A public meeting on March 18 was scheduled in Raymond by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to discuss the 2013 Willapa Bay fisheries. Public comment was to be taken to help finalize this year’s season. Approximately 55 people attended the meeting in which the majority were sport fishers. My fellow fishermen and I want to make it clear from the beginning: We are not against the commercial fisheries taking their share of fish in Willapa Bay. What we are against is the WDFW management of the fisheries.
At the meeting, several handouts were distributed by WDFW. One document was titled “Fish and Wildlife Commission Policy Decision and contained the policy title 2013-2014 North of Falcon # C-3608 dated Feb. 8, 2013.” It contained the following statement, “Salmon and steelhead will be managed to recover and assure sustainability in a way that is science-based, well-documented, transparent, well-communicated, and accountable.”
This document clearly states the guidelines that will be followed in setting the fishing seasons in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. On page one, under Fishery Management, it states, “When assessed from a statewide perspective, fishing directed at Chinook and coho … will not be exclusively reserved for either sport or commercial users. When managing sport fisheries, meaningful recreational fishing opportunities will be distributed equitably across fishing areas.”
Most sport fishing in Willapa Bay is from just below Tokeland to the range light several miles below South Bend. Sport fishers are, for the most part, fishing this area in August and September. Last season, this area was given to the commercial fleet from Aug. 12-16, Aug. 21, and with 12 to 24 hour openings from Aug. 26 to Oct. 14 and from Nov. 1-16. When asked how the sport fishers are to receive meaningful opportunities to catch their fish, we were told fish do not have to be distributed equitably across both groups in Willapa Bay. In particular, the area between South Bend upriver to Raymond and the 101 bridge was netted for the first time. To my knowledge, this area has never been commercially netted before. The fish that managed to escape the bay were faced with almost 41 days of netting, thereby, eliminating meaningful fishing opportunities for sport fishing in the Willapa River.
When the speaker was pressed why Policy C-3608 and North of Falcon guidelines were not being followed, his response was that the policy and guidelines do not apply to Willapa Bay. My fellow fishermen and I were stunned! This meeting was about Willapa Bay. A handout on yellow paper clearly stated the guidelines that would be followed in setting fishing seasons in the bay. At this point, it became obvious that this meeting was nothing more than a charade, and we were purposely being deceived.
Since WDFW is not managing Willapa Bay in a transparent, well-communicated, and accountable way, we challenge Miranda Wecker, chair of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, to step forward and explain what is the WDFW doing to our bay and why.