June 15, 2011
by Steve Robinson, PSSEHA Advocate
When the 2011 legislative session began in January, we all knew that it was going to be a tough one, and there was little doubt that five months later, when it finally adjourned, everyone involved with it was more than ready for a long vacation. The biggest fight was going to be over the budget, of course, as the recession and unemployment raged on and the state debt was so deep nobody could really see the bottom. There had already been significant layoffs and most of the state's work force had been forced into furloughs that for many constituted the food budget at home.
Yes, the state went into the session facing severe challenges. Perhaps none were so significant for fishermen as the many hatcheries that the Department of Fish and Wildlife had on the chopping block—as many as 12 was the rumor. Mind you, this was well after much work had been done in the hatchery reform process, and although the agency has not exactly earned worldwide fame as a primo hatchery manager, it didn't take an expert to realize that what the agency had proposed was irresponsible in many ways.
The layman, who doesn't truly understand the way fisheries work, needs to understand a few things about hatcheries. If the dams hadn't been built; if ocean conditions hadn't been degraded; if the habitat, such as spawning and rearing areas hadn't been largely deteriorated and if the Puget Sound and the nearshore environment hadn't been polluted, the chances are there wouldn't have been a need for hatcheries. But with the over-population of western Washington, and because all of these things did occur, hatcheries and other enhancement facilities are an essential part of fisheries management today—if there are going to be fisheries, or broodstock for restoring natural runs as we work to restore habitat.
The state has an unfortunate bias toward recreational fishing, which has been made quite evident in its published reports and actions. Recreational fisheries are a good thing, and we support them. Many of our members enjoy recreational fishing, too.
But also through its actions, e.g., closure of hatcheries and cutting back on skeletal budgets, the state consistently demonstrates a disregard for commercial and tribal fisheries which can only hurt the state's economy, as well as its culture and thousands of fisheries-reliant jobs.
So the Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement and Harvest Association was formed, in part to voluntarily raise funding to support the state's enhancement program, keep hatcheries functioning and provide some temporary net pen raising intended to get more fish in the water for everyone.
Commercial fishermen and processors in Puget Sound already contribute significantly to the state's general fund, but we tried to implement a new landing fee (2.5% from commercial fishermen; 2.5% from processors) to specifically go to enhancement. We worked to get both a Senate bill sponsored, by Senators Fraser, Swecker, Regala, Morton, Rockefeller, Hargrove, Ranker, Sheldon and Shin (SB 5453) and a House bill by Representatives McCoy, Rolfes, Upthegrove, Dunshee, and Pedersen (HB 1821). SB 5453 received a hearing on February 3, and a panel representing the association did a superb job of explaining the intent. Nonetheless, the bill was never brought forth for executive action, even though it had been supported by some tribes and recreational fishermen and many efforts were made to bring it up for a vote. Both bills are retained in their current status for the 2011/2012 session.
After exhaustive work on the initial bills, it became clear the association might have to try a different angle. Although we did not originally support a bill to establish a new commodities commission, we later explored this idea. This option was later abandoned, when we were ultimately informed that the agency did not support this move (the Department of Agriculture was opposed because the agency has no expertise in salmon management).
Although every effort was made to make some progress in this legislative session, we ultimately did not succeed, mainly because we were not able to get state agencies to understand our proposals. In the process, however, many friends were made. The Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups, for example, came forward and supported the Association effort. The coastal commercial lobbyist let it be known than he was not standing in the way any longer, and contact has even been made with the CCA, which is interested in finding ways to work together.
It now becomes important during the interim to find a way to work with the co-managers, to assure that fish stocks are supported in a manner that supports all fisheries as well as the ecosystem and future generations. We will continue to work with all affected parties during the course of 2011, and we will go back to the Legislature in 2012. Thank you all for attending the hearings this year, and we look forward to another push next year.