The WDFW Commissioners have acted in a rational and thoughtful manner. On Sept. 4, 2014, the WDFW Commissioners adopted their policy for WDFW budget cuts. This was necessary as a directive was received from the Governor's office to cut the capital budget across the board by 15% or about $11 million for WDFW (cuts in future biennia is to allow the state to meet its K-12 educational obligations under the McCleary court decision).
I have listened to the commissioner's budget discussion and read their policy budget document. They have approached their decision using a metric for the department as a cost/benefit ratio measurement for sports and commercial fishery. This metric evaluates the department's costs to support a commercial, and separate costs for a sports fishery, and what is the income to each of these as a benefit.
Recently the commissioners had raised the sports licensing fees. They report it will be necessary to be raised again, to support the sports fishing cost/benefit ratio. At the Commissioners meeting on Sept 4, 2014, it was reported there was a general consensus among the sports fishers groups... 'They agree to an increase in license fees'...but,
In the Willapa 90% of the salmon harvest is by commercial fishers, which is being subsidized by the sports fishers. The sports fishers are adamant they do not wish to continue to subsidize the commercial harvest.
In summary: if the commercial fishers want to continue their harvest they will need to pay for it, if not the Nemah and Naselle hatcheries will be closed.
I have written several letters about the poor management of Willapa Fishery by WDFW. Over the years I have worked with commercial and sports fishers groups, they have both worked very hard to be a part of salmon recovery in the Willapa, and have committed their time and treasure for salmon recovery. There has never been a rational and dependable policy of "conservation" by WDFW for Willapa salmon stocks. As a result, the salmon stocks have been over-harvested. Most of the 746 salmon bearing streams in the Willapa now don't have salmon; hatcheries alone cannot support the salmon populations in the Willapa.
WDFW has lots of slogans or bumper stickers about "Conservation". But the only conservation they are interested in is their own jobs.
Millions of dollars have been spent by well meaning groups to recover salmon, and the Willapa Bay habitat has been greatly improved, and now could support a great deal more salmon if properly managed by WDFW. WDFW has consistently developed fraudulent data to show that more harvestable salmon exist, and then over harvest that amount with insufficient escapement of brood-stock returning to our many streams.
With the over-harvest of brood-stock, there is not sufficient returning fish for spawning, and the returning salmon are not sufficient to support the nutrient levels in the streams, which is necessary for salmon to complete their life cycle. Without an honest estimate of salmon stocks in the Willapa, rational decisions cannot be made on the management of the stocks.
I applaud the WDFW Commissioners for their courage in taking this decisive action. This will help in returning Willapa Bay to a sustainable fishery. I hope this will be the first step which will lead to a new Willapa Salmon Plan for sustainable salmon, and hopefully a new WDFW management team. There is no reason that a well-managed Willapa salmon fishery utilizing the new restored habitat could not be utilized, which could support a sports and commercial fishery. But new WDFW management is required. Hopefully the WDFW Commissioners can now use this wise decision to direct a new Willapa Salmon Plan be developed with new WDFW leadership. Willapa Bay now has the habitat to support a larger population of salmon stocks; the limiting element for more salmon in the Willapa is WDFW management. The goal should be to make the restored habitat (746 streams) into the historical hatcheries that supported much larger salmon stocks.
South Bend, WA