angling fee hike after six years, extends the endorsement two years instead of four like the House, and would not allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to impose surcharges to keep up with rising costs.

That’s different from the Senate’s Operating Budget proposal, released earlier this month without any fee increase or the endorsement and which leaned on General Fund instead.

The lower chamber’s bill, which like the House Operating Budget proposal had the hike and endorsement, would limit the commission’s fee-raising authority to only cover costs lawmakers add to WDFW’s gig and no more than 3 percent in any one year.

Though the Senate version presents something of a fiscal cliff in 2025, the fee increase would produce $14.3 million every two years, the endorsement $3 million.

As for WDFW’s big hopes for a big General Fund infusion to pay for its myriad missions, improve its product and dig out of a $31 million shortfall, any new money it receives will likely be allocated for orcas instead, and that is putting the onus squarely on passing a license increase.

The sudden activity on the fee bills after February’s twin hearings comes with the scheduled Sunday, April 28 end of the session and follows a House Appropriations Committee public hearing yesterday afternoon and an executive session in the Senate’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee this morning.

During the House hearing on HB 1708, representatives from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Northwest Marine Trade Association and Coastal Conservation Association along with some anglers — all still smarting from the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Columbia fishery reforms vote early last month, some at louder volumes than others — voiced opposition to the fee bill though generally said they wanted a fully funded WDFW.

NMTA’s George Harris was among those trying to “thread that needle,” saying he couldn’t support the increase because he didn’t believe the agency had followed through on the reforms or mark-selective fisheries.

SPEAKING IN OPPOSITION TO THE FEE BILL DURING THE HOUSE HEARING ON MONDAY APRIL 22 WERE JASON ZITTEL OF ZITTEL’S MARINA NEAR OLYMPIA WHO SAID THE BURDEN OF FUNDING WDFW COULDN’T CONTINUE TO BE PUSHED ONTO LICENSE HOLDERS WHEN THE PROBLEMS ARE STATEWIDE … (TVW)

… AND CARL BURKE, REPRESENTING NMTA AND NSIA, WHO SAID THAT WHILE ANGLERS PROVIDE SIGNIFICANT FUNDING TO WDFW, “THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER.” (TVW)

Speaking in favor of full funding, however, was Ron Garner, statewide president of Puget Sound Anglers, member of the WDFW budget advisory group that did a deep dive into the agency’s finances and part of the governor’s orca task force.

“This is not enough money for the agency, and one of the problems is, if we do take this $30 million hit or don’t get the $30 million, what hatcheries are going to get cut next?” Garner said.

WDFW has identified five that could be and which together produce 2.6 million salmon, steelhead and trout.

He said where other state agencies had recovered from General Fund cuts due to the Great Recession, WDFW hadn’t.

“To keep them healthy and the outdoors healthy, we really need to fund it,” Garner said.

RON GARNER OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS VOICED SUPPORT FOR A FULLY FUNDED WDFW DURING THE HEARING … (TVW)

… AND TOM ECHOLS OF THE HUNTERS HERITAGE COUNCIL SAID IT WAS THE FIRST TIME IN HIS SEVEN YEARS WITH THE UMBRELLA ORGANIZATION THAT IT WAS SUPPORTING A FEE BILL, SPECIFICALLY THE HUNTING SIDE, SAYING THEY BELIEVED IT WAS “TIME TO SUPPORT THE DEPARTMENT’S DIRECTION.” (TVW)

Both committees ultimately gave their versions do-pass recommendations after adopting several amendments, which overall mainly dealt with fallout from the Columbia vote.

The House bill now tells the citizen panel to work with Oregon’s to recover salmon and steelhead in the watershed and WDFW to “work to maximize hatchery production throughout the Columbia River, reduce less selective gear types in the mainstem of the Columbia River and improve the effectiveness of off-channel commercial fishing areas.”

“I support fully funding WDFW so that we can restore hatchery production and restore our fisheries,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) this morning.

And in his natural resources committee earlier today, Chair Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) substantially altered the Senate fee bill, SB 5692, to address those Columbia issues.

An effect statement says his amendments:

  • Specifies Columbia River fishery reforms including improving the selectivity of recreational and commercial fisheries, prioritizing main stem recreational fisheries, and transitioning gill net fisheries to enhanced off-channel areas.
  • Restricts main stem gill net fisheries, effective July 1, 2019, to not exceed six days per year for salmon and steelhead below the Bonneville dam.
  • Directs the DFW to establish an observer program to monitor at least 10 % of the nontribal gill net salmon and steelhead catch on the Columbia River.
  • Directs the DFW to fund activities that maintain or enhance current recreational and fishing activities with fees from recreational fishing and hunting, and expires the requirement on July 1, 2025.
  • Authorizes the DFW to approve trial fisheries for the use of alternative gear for the mark-selective harvest of hatchery-reared salmon and to establish permit fees by rule for alternative gear fisheries.
  • Authorizes the use of pound nets to harvest salmon on the Columbia River and sets the license fee at $380 per year for a resident and $765 for a nonresident

Without getting too wonky and in the weeds, the differences between the House and Senate fee bills must be concurred on, passed by the legislature and signed by the governor before any hike goes into effect. It would be the first since 2011.

WDFW’s Crosier forecasted some “tough conversations in the coming five days” as lawmakers will have to come to an agreement on outstanding policy issues including the Columbia, hatcheries, predators and more, and how to fund her agency.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” she said. “I think this is the closest we’ve gotten. There’s motivation (by legislators) to get something passed, and fees will be a big part of it.”

And without getting too high up on my stump, the end package will also need to show hunters and anglers that there is a better future ahead from the negative malaise currently gripping the state’s sportsmen as more than a century and a half of habitat loss, hatchery production reductions, increasing ESA listings and fishery restrictions, social media, and, simply put, other legislative priorities have come home to roost, most obviously in the plight of starving southern resident killer whales that might also symbolize today’s opportunities.

Baker Sockeye Anglers Renew Call To Manage Fishery With Runsize Buffer

With a lower than expected salmon run leaving them again feeling shorted, some anglers are renewing calls for a Columbia River springer-style fisheries buffer on sockeye headed to a North Cascades reservoir.

Baker Lake reds were supposed to provide sport and tribal fishermen 12,400 fish each, but while members of the latter fleet were able to harvest 12,176, the former’s haul could ultimately come in around just 56 percent of the quota.

FRANK URABECK AND GRANDSON ALEC SCHANTZ SHOW OFF FIVE SOCKEYE FROM BAKER LAKE. URABECK REPORTS THIS YEAR’S FISH ARE TOUGH FIGHTERS. (FRANK URABECK)

Frank Urabeck, a longtime advocate of recreational fisheries, estimates that when it’s all said and done, it’s “likely” that Skagit River plunkers and Baker Lake trollers will have put somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 sockeye on their barbecues, 5,400 fewer than the preseason agreement allowed, and nearly 5,200 fewer than Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle fishermen took.

It’s also in part due to our less efficient methods and that it gets tougher to catch the fish as they near spawning, but the harvest disparity “could have been avoided had (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) adopted in-season harvest management improvement proposals put forth by CCA and others,” a press release from Urabeck states.

This year’s seasons were set on the expectation 35,002 sockeye would come back, but after tribal fishermen hit Skagit Bay and the lower river it begin to become apparent that fewer of the salmon were actually returning, somewhere around 30,000. Over 14,450 have been tallied at the Baker River fish trap and nearly 6,850 have been transported up to the lake.

It’s led Puget Sound Anglers President Ron Garner to renew the call to use something like the 30-percent set aside on the Columbia in case the ESA-listed spring Chinook run doesn’t come in as predicted.

That effectively reduces how many kings are available in the early portion of the season until managers are comfortable that preseason predictions will be met, or exceeded, and can reopen angling if enough fish are available.

“Under today’s complex salmon fisheries layout there are many problems in dividing fish as each area presents its own set of problems of how to secure equity,” said Garner in a press release. “Baker Lake sockeye is one fishery where we have the ability to do that using the Puget Sound Energy Baker River fish trap at Concrete, where Skagit Basin tribes can secure make-up sockeye, if needed, beyond what is achieved from net fishing.”

He says in years when the run comes in low, inequities can be avoided or minimized using the buffer.

Last fall, when the sockeye issue came before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staffers appeared hesitant to institute a buffer because of perceived tribal pushback over the potential for not being able to harvest their share. They wanted to try improved forecasting and opening more of the Skagit to fishing to achieve a closer balance.

“Unfortunately, while advocated by sport fishing groups, the department chose not to pursue a buffer, resulting in a significant disparity again. A buffer has to be part of harvest management next year,” Garner said.

Others expressing frustration over the issue include Al Senyohl of the Steelhead Trout Club of Washington, Nello Picinich of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington, and Roger Goodan of CCA Washington’s North Sound Chapter.

Urabeck says that this year’s imbalance means the tribes will have caught 24,000 more sockeye than sports since 2013.

But WDFW appears to be taking the long view. While Urabeck calls the 2010 and ’11 seasons “outliers,” state managers point out that between 2010 and 2017, the score was actually pretty close, 98,390 treaty fishermen, 94,737 recreational anglers.

And they say it’s likely to even out over time and even sway in our way if we see more big years like 2012, ’13 and ’14.

As for dipping into the fish trap, that’s likely a nonstarter with tribal fishermen. I hear over and over they want to fish the way they want to fish, and that means with a net, not lining up for a salmon handout.

Ultimately it’s in everybody’s best interest to get the forecast right the first time, though that is easier said than done.

Commissioner ‘Not Very Happy’ To Be Left Out Of Loop As New Sound Chinook Plan Negotiated

This morning, more light was shed on the new proposed Puget Sound Chinook harvest comanagement plan, the result of confidential negotiations mediated by a federal judge but which left the vice chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission “not very happy” about things.

The plan only came to light this Tuesday following months of talks behind closed doors between WDFW, tribal and Department of Justice officials following the disastrous 2016 North of Falcon and its delayed state fisheries.

WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN LARRY CARPENTER TOLD WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH HE WAS NOT HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT OF THE LOOP AS A PROPOSED 10-YEAR PUGET SOUND CHINOOK HARVEST MANAGEMENT PLAN WAS NEGOTIATED IN SECRET BY AGENCY, TRIBAL AND DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OFFICIALS. (TVW)

And while meant to try and avoid that fiasco again, as well as conserve key stocks, that the negotiations were done without knowledge of the citizen panel that oversees policy for the state agency irked the recently reappointed Larry Carpenter.

“Director (Unsworth), the commission delegates authority to you on a variety of issues, and that’s an appropriate thing to do. I agree with it. But I don’t think that that eliminates your responsibility to have consultations with us on issues of importance,” the former Mount Vernon boat seller and member of the Southern Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission said during a meeting of the commission in Olympia broadcast on TVW.

“And I certainly consider the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan to be an issue of significant importance. It’s very critical, and not having discussions with the commission, I think, is an unacceptable practice.”

WDFW DIRECTOR JIM UNSWORTH BRIEFED THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON THE PROPOSED CHINOOK PLAN. (TVW)

Carpenter, who is the chair of the commission’s  fish committee and member of its executive committee, said that at a recent closed-door briefing just enough information about the ongoing mediation was given to he and fellow commissioners to “read between the lines about what was really happening.”

“We didn’t know,” he said.

Then the plan was posted online, and with its warnings of potentially reduced fishing for the basin’s premier salmon stock, anglers and tackle and boat makers immediately started fretting about the future of fishing and the industry.

“And we got stakeholders calling us and emailing us — angst,” Carpenter said. “I feel like we were really, really left out on a limb on this one. And I’m really not very happy about it.”

During public input afterwards, some of his concerns were echoed by Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, among the state’s largest sporting organizations.

“The commission needs to be apprised of this as a major stakeholder,” Garner said.

RON GARNER, PRESIDENT OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS, SPEAKS DURING PUBLIC COMMENT AT TODAY’S FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION MEETING. (TVW)

He also took issue with a major change from the previous management strategy for Puget Sound — lowering exploitation rates on Stillaguamish fall kings, which are caught in fisheries everywhere from Stanwood to Juneau.

The plan reduces that rate from 13 percent to 8 percent. While that lower figure is actually near the rate of recent years, it also drops down to as low as 4 percent for years of lower abundances.

Garner called that “very restrictive,” and while he said he understood the reason why, he disagreed that it would actually help out Stilly Chinook.

“Even if you shut down every fishery on the West Coast, the Stillaguamish River would not recover. It’s strictly a habitat-water issue,” he said.

“It has the possibility of closing down a lot of businesses, manufacturing businesses, loss of jobs, maybe in the tens of thousands, and the quality of life in Washington state,” Garner added before his three minutes of time to speak were up.

Using 2017 preseason fishery forecasts as an example, Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and current Northwest Marine Trade Association staffer, reported that sport fishers would have lost out on 18,000 Chinook in mostly hatchery-targeted fisheries in North and Central Puget Sound this year, all to save nine wild Stillaguamish kings. Nine.

It is not immediately clear how it would affect tribal fisheries, but likely would impact open-water fishermen more so than terminal zone ones.

Following the meeting, Perry Mancheca, who has been calling for more open meetings between state and tribal officials, asked fellow anglers to attend tomorrow’s commission meeting and pour on the pressure.

“It is now more important than ever that the we follow such a strong statement by our Commission with a loud and strong message from the stakeholders,” he said via a petition update on Change.org.

The job of informing the Fish and Wildlife Commission how the confidential negotiations came about fell to Assistant Attorney General Mike Grossman, who advises WDFW on legal matters.

Grossman explained that after 2016’s highly contentious North of Falcon wrapped up, 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 U.S. District Court for Western Washington Judge Marsha Pechman.

He said that the number one priority of those talks was an updated 10-year resource management plan for Puget Sound Chinook, and to get it in place by April or May 2019, it needed to be wrapped up by Nov. 30 for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s NEPA review, estimated to take about 17 months.

The previous 10-year plan expired in 2014 and the comanagers have been taking it year to year.

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE GROSSMAN SPEAKS BEFORE THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (TVW)

Grossman said that the state “benefited from being able to converse with the tribes on a confidentiality basis.”

He acknowledged the “tension” that that created with state laws on openness, and indeed, news of the secret talks comes as sportsmen like Mancheca have been working for more than a year to open up the state-tribal North of Falcon negotiations, which otherwise aren’t public.

Grossman explained that without Endangered Species Act coverage through the Chinook plan, “we can’t fish,” meaning nontribal anglers, as the feds “don’t have the view” they’ll do an individual consultation for the state like they would the tribes.

“Really, this … comanagement plan or a unilateral plan, which would very problematic, are the only two vehicles. And we made a decision, after a lot of talk with you and with the agency to proceed based on a comanager plan,” he said.

He described it as an umbrella, underneath which the state and tribes could divvy up the harvestable catch, though work remains.

“But it is a crucial piece that I think does recalibrate and puts us in a much better position to negotiate North of Falcon not having to worry about whether or not we have ESA protection at the end of the day. The focus will then entirely be on, do we have fair and balanced fisheries between the various comanagers, knowing that collectively we have to live within these limits,” Grossman said.

More details on what the Chinook plan may mean for sport fisheries may be forthcoming at the commission’s January meeting.

Outside today’s meeting, a question was raised by Frank Urabeck, a member of the sportfishing community, about whether not having the commission approve the plan before it was sent to the feds might invalidate it, but Garner said that that had been looked at and WDFW can act and then inform members.

One final note on the commission and Chinook: During discussion about Puget Sound orcas, Director Unsworth said that WDFW is evaluating what can be done via their facilities.

“Hopefully we can do something to increase hatchery production that will be helpful for killer whales, as well as salmon in general and our recreational and commercial, tribal use of those fish,” he said.

More information could come out as Governor Inslee pushes out his supplemental budget proposals for the coming legislative session.

Editor’s note: This blog was updated at 8 a.m., December 11, 2017, to clarify Mark Yuasa was reporting estimated 2017 fishery impacts and the figures were not his own. Larry Carpenter’s commission committee assignments were also added.