The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a package of simplified sportfishing rules for Washington’s rivers, streams and lakes during its Jan. 18-20 meeting in Ridgefield.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also was briefed on proposed updates to a management plan for harvesting Puget Sound chinook salmon.
Commissioners decided to continue to discuss and potentially provide guidance on the proposed Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan during a special conference call on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The commission will convene the call at 8:30 a.m.
The public can listen to the work session, but there will be no opportunity for public comment. More information about the call will be posted Monday on the commission’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/.
State and treaty tribal co-managers initially submitted the plan to NOAA Fisheries on Dec. 1, 2017. NOAA has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key salmon stocks would not meet new more restrictive federal conservation objectives.
The plan is required by NOAA for the state and tribes to hold fisheries affecting wild Puget Sound chinook, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The proposed 10-year plan, along with feedback from NOAA, is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/chinook/.
During the meeting in Ridgefield, commissioners approved rules aimed at simplifying sportfishing regulations for freshwater species, including steelhead, trout, warmwater fish, sturgeon, shad and carp.
These rules which apply to freshwater throughout the state, with some exceptions will go into effect July 1, 2018. Some of the rules adopted by the commission include:
Reducing the number of exceptions to the year-round lake season.
Eliminating mandatory steelhead retention.
Standardizing the daily limit and minimum size requirements for bass, walleye and channel catfish in the Columbia River (downstream of Chief Joseph dam) and its tributaries, including the Snake River and its tributaries. This change aligns regulations on several rivers with a previously adopted rule that eliminated daily limits and size requirements for these species in most of the region.
WDFW staff withdrew a few proposals that had been put forth during the public review process. One such rule would have allowed chumming statewide while another would have eliminated special rules for panfish statewide. Another rule that was withdrawn would have eliminated a provision that requires anglers using bait to stop fishing for trout after landing the daily limit for that species, regardless of whether the fish are kept or released.
More information on the simplified rules can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings/2018/01/agenda_jan1818.html.
In other business, the commission directed WDFW staff to initiate a public process to strengthen the conservation and protection of the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, which has been classified as a threatened species under state law since 1998. Commission members said they favored elevating the level of protection to endangered, which could increase the likelihood of the species’ survival and recovery.
In the 1800s, the sharp-tailed grouse was the most abundant game bird in eastern Washington, with its highest densities in relatively moist grassland and sagebrush vegetation. But with much of its habitat converted to cropland, and in the wake of major fires in 2015, the population has declined to an estimated total of less than 600 birds.
In the coming weeks, WDFW will seek public comments on the proposed change within a timetable that will enable the commission to make a final decision later this year.
A draft report on the bird’s status is available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/endangered/status_review/.
The commission also voted to make changes to rules for compensating commercial livestock owners for animals killed or injured by wolves. One of those changes establishes market value for the loss of livestock and guard dogs. Another requires livestock producers to exhaust all available compensation from non-profit groups before receiving payment from the department.
Additionally, commissioners approved the purchase of 1.3 acres of floodplain in Whatcom County to restore habitat and 115 acres of land in Ferry County, which includes 3.4 miles of undeveloped shoreline on the Kettle River. The Ferry County acquisition will protect habitat and allow for public access to the river for a variety of non-motorized recreational activities and wildlife viewing.
Minutes and audio recordings of the commission meeting will be available online early next week at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/minutes.html.