OLYMPIA – State fishery managers have scheduled more than a dozen public meetings through mid-April – including three in eastern Washington –as they continue to develop this year's salmon fishing seasons.
The public meetings are opportunities for anglers, commercial fishers and others interested in salmon to discuss regional and statewide fisheries issues with representatives from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
A schedule of meetings is available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. The website also includes an online commenting tool, salmon forecasts and more information about the annual salmon season-setting process, known as North of Falcon.
In Washington, salmon are co-managed by the state and treaty tribes. Management activities include restoring fish habitat, working cooperatively on salmon production at hatcheries and setting salmon fishing seasons.
As fisheries managers develop this year's salmon seasons, public participation is vital, said Jim Unsworth, WDFW director.
"I strongly encourage people to get involved and share their thoughts," Unsworth said. "Whether it's at one of the public meetings, through our online tool or in discussions with our many advisory group members, the public's input is essential in developing fisheries."
Unsworth noted that some people have asked the state to allow the public to attend state-tribal negotiations. Treaty tribes are not subject to state open meeting laws, so both parties would need to agree to open negotiations to the public.
"These government-to-government meetings must occur for fishing seasons to be set," Unsworth said. "Refusing to meet with the tribes because they will not allow the public to attend these negotiations would be very unproductive for everyone involved."
Unsworth said he understands the closed negotiations are a source of frustration for many in the salmon fishing community but hopes people will be respectful of the process.
Fisheries managers will continue to keep people informed throughout the negotiations and work with the tribes at making the process as transparent as possible, Unsworth said.
"State and tribal co-managers are far more effective when we work together at recovering and protecting fish and wildlife in Washington," Unsworth said. "I'm committed to working with the tribes to improve the process, make it as open and transparent as possible, and ensure our state's resources are sustainable for future generations."
The annual process of setting salmon fishing seasons is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The council is responsible for establishing fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast. North of Falcon typically takes place in March and April.
The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 7-11 meeting in Sacramento, Calif. The 2017 salmon fisheries package for Washington's inside waters is expected to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC's April meeting.