Editor’s note: Updated 2:45 p.m., Monday, February 5, 2024, at bottom with comment from the state Department of Labor and Industries.
WDFW says it has voluntarily stood down most staffers who work in, on or near water following an inspection by the state Department of Labor and Industries yesterday.
The move comes nine days after WDFW seasonal science tech Mary Valentine is presumed to have drowned while working alone at a fish trap on Hood Canal’s Duckabush River January 24.
Some agency employees do remain on the job this weekend.
“WDFW leadership is working with Enforcement, hatchery staff, and other work units to ensure staff are issued and wear certified personal flotation devices to resume work safely and maintain critical operations over the weekend of February 3-4,” Sam Montgomery, WDFW communications manager, said in a statement early this afternoon.
Montgomery said that WDFW’s Safety Office will be hosting four mandatory training sessions this coming week on the use and inspection of PFDs for all staffers who “work in, on, or adjacent to water.”
Valentine, who was 48, was the second WDFW employee to die in the water in six months. Last September, 31-year-old fisheries biologist Erin Peterson died after becoming “entrapped” during a snorkel survey of the Wind River. In the wake of Valentine’s death, a Northwest fisheries bio tweeted that counting fish wasn’t worth it and urged those who work around water to use the buddy system.
In a joint statement issued last week, State Senators Ron Muzzall (R-Oak Harbor) and Kevin Van De Wege (D-Lake Sutherland) said that WDFW has worked to improve safety, but needs to go further and have safety officers in the field ensuring procedures are being followed, “especially when dangerous activities are being conducted.”
“We don’t know in this particular situation what transpired, but we need to know that they’re trained so that they are capable of doing what is a reasonably dangerous job as safely as possible,” Muzzall told reporter Tracy Ellis.
Muzzall and Van De Wege sit on the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, through which WDFW-related bills go when the legislature is in session.
“WDFW continues to work with staff to improve water safety and is complying with all L&I guidance and directives,” Montgomery said.
Dina Lorraine at the Department of Labor and Industries confirmed that WDFW stood down operations at L&I’s direction to review equipment and procedures.
“The inspection can take up to six months to complete. We’ll be able to share more details once that wraps up,” Lorraine said.