STEELHEAD – AND THE SAGA CONTINUES…

Just received notice that “WDFW seeks public input on coastal steelhead seasons” via a July 28 virtual public town hall. C’mon! Those of you who have participated in this process in the past know that this is a complete waste of your time…. This step is merely for show as WDFW has absolutely no interest in your input. Their plan regarding coastal steelhead is already committed – they just are not yet fully prepared to reveal and implement.

In 1974 Judge Boldt rendered his infamous decision affirming Tribal right to 50% of the estimated annual

Steelhead return – plus an undefined percentage intended for tribal and ceremonial purposes. At the time, many of us recognized that this ruling ultimately doomed this extremely valuable and prized resource to continual decline. The dramatic impact of this ruling was felt almost immediately.

As a result, Initiative 456 was passed by a significant margin by voters in 1984. The measure enacted provisions relating to the management of salmon and steelhead resources, including:

1. declaring that an emergency exists in the management of salmon and steelhead trout resources such that both are in great peril;

2. petitioning the United States Congress to immediately make the steelhead trout a national game fish; declaring that conservation, enhancement, and proper utilization of the state’s natural resources, including but not limited to lands, water, timber, fish, and game, are responsibilities of the State of Washington and remain within its express domain;

3. declaring that “no citizen shall be denied equal access to and use of any resource on the basis of race, sex, origin, cultural heritage, or by and through any treaty-based upon the same”;

4. declaring that “ under the Indians Citizens Act of 1924, all Indians became citizens of the United States and subject to the Constitution and laws of the United States and state in which they reside”, and

5. declaring that “any special off-reservation legal rights or privileges of Indians established through treaties that are denied to other citizens were terminated by that 1924 enactment, and any denial of rights to any citizen based upon race, sex, origin, cultural heritage, or by and through any treaty-based upon the same is unconstitutional”

A mere 30 days subsequent to WDFW implementing their draconian “no fishing from a floating device” rule Senator Van De Wege introduced Senate Bill 5199 (matched precisely by House Bill 1172) which does two things;

1. reaffirms the States recognition of judicially affirmed and treaty-reserved fishing rights and promotes state-tribal cooperative agreements in the management of salmon, trout, and steelhead resources, and

2. repeals the entirety of the above referenced peoples Initiative 456

What this seems to suggest is that your good and loyal Senator – Senator Van De Wege – has taken action to remove any and all statutes that could potentially be used, by the public, to defend against whatever WDFW has in store for us. It certainly appears that the non-sensical elimination of fishing from a floating device is not only here to stay, but what lies ahead will be even more restrictive to the general public – and have even greater economic impact to coastal communities. Just a guess, but I think seasons will most likely be shortened to provide an opportunity to catch only hatchery fish fortunate enough to slip past tribal nets.

While there are a number of factors that can be cited having detrimental impact to returning steelhead, none present anywhere near the devastation imposed as a result of the 1974 decision by Judge Boldt. The critical consequences of his ruling were recognized as early as 1984, which resulted in the previously mentioned peoples Initiative 456. It really doesn’t take much scientific analysis to pinpoint the problem:

SPORTSMAN CATCH AND RELEASE MORTALITY RATE – 0% TRIBAL NETS MORTALITY RATE – 100%

Annual mortality of more than 50% of returning hatchery AND native steelhead since 1974, in many cases based on extravagantly optimistic and faulty return forecasts, has placed this extremely valuable resource in a very precarious position – yet the harvest continues unmitigated – and unchallenged by WDFW and the State of Washington. So far, over the years, 100% of alleged “resource enhancement” restrictions have been imposed on those that have had the least detrimental resource impact, the sport fisherman. Highly unlikely this will change…. Sports fisherman political contributions – NILL. Tribal entities – MILLIONS. It really has become clear that the position of WDFW has little to do with protecting, enhancing, and ensuring longevity of the resource. Unfortunate!

So you say “Why should I care, I don’t even fish”? Well, the economic impact to any segment of a community impacts that community as a whole. Coastal river fishing guides experienced 40% or greater drop in business this last winter steelhead season. Many private party fishermen chose Puget Sound rivers and stayed home rather than travel to significantly restricted coastal rivers. Many fishermen just are unable, or feel it too dangerous, to have to get in and out of a drift boat in sometimes swift water over slippery, rocky river bottoms. Inability to fish from a floating device reduces available fishing opportunity to 15% or less of most coastal rivers, and many feel it just isn’t worth it. When fishing guides no longer have customers, and private party fisherman stay home, hotel rooms are empty! When hotel rooms are empty restaurants and bars have lots of empty tables, gas stations sell less fuel, sports stores have fishing supplies remain on the shelves, community tax revenue takes a hit and in many cases community services are reduced or eliminated…. YES, YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY CARE!

And now you say “Well, what can I do”? I say “Fight for your community!” Pick up your phone or get on your computer. Tell your Mayor, tell your City Councilmen, tell your County Councilmen, and most of all – tell Senator Van De Wege and your Representatives – that it is time they actually start representing the best interest of those that actually put them in office. Hold them accountable! Just click on the links below and let them have it……!

DISTRICT 24 Senator Van De Wege [email protected]

Representative Chapman [email protected]

Representative Tharinger [email protected]

DISTRICT 19 Senator Wilson [email protected]

Representative Walsh [email protected]

Representative McEntire [email protected]

I am just an outsider that loves the coastal rivers, the coastal communities, and the strong, independent people that live there. I know that you have the power to effect change. I promise to keep hammering away from my side, and I am counting on you to do your part. It is, after all, your communities.

Jerry Effenberger, Concerned Citizen

(Letter paid for by Jerry Effenberger)