As Washington Fishing Protests Grow, Inslee Mulls Easing Restrictions

With a Washington angling closure protest in the works for Seattle this weekend, there are also potential developments in Olympia that bear watching.

Following Governor Jay Inslee’s address last night on his plan for how state residents can gradually return to some form of their normal lives, his chief of staff indicated that restrictions on our favorite recreational activities are on their radar.

ANGLERS IN FISHING BOATS CIRCLE OFF COLUMBIA POINT PARK LAST SATURDAY DURING A FISHING CLOSURE PROTEST. (IMAGE VIA FLATOUT FISHING)

“Hunting and fishing have been in the bucket of outdoor recreation we’ve been watching,” David Postman is quoted by the Spokane Spokesman-Review as saying.

Part of Inslee’s policy brief outlining an overall transition out of Covid-19 constraints – likened by the governor to more like “the turning of the dial than the flip of a switch” — specifically focuses on counteracting social isolation.

It states, “Encourage outdoor recreation that naturally encourages physical distancing and has behavioral health benefits.”

“The social and mental health benefits — that’s why I fish. I forget about everything else,” WDFW Fish and Wildlife Commissioner and self-proclaimed fishing magician Dave Graybill told the Wenatchee World earlier this week while speaking about considerations being weighed about reopening fishing.

Along with camping and access to state lands, fishing was closed initially for two weeks across Washington in late March due to the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order to try and contain the spread of coronavirus.

Then earlier this month, angling as well as hunting and lands closures were subsequently extended until at least May 4.

That’s rubbed sportsmen the wrong way because most fishing and hunting can be done while abiding to social distancing guidelines.

WDFW has readily acknowledged that, but officials say the idea is more about limiting travel and reducing interactions that potentially could introduce the disease in distant parts of the state that are not as well equipped as urban areas to deal with it.

Ben Hanes and the Facebook group Let Us Fish held a protest last weekend in Tri-Cities, and they’re lining up a “parade of boats” for Lake Washington this Sunday.

Angler and writer Marc Marcantonio says the plan is for boaters to gather at noon off Webster Point, the protuberance between Lake Washington and Lake Union just north of the Highway 520 bridge, and then proceed in single file past Husky Stadium into the Ship Canal and then rendezvous off Gas Works Park.

He says that all kinds of watercraft are needed, and for those trailering to the lake, the Mercer Island, Newport Shores and Gene Coulon ramps are open.

“We do ask protestors to keep it respectful, practice social distancing, and wear masks if in the proximity of others. Signs should be displayed with tasteful messages such as #LetUsFish,” he advised.

Marcantonio may be best known locally as a bass fisherman and the cover that ran on Washington Fishing & Hunting News showing himself with a very nice Lake Union smallmouth and the Space Needle in the background.

More details on the event have been posted on the Let Us Fish page.

There is also another protest slated for Saturday on Lake Roosevelt at Hunters.

“We understand people are frustrated,” said Mike Livingston, WDFW Region 3 manager in Yakima, in the wake of the Tri-Cities protest. “We’re certainly planning contingencies, but ultimately waiting on what the governor decides.”

Last night Inslee provided some of those indications as they apply to fishing and hunting, while also saying that it wasn’t likely that many of his order’s restrictions would be tweaked before May 4.

Besides sportsmen, counties are also chafing. Earlier this week Cowlitz County commissioners asked Inslee to lift fishing and hunting restrictions.

But other counties and entities are taking things further. Frankin County authorities are bucking the stay-home order, voting to allow nonessential businesses to open — a move that was called illegal by the governor’s office.

Washington is on the right side of the curve, but health experts warn that relaxing social distancing too early could lead to another wave of infections.

The Associated Press is reporting today that 80 percent of Americans support stay-at-home orders, including seven out of 10 Republicans and nine out of 10 Democrats.

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