Tag Archives: washington fish and wildlife commission

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.

4 Wells Hatchery Workers Fired Following Investigation Into Activities

A high-ranking state lawmaker and a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner are calling for changes within WDFW after reports surfaced that a highly sexualized culture also existed at an Eastern Washington hatchery, where four workers were fired last week.

Two stories out this morning paint an ugly picture of goings-on at the Wells Hatchery on the Upper Columbia, where the manager and three top hatchery specialists allegedly “routinely talked about sex and asked explicit sexual questions of coworkers” and made remarks about “the bodies of women who visited the hatchery.”

The pieces are reported by Walker Orenstein of The News Tribune of Tacoma and Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

They’re based on a 30-page report by Daphne R. Schneider and Associates commissioned this March after workers at a nearby hatchery expressed their concerns about alleged behavior at Wells to a WDFW officer.

Northwest Sportsman has filed a public disclosure request for the document, but in the meanwhile the reporters’ articles paint a picture of both the alleged activities and the workers’ defense.

The four men who were fired passed their conversations off as “locker room talk,” but it was allegedly so bad for one coworker that she left for a position elsewhere.

WDFW said that it is not pursuing criminal charges against the quartet “because their misconduct did not appear to rise to that level, agency spokesman Bruce Botka said. Also, the consulting firm did not conclude anyone had been sexually harassed,” Orenstein reported.

They can appeal their removal.

For WDFW, the latest story is effectively a one-two punch.

Early last week, Orenstein and Jenkins reported about a law firm’s investigation of sexual harassment claims at the agency’s Olympia headquarters.

Afterwards, Botka told Northwest Sportsman that “Director Jim Unsworth again today said he has no tolerance for the sorts of allegations that have surfaced in these stories and in this case.”

JIM UNSWORTH. (WDFW)

This latest incident left Unsworth “startled and taken aback” and he felt that the firing of the four would send a strong message throughout WDFW’s 1,500-plus employees.

Certainly, a problem was identified, investigated and action was taken, but some are calling for even more.

Rep. Brian Blake, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which many WDFW-related bills go through, called on WDFW’s overseers to put their foot down.

REP. BRIAN BLAKE, D-ABERDEEN. (TVW)

“The [Fish and Wildlife] Commission who governs this agency needs to step up and through the director communicate very strongly that there needs to be somebody in charge that does have this expertise in the ability to change cultures,” Blake told the newspaper and radio reporters.

One of those members, Commissioner Barbara Baker, who was appointed earlier this year by Governor Jay Inslee, said that even more stringent training is needed, it was reported.

IN THIS TVW SCREENGRAB, WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSIONER BARBARA BAKER SPEAKS BEFORE THE SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE PANEL, SET TO RUN AT LEAST THROUGH 2022. (TVW)

Wells Hatchery is owned by Douglas County PUD and operated by WDFW. It rears hundreds of thousands of summer steelhead, summer Chinook, trout and kokanee for fisheries, as well as sturgeon for conservation programs.

Troublingly, Jenkins’s report mentions possible misuse of state equipment by the former manager, while Orenstein’s article says that the WDFW officer’s initial report suggested hatchery workers had been “coached to provide false numbers for fish stocking records.”

This is not the first time WDFW hatcheries have been in the news for sex-related activities.

In 2012,  Carl E. Jouper, the former manager of the George Adams Hatchery in Mason County, was jailed for 90 days after pleading guilty to voyeurism, putting a camera in the women’s bathroom there.

Carpenter Reappointed To WA Fish Commission, Retired PFMC Chief To Be Added

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will soon be back to full strength with the pending addition of a new member and reappointment of another to fill a recent departure.

Donald McIsaac, a retired longtime director of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, has been appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to the citizen panel that sets policy for and oversees the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

And Larry Carpenter, the vice chair, has been reappointed to Miranda Wecker’s seat.

“Their effective dates will be confirmed once we have received the required returned paperwork,” says Tara Lee, a spokeswoman in the Governor’s Office.

Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association says he’s known McIsaac for over three decades, and worked with him promoting Willapa Bay in the 1980s. He termed McIsaac “an outstanding selection” and a “fair, open-minded guy.”

“He’ll instantly become a very important, experienced and knowledgeable biological voice” on the commission, Floor said.

IN A SCREEN GRAB FROM C-SPAN 3, DONALD McISAAC SPEAKS BEFORE A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE IN JANUARY 2014. (C-SPAN)

PFMC, or the Pacific Council, manages fisheries off the West Coast, including salmon, and includes representatives from all three states.

When McIsaac retired after 15 years as its director, he was called “a very positive leader” by an Oregon board member, according to a 2015 article by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.

“Through his tenure, he has brought together staff that is very strong and supports the Council well. He’s been tireless in his dedication to the Council and Council process and making sure we have the resources to do good Council policy,” Dorothy Lowman told the Seattle-based organization.

Prior to that, McIsaac worked for the Washington Department of Fisheries and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a field biologist.

These days he runs DMA Consulting, which advises clients on fishery conservation and management issues.

As for Carpenter’s reappointment, Frank Urabeck, a longtime sportfishing advocate, said he was among those who was pleased with it.

“That act alone gives the recreational fishing community some hope there is still a chance we can correct so much of what has gone wrong in recent years that resulted in significant erosion of sport fishing opportunity,” he said this morning.

Chief among Urabeck’s beefs is the loss of the Skokomish River salmon fishery, fueled by the state Chinook and coho hatchery.

LARRY CARPENTER. (WDFW)

Urabeck termed Carpenter, the former owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon, as “the most accessible member of the commission” — Carpenter has been a frequent guest on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line.

He said Carpenter is able to “work with all the players” and is the “most respected, most knowledgeable about fish management issues, and has the experience and capability to provide the leadership desperately needed right now.”

Technically, McIsaac is taking over Carpenter’s Western Washington position, and Carpenter is taking over Wecker’s Western Washington position.

Wecker announced her resignation late last month, and last weekend’s meeting was her last on the commission.

She had been on the board for 12 years, including a long stint as its chair, and her time was marked by thoughtful balancing of harvest and conservation.

“Nothing but gold stars for her,” praised Floor.

Her term was set to run through 2018; Carpenter will serve it out, and then, importantly, would need to be reappointed to remain on the commission.

Wecker, Longtime Fish And Wildlife Commissioner, To Step Down

One of Washington’s longest serving members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission announced today that she’s stepping down.

Miranda Wecker, who has been on the citizen panel more than a dozen years, says the Aug. 4-5 meeting will be her last.

It is a significant loss for the recreational fishing and hunting community and worrisome from the standpoint of whether a person with similarly strong credentials and cred will be appointed to fill her seat by Governor Jay Inslee. The commission oversees the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

MIRANDA WECKER SPEAKS BEFORE THE SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES AND PARKS COMMITTEE DURING A 2014 HEARING ON HER APPOINTMENT TO THE FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION. (TVW)

Wecker, who also was the commission chair from January 2009 to January 2015, said in an announcement this afternoon that the time had arrived for her to step down, effective Aug. 6.

“I leave the Commission after 12 years with deep gratitude for the opportunity I had to contribute to the governance process. I leave more convinced than ever that it is vital that citizens step forward, with good will and optimism, and engage their talents constructively in the formulation of policies. Government is always a work-in-progress and it can be made better by public participation. Government service is honorable work with many decent, energetic and skilled professionals involved in it,” she wrote.

The Naselle resident’s term as one of three Western Washington representatives on the commission had otherwise been scheduled to run through the end of 2018.

Chairing the commission through tumultuous economic times and the hiring of the last two WDFW directors, Wecker said she’s particularly proud of “the major policy reforms that were adopted to emphasize conservation and accountability” but recognized that doing so “did not please everyone.”

Those included the state wolf management plan, Puget Sound shrimp and crab allocations, hatchery reforms, the 21st Century Salmon and Steelhead Initiative, and revising salmon policies in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bays.

Certainly, she may not count many coastal commercial fishermen among her friends, and twice in recent years her position has been in danger, once in 2015 when the Governor’s Office said her resignation was “pending” and again earlier this year after the commission voted to continue with reforming Columbia River salmon and sturgeon fisheries.

Wecker said she hoped the commission would face challenges of those policies “with integrity and with a commitment to the highest principles.”

Sportfishing leaders were lauding her accomplishments and thanking her for her service.

“Miranda has demonstrated unprecedented leadership during her tenure on the commission,” said Tony Floor, fishing affairs director of the Northwest Marine Trade Association. “She never ducked the tough issues and embraced conservation while setting refreshing direction of managing the resource for wise economic use. She will be missed for her leadership, direction and intellect.”

A law and natural resources policy expert, Wecker was appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire in May 2005, then reappointed in January 2007.

In giving her the nod for another term in 2013, Gov. Inslee said she had “done an excellent job in leading the commission’s work on several challenging fish and wildlife policy issues.”

Her service was notable for the commission’s thoughtful balancing of WDFW’s twin mandates of conservation and harvest in trying times, many unanimous decisions, listening to local concerns on wolves and cougars while also looking at the big picture and buying tens of thousands of acres for habitat and recreation, acting immediately on state lawmakers’ requests to allow ranchers and others to shoot a wolf caught in the act of attacking stock — a provision that was used for the first time last month — and the issuing of several rare statements, including a position paper on wolves, and letters of thanks to past commissioners Gary Douvia, David Jennings and Rollie Schmitten, and Director Anderson.

She was also a voice of caution last year as Director Jim Unsworth began pushing for license fee increases.

Wecker termed it a “pleasure” to have served fellow “knowledgeable, dedicated, and industrious Commissioners” as well as WDFW staff.

“I had the good fortune to serve during a time in which we had hardworking Commissioners with exceptional experience and expertise,” she added. “Very fortunate.”

In her announcement, she said that when she began serving, she had a lot to learn about many issues. Though some of us hunters and anglers think that resource management is a snap, Wecker’s term taught her it was far from simple.

“The more I learned, the more I was aware of the questions that remained to be asked. Humility is the best posture given the importance of what we do, the inadequacy of our knowledge, and the limits of our capacities. With this in mind, I am convinced that we should treat each other with patience, good will, and honesty,” she said.

Wecker said that she was grateful for the friends she’d made while serving and thanked them for their support, advice, chance to visit them in the far-flung corners of the state “and for the opportunity to meet so many people dedicated to the natural resources of our beautiful place.”