Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissioners will hold a special public meeting next week via Zoom to talk about this past winter’s coastal steelhead restrictions and plans for next season.
The 2-4 p.m. session next Wednesday, April 21, will include statements from stakeholders, comments from commissioners and a WDFW staff presentation on the “2021-22 communication plan for season setting,” along with time for questions and next steps. The list of stakeholders features a number of guide representatives, the city of Forks and others.
It was prefaced during last Friday’s conference call of the citizen panel.
“None of us are questioning the conservation responsibilities we have,” said Chair Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon, “but I have particular sympathy to people that live in rural communities and small businesses – ma and pa’s, if you will – and I think some people were hurt economically, and that happens in this arena. But I want to make sure that between our April 21 meeting with the Fish Committee and our June big meeting to try to find a positive direction and guidance – and great guidance – on this issue that we really apply ourselves and try and find a way to go forward that works a little better than the way this came about. End of discussion, thank you.”
Carpenter spoke his piece just before the commission voted unanimously to deny a Forks fishing guide business’s petition to open the upper Hoh River to boat fishing again, but the subcontext was that in early December, he and other commissioners had been caught flat-footed about the momentous decision Director Kelly Susewind was about to make in response to chronic forecasted below-escapement wild winter steelhead runs to a number of West End, Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay systems.
The issue really only became public in a Thanksgiving-eve online meeting in which WDFW laid out the challenges and options for the season, but also did not advise members of the commission’s Fish Committee, according to the chair.
Ultimately, the restrictions that went into effect included a ban on fishing from a floating device, barred the use of bait and scents even during the heart of the hatchery return, and an end-of-March angling closure, among others.
Then at the start of last month, with “the dire situation of these runs … apparent now,” WDFW shut down fishing three weeks earlier than scheduled on the Chehalis, Humptulips, Wynoochee, Newaukum, Skookumchuck, Clearwater, Quinault and other systems.
To give everyone a far earlier heads up about next winter, agency steelhead managers also plan to hold another meeting in early summer to “review additional in-season metrics, spawning surveys, and catch monitoring data this spring.”