OLYMPIA– The increased presence of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement officers on the state's coastal waters appears to be paying a dividend for wild salmon by increasing fishers' awareness and compliance with fish protection rules.
Significantly, compliance with a new rule that wild coho be released unharmed among the fishers contacted by WDFW officers was over 95 percent, according to WDFW enforcement reports. Meanwhile, compliance among fishers checked regarding salmon rules overall ranged from 80 to 90 percent.
"With the higher visibility and increased presence of our officers in marine waters, we have been able to achieve extremely high rates of compliance with fish protection regulations," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "These heartening results also indicate that fishers recognize the crucial role they play in ensuring that fishing opportunities can continue into the future as we work to protect and restore wild salmon."
The marine enforcement emphasis coincided with new salmon protection efforts elsewhere in the state involving WDFW and tribes. For example, WDFW officers teamed up with tribes on joint patrols along the Skagit and Nooksack rivers, enforcing regulations aimed at protecting threatened wild chinook salmon. Those joint efforts are expected to increase in the future.
This year, WDFW organized a new marine patrol to provide a highly visible enforcement presence through the peak of the ocean fishing season. In past years, ocean fishing rule enforcement was handled by officers assigned to land-based patrols.
During last spring's season-setting process for ocean salmon fishing, WDFW committed to increasing marine patrols as part of an overall effort to use selective fishing techniques as a means of allowing fishing to continue in the era of wild salmon protection.
One of those selective fish rules allowed fishers to retain fin-clipped, hatchery-produced coho, but to release unharmed unmarked wild coho.
During the 1999 ocean fishing season, WDFW officers contacted 1,115 fishers off Ilwaco (Marine Area 1); 569 out of Westport (Marine Area 2); 259 off La Push (Marine Area 3), and 888 out of Neah Bay (Marine Area 4). They issued a total of 289 citations and 214 warnings.
Citations and warnings were issued for fishing without a license, failing to record salmon catch, improper gear, possessing fish over the limit and fishing in closed areas or during closed seasons, as well as boat safety violations and other non-fishing related offenses.
While on their patrols, officers also educated anglers how to identify various salmon species and distinguish hatchery fish from wild salmon.
The WDFW enforcement effort was undertaken with vessels, dock patrols, special investigations and joint operations with Oregon State Police, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Strong enforcement undoubtedly will continue to play a vital role as wild fish recovery efforts unfold," Koenings predicted. "This is an important piece of our overall effort to increase enforcement of existing habitat protection law as well as harvest regulations."