Inslee Rejected Lawmakers’ Call To Reopen Washington Fishing

I am hopeful that we can get folks back on the water sooner rather than later,’ Governor also writes in Monday letter

Governor Jay Inslee yesterday rejected a call from nearly two dozen Republican state lawmakers to consider putting sportfishing on the list of allowed essential outdoor activities in Washington under his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order aimed at helping slow the spread of COVID-19.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE GIVES HIS 2019 STATE OF THE STATE SPEECH. (GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

“It is in the interest of protecting all people that we support the closure of recreational fishing,” the two-term Democrat up for reelection this fall replied in a letter to them.

The four senators and 19 representatives from across the state had made their request on March 27, a couple days after Inslee’s declaration and WDFW its initial two-week temporary closure of fishing and some hunts.

Following the governor’s closure of the rest of the K-12 school year earlier yesterday, Monday evening those were extended to at least May 4, postponing a number of very popular upcoming fishing as well as hunting openers, infuriating some Evergreen State sportsmen.

That move was presaged in the back and forth between lawmakers and the governor.

“This is a time of deep anxiety and fear for Washingtonians, many of whom are struggling to find a way to decompress and enjoy life amidst the chaos,” wrote Rep. Larry Hoff (18th District, Clark County) and 22 colleagues representing more than one third of all state Republican legislators in Olympia. “It’s a fact of life that very few activities are as relaxing as casting a line from the banks of a river or from a boat in the middle of a lake. It’s an escape, much like walking, hiking, running or biking.”

Their letter also pointed out that “many of our veterans recreationally fish, whether to simply clear their minds or to treat symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” and that they were “concerned for their well-being during this time.”

“We firmly believe there is a way to balance public health while also allowing folks to fish on Washington’s many rivers and lakes. We would ask you to consider adding recreational fishing to your list of allowable essential activities under Stay Home—Stay Healthy,” Hoff et al wrote.

In his reply, Inslee said he appreciated their “advocacy for recreational fishing” and termed the activity “a key component in the outdoor recreation lifestyle that Washingtonians embrace.”

But he also stated the state’s list of critical infrastructure, adopted from the federal department of Homeland Security, didn’t list it “as an essential activity.”

That’s a difficult if not impossible pill to swallow, given some of the business activities that are still open.

“Because recreational fishing is a popular activity and enjoyed by so many, it creates hazards at this time,” Inslee defended. “If recreational fishing were to resume, it is highly likely it will induce people to travel across the state and also attract some from out-of-state. It is highly likely that local gas stations, grocery stores, and take out restaurants will see increased activity. It is highly likely that some folks will travel in cars with companions outside their household unit. Since we are almost certain that the virus can be transmitted without symptoms, all of the instances above increase the likelihood that rural communities with recreational fishing destinations could see increased transmission and increased strain on their limited healthcare resources.”

In fact it was concerns in Pacific County that led to the first recreational closure, a four-day March razor clam dig on the coast.

The state’s coronavirus site lists no cases in that Southwest Washington district and fewer than 10 in 13 other mostly rural counties as of this morning. According to a WDFW Facebook post today, the advice after talking with “multiple county health officials throughout the state is “that, right now, this is what’s best for our communities.”

“We are trying to keep those counties from experiencing the rapid spread seen elsewhere,” Inslee wrote. “For that reason it is important that recreational fisheries remain closed while the ‘Stay Healthy, Stay Home’ order is in effect. Adventure can wait. Stay close by when going outdoors — if you need to take a car, it may be too far. Don’t recreate with those outside your household. Practice strong social distancing when getting fresh air. While a few can fish and meet this standard, many cannot.”

Inslee called on the 23 lawmakers from the other side of the aisle to communicate that back to “our mutual constituents.”

“If we can do that now, for a limited time, I am hopeful that we can get folks back on the water sooner rather than later,” he wrote.

State health officials report 372 deaths from COVID-19, including 34 yesterday, the highest tally yet, but thanks to earlier distancing efforts, the peak may be here or even behind us.

Washington’s move contrasts with Oregon’s and Idaho’s approaches, which have been to keep fishing and hunting open, with caveats.

ODFW stopped posting trout release updates to discourage crowding at stocked lakes, and last Friday afternoon it sent out advice to anglers and hunters that continuing to offer seasons depended on sportsmen being able to maintain social distancing. IDFG suspended sales of some nonresident fishing licenses in accordance with that state’s governor’s self-isolation orders.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind has said his agency has been mulling a structure for how it might reopen fisheries at some future point. He suggested perhaps a county-of-residence option, but also said that the legality, equity and enforceability of that needed to be looked into.

Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune reported that there had been support in extreme Southeast Washington for home-county hunting of spring turkeys, but it was apparently rejected by Susewind.

Answering comments this morning about why places where hunters and anglers can literally physically separate themselves from others — the middle of Puget Sound, lakes, etc. — can’t be open, WDFW communications staffers stated, “Fish and wildlife are a natural resource that belong to all Washingtonians equally. Having fishing open to just a few people just isn’t fair.”

Refunds for Washington licenses and permits will be available if sportsmen request them before their opening day, WDFW said. Points can also be reinstated for those who drew a spring bear tag and whose season hasn’t begun.