If the Northwest Olympic Peninsula Sportfishing Coalition were a fish, it would be but a wee little smolt. Founded in late February, the NOPSC had its first public meeting on March 7 at the Forks High School auditorium. The meeting was well attended and held a friendly atmosphere throughout, as approximately 140 angling minded attendees exchanged concerns and ideas.
“For us as a coalition, we wanted to hear the people’s voice,” explained local fishing guide and NOPSC member, Bob Kratzer. “We didn’t want to just start making decisions on our own.”
The coalition’s stated objective is to act as a platform for anglers to effectively voice their opinions on the state of fishing in this isolated region of the state. Their contentions go beyond the thrill of the catch and settle directly in the thicket of economic repercussions. While anglers all over the state can sympathize with this reality, the north Olympic Peninsula has been especially hard hit by government regulation because fishing is responsible for such a large percentage of the area’s economy.
Historically, north Olympic Peninsula communities were sustained off of the profits of the timber industry. But when the Spotted Owl was designated as a threatened species in 1990, the impending legislation sent a shock wave through the timber harvest industry, reducing its economic contribution to local communities to a fraction of what it once was. Over the past 24 years, north peninsula communities have offset these losses on money brought in by sport fishermen. A common estimate for the value of each adult salmon or steelhead harvested is $1,000 in local revenue.
With multiple species of wild steelhead and salmon now listed under the Endangered Species Act, the coalition believes that this area is steadily losing more and more of its viable economic opportunity. As the coalition sees it, important decisions that directly impact the livelihood of Olympic Peninsula residents have, for too long, been made by legislatures in Olympia who do not fully grasp the magnitude and complexity of the issue.
As part of their presentation, the coalition presented the following information to illustrate the cuts made to local fisheries over the last 10 years:
• 47 percent reduction in Sol Duc River Hatchery Fall coho salmon
• 52 percent reduction in Sol Duc River hatchery Summer coho
• 40 percent reduction of hatchery winter steelhead production
• 78 percent reduction in the average Sol Duc River Hatchery coho returns
• Elimination of all summer and winter hatchery steelhead on the Sol Duc River, including ending the Snider Creek Winter steelhead Broodstock program
• Reductions in the North Coast halibut quota
• Deep water ling cod fishing now closed April 30
According to the coalition, these actions have limited the fishing opportunities for locals and visitors alike, and they argue that when fishing is down, so too is the local “revenue stream.”
The decline in numbers of returning fish is a complicated equation, with more than a few controversial points. These contributing factors include altered natural habitat (dams, roads, clearcut forest, and culverts), hatchery mismanagement (both poor hatchery practices and closures of hatcheries with positive results), overharvest issues (combined between commercial, tribal, and sport harvest) and changing climate issues.
Dale Scott, a representative member of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) who sat on the coalition panel, said he supports the diverse dialogue. “I think it’s healthy. We’re all co-managers. We all want to see the resource survive. We all want wild fish to survive.”
According to Kratzer, the coalition is currently focused mainly on building its membership numbers and building strong relationships with government, tribal and existing fishing organizations. “We are trying, as fast as we can, to get joined with CCA, Puget Sound Anglers, and NSIA (Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association),” said Kratzer. By teaming up with existing organizations, the coalition hopes to present a more united front to state law and policy makers.
Currently, the rivers under the coalition umbrella include the Sol Duc, Dickey, Calawah, Bogachiel, Hoh, Clearwater, Queets, and Quinault. Of these rivers, all but the Dickey and Clearwater currently have at least one active steelhead or salmon hatchery.
“And we want to reach out to Sequim, Port Angeles, and across, but right now our representation is here,” explained coalition member and local fishing guide, Bill Meyer. Meyer noted that the coalition is currently working on establishing a salmon brood stock program on the Bogachiel River, but he was most pleased that the Quileute Tribe accepted an invitation to attend the meeting. “In the history of sport fishing, when has the Tribe and sportfishing sat down to talk? That is the most encouraging thing.”
Still, when asked directly about the Quileute Tribe joining the coalition, there was a bit of awkward apprehension on both sides. Kratzer replied first, saying, “We simply extended an invitation to the Tribe to come to the meeting. Now it is up to them to decide if they want to join, or what the next step is. He (Quileute representative Chas Woodruff) can take it back to them and they will decide if, and when they want to be a part.”
Woodruff agreed that there is much to be done before the NOPSC and his tribe form an official partnership, but he said, “This is better than 40 years of finger pointing.” Woodruff added, “I’ve got to applaud these guys for coming forward and starting this effort. We want to make this good for the future, for our grandkids.”
Anyone who has questions for, or is interested in joining the NOPSC can contact Kratzer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.