Washington Senate Committee Moves Key Bill Funding Columbia Fisheries Monitoring

It’s been a while since either of the two state legislative committees that oversee WDFW issues in Olympia have met, but this morning, the Senate’s gave a bill extending the Columbia endorsement for two more years a do-pass recommendation.

It otherwise expires at the end of the month, imperiling a number of salmon and steelhead fisheries throughout the watershed of the big river.

BOATS ON THE COLUMBIA RIVER BELOW BONNEVILLE DAM DURING THIS SPRING’S CHINOOK SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The endorsement covers the cost of monitoring catches, required because so many harvestable fish either swim alongside ESA-listed ones or are federally protected themselves.

WDFW’s Kelly Cunningham called the $8.75 fee anglers who fish the Columbia and its numerous tribs for kings, coho, winter- and summer-runs and other stocks have been paying since 2010 “vital” to fisheries, and said none could otherwise occur above McNary Dam without it.

During this morning’s public hearing before the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, Chairman Sen. Kirk Pearson’s SB 5947 received support from Carl Burke of Fish Northwest, who called the endorsement a “win-win piece of legislation” and a model for others in the future.

Scott Sigmon of Coastal Conservation Association of Washington termed it a “successful story that’s benefited anglers up and down the river,” and said that 40 percent of endorsements are sold to Eastside-based anglers.

Cunningham, who is the WDFW Fish Program deputy assistant director, said it’s led to a million angler days a year and $87 million in annual economic activity for local economies.

Bill Clark of Trout Unlimited and Dave Knutzen of Olympia also were in support.

Asked by Sen. Brad Hawkins (R-East Wenatchee) if he foresaw a day where the endorsement would be covered inside WDFW’s regular budget, Cunningham pointed to the “growing financial burden” of ESA listings and two recent examples.

He said that NOAA’s approval to again release early winter-timed steelhead in select Puget Sound rivers and the Mitchell Act biological opinion also included terms and conditions that require new but unfunded monitoring and other work such as a doubling of the number of weirs in Lower Columbia rivers.

Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip) stated that the funding was needed for the “conservation of the fishery.”

After a brief discussion, Pearson (R-Monroe) called for a vote and SB 5947 was sent to Senate Ways and Means.

Today’s the last day of the second special session with a third expected to begin tomorrow. There’s optimism a budget will pass before June 30, preventing a shutdown of state fisheries and hatcheries.

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