OLYMPIA – If you have ideas about how to improve on last year's salmon fishery, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is all ears.
Beginning next month, state fisheries managers will hold an expanded series of public workshops in western Washington to provide information – and solicit suggestions – on 2001-02 salmon fishing seasons before final decisions are made during the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in early April.
In addition, WDFW has created a new website (www.wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/) to help publicize run-size projections, agency proposals for major non-tribal fisheries and other information relevant to the North-of-Falcon season-setting process.
WDFW Director Jeff Koenings said the agency will consider all public comments received at the workshops, via e-mail or by mail through March 26, when fisheries managers enter into final negotiations on fishing seasons with treaty tribes, stakeholder groups, neighboring states and federal agencies.
"People have told us that the process for determining fishing seasons can be confusing – and they're right," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "But we're going to do our best this year to make as much information available as possible and to consider every viable idea that is presented to us."
To date, four public workshops on the 2001 salmon fishery have been scheduled, and others may be added to the list to address specific regional issues, Koenings said. Locations already scheduled include:
- Lacey, Feb. 22: Statewide salmon population forecasts and regional fisheries will be discussed, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Lacey Community Center.
- Portland, March 5: WDFW will sponsor a public work session on ocean salmon fishing options, which will take place immediately following a 9 a.m. meeting of the Salmon Advisory Subcommittee at the Pacific Fishery Management Council at the Columbia River Doubletree Inn.
- Montesano, March 12: A regional workshop will focus on Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and coastal fisheries. Scheduled from 7-9 p.m. at Montesano High School.
- Portland, March 13: An all-day public workshop will focus on coastal, Columbia River and Puget Sound fisheries prior to discussions with treaty tribes involved in North-of-Falcon negotiations the next day. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the Portland Airport Sheraton Hotel.
- Tukwila, March 27: An all-day public workshop will consider specific proposals by WDFW, treaty tribes, and other participants in the North-of-Falcon season-setting process, which continues the following day. The workshop begins at 9 a.m. at the Best Western-Southcenter Hotel.
Koenings noted that the all-day workshops in Portland and Tukwila are new this year, allowing for a full day of public discussion of the various fishery options under consideration at each of the two North-of-Falcon meetings. The goal of the North-of-Falcon process, which takes its name from Cape Falcon in Oregon, is to reach agreement on salmon fisheries in Washington State waters before coastwide ocean seasons are adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which meets April 2-6 in Sacramento.
Koenings said the outlook for this year's recreational and commercial salmon fisheries is generally good, with an odd-year return of pink salmon and another healthy run of coho in the forecast. He added, however, that meeting conservation goals for wild chinook salmon and other species listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act will continue to require significant restraints on fishing.
"As always, we'll be facing some tough choices, and we want to give the public an opportunity to get more involved in that process," Koenings said. "Once we're confident we can meet our conservation goals and responsibilities to the treaty tribes, we're open to discussion about the best way to share the catch."
Koenings said additional public workshops on regional fisheries will be announced to the news media and posted on the agency's new North-of-Falcon website. The agency will begin posting proposals for major fisheries at that address by early March.
Anyone wishing to submit written comments on proposals for specific fisheries or on the season-setting process in general should send an e-mail to NorthofFalcon@dfw.wa.gov or write to North of Falcon 2001, Fish Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091.