INITIAL DISCUSSIONS ON re-opening fishing in the state of Washington have occurred between the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and a number of key stakeholders representing recreational fishing interests.
Tuesday night the Washington Guides Association and Fish and Wildlife staff, including Director Kelly Susewind and Fish Program Manager Kelly Cunningham, met online to discuss what a re-opening would look like and potential concerns and best practices for social distancing and restricting out-of-area angling.
Consensus centered on an all-at-once re-opening of fisheries, but with “a resounding sentiment of protecting smaller communities that do not have the medical resources” of urban centers such as Seattle, Spokane or Vancouver.
A partial re-opening, guides believe, would be too attractive a possibility for anglers and promote overcrowding at boat launches, lake banks and public fishing piers as anglers head to opened water bodies.
A more structured, phased re-opening approach could be tried. Ideas to support this include staying in your own county to fish for two weeks and then discussing how social distancing rules are being followed. Guides would not accept out-of-county clients for a period of 14 days and not accept out-of-state clients for 30-45 days.
And to keep high-volume fisheries such as spot shrimp, halibut and clamming until social distancing rules have eased.
Again, these are all ideas that will need to be refined. No action has been taken on any of them.
The guides association did suggest anglers and guide operators to try and find fishing resources close to home, abide by the local health mandates of the communities you plan to travel to, provision trips entirely in your home community and not plan on buying food, drinks and fuel for the duration of trips, the wearing of face masks for anglers and guide staff and best hygiene practices to clean gear and boats.
Halibut stakeholders met by phone Wednesday to allow for discussion between the different sub-areas and to receive feedback on what may be considered going forward. No decisions were made and more discussions will be held.
Sequim angler Dave Croonquist let me know the main discussion topics.
• Combine Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) with areas 6-10 (Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca through central Puget Sound) and open four days per week in order to provide the max number of potential fishing days before the opening of Puget Sound salmon seasons (which open July 1 in areas 5 and 6 and July 16 in Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet).
• Delay the ocean halibut season in Marine areas 1-4 until a specific date. This could take the form of moving the ocean halibut fishery to August or September after the close of ocean salmon seasons.
The biggest concern on the ocean fishery is when the Makah and Quileute Tribes will re-open their reservations to the public to access boat ramps and sport and charter vessel moorage. Considering the proactive, protective approach the tribes have followed, which included shutting off public access well in advance of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home directive, I wouldn’t expect anything happening quickly in this regard.
Similar concerns exist in the Marine Area 1 and 2 communities along the coast, which house a number of public ramps and see plenty of out-of-area anglers coming to fish.
A quota-driven fishery, the seasons could close earlier if sub-area quotas are reached, but they also could remain open until the end of September under the Area 2A Catch Share Plan, and it’s possible that season dates could be added into the August-September period. The earlier the end of ocean salmon seasons, the more likely the possibility of August and September dates.
No movement will occur until the governor’s office issues guidance to the Stay Home order, which extends to at least May 4.
And Fish and Wildlife would need a few days to put together staff to monitor fisheries, so the waiting game continues.
Boaters and anglers should take note of a potentially major change under consideration to the National Weather Service’s Watch, Warning and Advisory system.
The proposed new system would retain the “Watch” and “Warning” terms but remove the “Advisory” term, since years of feedback collected by the NWS has indicated that it is generally misunderstood.
The Small Craft Advisory would become a Small Craft Warning. This change would also align this product with all other marine warnings so that the severity of all marine wind hazards is uniformly denoted by the first term within the headline (i.e., – Small Craft, Gale, Storm, and Hurricane Force Wind Warnings).
A survey to provide feedback on the potential changes is available through May 24.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.