MONTESANO – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is inviting commercial and recreational fishers in the Willapa Bay area to attend a public workshop on regional fisheries planning in the year 2000 and beyond.
The meeting is scheduled for Jan. 5, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Community Center, 916 West 1st St., in South Bend.
Steve Keller, regional director for WDFW, said the workshop is designed to provide not only a forum for discussion about the 2000 fishing season but also to help lay the foundation for a comprehensive management plan for Willapa Bay that establishes common goals for the future of the fishery.
"Willapa Bay fishers have told us that they feel left out of the planning process, and we want to change that," Keller said. "This meeting offers people a chance to join in a new effort to develop clear, mutually understood goals for the Willapa Bay fishery that we can all support."
Keller said that approach is consistent with the mandate set last February by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, which called on WDFW to establish regional management plans for coastal and Columbia River fishing areas. WDFW Director Jeff Koenings also is a strong supporter of regional planning, which is used extensively in Alaska where he served as a fisheries biologist for 20 years.
"The idea here is to develop a process where everyone's cards are on the table and there aren't any surprises," Koenings said. "Fishers have a right to know what the escapement goals are, what data will be used to determine catch limits, and other factors that affect their livelihood. Having a regional fisheries plan in place doesn't mean that there won't be disagreements, but at least everybody will have a common understanding when the tough decisions get made."
Keller said he and his staff will come to the January workshop prepared to discuss those issues, and to hear public comments about the direction of the fishery. He noted that conversations already have begun with area fishers about developing a regional strategy for the so-called "North of Falcon" process in early spring, when statewide catch allocations are determined.
"Willapa Bay is a unique fishery with its own special issues," Keller said. "Our goal is to work with fishers to develop a comprehensive plan that maximizes harvest opportunities while protecting the long-term viability of the resource."