OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is calling in additional officers from across the state to help enforce fishing regulations off Washington's coast, which opened to recreational salmon fishing July 1.
With large numbers of both fish and anglers expected this year, the agency plans to draft WDFW enforcement officers from other areas – including eastern Washington – to help beef up coastal patrols during the summer fishery, said Bruce Bjork, WDFW's chief of enforcement.
"With that many fish out there, the temptation to cheat can be pretty strong," Bjork said. "Most people follow the regulations, but we're going to keep a sharp eye on those who don't. Our goal isn't to issue a bunch of citations, but rather to encourage as much voluntary compliance as possible."
With help from WDFW officers from around the state, the agency plans to conduct 24 coastal patrols – four more than last year – each day the salmon fishery is open from Ilwaco to Neah Bay, Bjork said.
Capt. Mike Cenci, who patrolled the waters off Westport on opening day, said the extra officers are needed to help monitor thousands of additional anglers planning to take part in this year's ocean salmon fishery, which is expected to be the best since the mid-1980s.
"We're seeing lots of anglers and they're catching lots of fish right in the harbor," Cenci said. "As in past years, most people follow the rules but a few get carried away."
Common violations include exceeding the daily catch limit, using barbed hooks and failing to release undersized chinook or wild, unmarked coho salmon, Cenci said.
Under selective fishing rules in effect since 1999, coastal anglers may retain only those coho salmon with a clipped adipose fin, which identifies them as hatchery-reared fish. Naturally-spawning coho, with their adipose fin (above the tail) intact, must be released unharmed.
"It's every angler's responsibility to be able to identify the various species of salmon and to tell the difference between a marked fish and an unmarked fish," Cenci said. "Selective fishing is the foundation of the state's salmon fishery, and most people understand that fact."
Even so, Cenci said his detachment issued 23 citations on opening day, including several for multiple violations.
"One guy had five fish over the limit, a wild coho and an undersized chinook," Cenci said. "He was also using barbed hooks, so he's looking at a fine of at least $800."
State law allows for fines of $150 to $1,000 for each fish an angler retains above the daily limit, or for any coho retained with an unclipped adipose fin, Cenci said. Under certain conditions, judges have the authority to sentence violators to 90 days in jail. WDFW also has the authority to seize vessels and fishing gear in extreme cases.
Cenci noted that a WDFW study conducted in 1999 found that 95 percent of coastal salmon anglers contacted by WDFW officers comply with state fishing regulations. With numerous native salmon stocks listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, everyone who enjoys fishing has a stake in maintaining high compliance rates, he said.
"Those who don't follow the rules jeopardize the future of the fishery for everyone," Cenci said. "Most of our best tips come from anglers who are troubled by what they see going on in a boat anchored nearby. In other cases, peer pressure can help people to understand the error of their ways."
Cenci encourages anyone who sees a violation of state fishing regulations to call WDFW toll-free at 1-800-477-6224.