Washington steelheaders are pushing back harder on WDFW’s coastal restrictions, with West End guides calling for anglers to rally in Forks tomorrow afternoon in protest of the boat-fishing ban.
“In doing so [WDFW] took the right away of many people who have disabilities or younger kids who are unable to wade these steep and treacherous shore lines,” wrote Mike Zavadlov of Mike Z’s Guide Service in a Facebook post early today.
The rally, scheduled for Thursday, January 14, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Forks Outfitters, along Highway 101 in the south end of town, follows a state senate hearing on the matter Tuesday.
“Providing opportunities for anglers that are disabled, injured, elderly, and children, must be at the forefront of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) decision making,” says a press release from the Olympic Peninsula Guides Association out this afternoon.
Anglers are encouraged to bring boats.
Also online, a petition with nearly 2,000 signers as of noon on Wednesday says that returns to some river coastal systems “don’t warrant the need for these restrictions and are forecasted to be well above escapement,” and it claims “WDFW has set a dangerous precedent” with the blanket rule changes.
In early December, the agency not only barred fishing out of drift boats, sleds and pontoons, but banned bait, required anglers use a single barbless hook only and to release rainbows – immature or non-anadromous steelhead – along with closed rivers early, all in an effort to boost spawning escapements in waters from Forks to Pe Ell to Naselle following chronic underperformance in some in recent years.
While the estimated cumulative effect will be to more than halve this winter’s catch, the restrictions hasn’t gone over as well on the North Coast, where the Quillayute system is forecast to actually exceed goals by more than 3,000 fish.
During that Tuesday hearing before the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, economically impacted guides outlined their rationale for more flexibility in WDFW’s “one-size-fits-all approach,” and pitched opening the Quilly, Sol Duc, Calawah, Dickey and Bogachiel to boat fishing and easing the gear restrictions slightly through the end of April, and doing similar on the Hoh and Wynoochee through April 15.
This afternoon WDFW’s Kelly Cunningham says the agency has looked at myriad fishing alternatives throughout this process and, as requested by senators, is on track for a response on these particular suggestions by the end of the week.
“These new, nuanced ideas, I’ve got regional staff looking at,” Cunningham said shortly after noon.
As for Zavadlov’s point about certain anglers being unduly impacted by the boat ban (watercraft can still be used for transportation), Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) yesterday asked Cunningham, “How is the department and your AG feeling this interacts with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
“This is a tough one. We understand this rule change is impactful to a lot of folks – businesses, guides, everyday anglers are having to fish differently. And this may sound cold, but I want to be straight forward with you and the committee. Our requirement is to provide ADA access at our facilities – at our hatcheries, where fisheries are accessed – and our responsibility is to provide opportunities for Americans with disabilities,” he said.
“So although this is impactful, although we don’t like it, we feel like we’re, it’s not that it’s a risk-free environment that we’re operating in with this rule change; there certainly is some risk there,” Cunningham acknowledged. “But to be frank, we needed to ensure that if we prosecuted fisheries this year that less fish had to be caught by everybody. It’s unfortunate if somebody isn’t able to climb in and out of a boat. We’re hopeful they find another way to access those fisheries.”
The restrictions have drawn support from some as an acknowledgement of the “the dire situation” the fish are in coastwide, with an Endangered Species Act listing on some of Washington’s last best runs possible if no action had been taken.
Chase Gunnell, author of a major article on the future of steelhead and steelheading in the January issue of Northwest Sportsman and on this blog, worried that pushback on the boat issue was missing the big picture.
“I feel for the guides whose livelihoods are at risk, especially given the short turnaround of these rule changes, but for a decade we’ve all known an ESA listing is looming if we don’t reverse steelhead declines. I hope it doesn’t take that kind of drastic action to bring everyone to the table in good faith,” he said.