June 10, 2002
Contact: Margaret Ainscough, (360) 902-2408
Fish and Wildlife Commission seeks higher penalties for poaching protected fish
OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission wants poachers who illegally harvest federally-protected salmon species to pay stiffer state fines.
The commission, in its meeting here Friday, voted 7-1 (with one member absent) to direct the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to petition the court to increase bail amounts poachers must pay when cited for illegally taking salmon protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Under current state court rules, the bail amount for fishing during a closed season is $100, with no distinction between taking an ESA-protected salmon, such as a Puget Sound chinook salmon, or poaching a non-protected species.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission wants to see bail amounts increased to as much as $800 per poached fish for those who knowingly take ESA-protected species during closed seasons.
The new rules were developed in the wake of fish-poaching cases in 2001, including an incident last July on the Skagit River in which a man readily admitted to intentionally poaching a 40-pound protected chinook salmon. The man was fined the maximum $100 state civil penalty, but his custom-built fishing boat was also confiscated. The individual, Charles J. Hildebrand of Mount Vernon, today was fined $5,000 by federal officials as well.
In other business, the commission:
- Expanded western Washington hunting opportunities by responding to increasing band-tailed pigeon populations with the re-opening of a hunting season that had been closed for 10 years. In separate action, the commission extended pheasant hunting by two weeks at several selected western Washington sites.
- Re-affirmed its earlier action establishing a southern hunting boundary for Medicine Creek treaty tribes
- Honored long-time volunteer hunting education instructors, many of whom have been involved in the program since its inception in the 1950s. There are more than 600 certified volunteer hunting education instructors in Washington state, and last year more than 11,300 hunters took hunter safety courses.
- Heard a report from Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Committee representatives on a one-year pilot project to assess the job of removing derelict fishing gear from Washington waters, including commercial fishing nets, crab pots and other gear. The committee intends to remove 12 tons of gear over the next year, including so-called "ghost nets" that continue to kill fish after being abandoned. The group is currently building a database of known derelict gear sites, and standardizing gear-removal protocols.
- Received an update on yelloweye rockfish harvest reductions. The long-lived species has been declared "overfished" by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and fisheries agencies are developing long-term recovery plans. WDFW intends to ask the commission for a zero bag limit on yelloweye rockfish at the commission's August meeting.
- Heard a briefing on the 2001-02 public safety cougar removal program, which authorized the use of hounds to remove specific numbers of cougar in limited areas in response to demonstrated public safety needs. WDFW staff told the commission that statewide cougar complaints dropped 47 percent, from 936 in 2000 to 498 in 2001, following the first public safety cougar removal season early last year.