TACOMA -- A prestigious panel of independent scientists will be asked to review and critique an aggressive Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife draft proposal to rebuild the state's wild salmon and steelhead stocks.
The announcement was made today by Bern Shanks, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at a study session here that the American Fisheries Society will be asked to review "21st Century Wild". The current draft proposal is being shared with other state agencies and Indian tribes as they craft a state Wild Salmonid Policy.
"I am confident other agencies, the tribes and citizens know our primary goal is to rebuild fish stocks," Shanks said.
"Twenty-first Century Wild has generated differing views, particularly in the areas of hatchery production and salmon and steelhead harvest," Shanks said. "This will be the most controversial and difficult policy issue the commission will face in many years."
"We want the final salmonid plan to be driven by objective science because that is the best way to forge consensus," Shanks added.
Shanks told the commission that internal agency reviews of the current working draft clearly show everyone -- including recreational and commercial fishers -- must be prepared to sacrifice.
"There are disagreements both inside and outside the agency over 21st Century Wild," Shanks said. "That's fine. I encourage open and honest debate so long as we keep our focus on making Washington a home where wild salmon and steelhead flourish."
The department expects a second draft of the salmonid policy to be completed by December. The public then would have many opportunities to comment.
Shanks said it is imperative for the state to develop the plan quickly.
"If we fail to do the job right, the federal government will step in with the Endangered Species Act and we will lose control of the management of our own resources," Shanks said.
"That would mean significant impacts on land use in Washington," Shanks added. "If people think the spotted owl issue was a train wreck, wait and see what happens if salmon and steelhead stocks are listed."
He said he hoped that the state plan would rely on non-coercive incentives to encourage landowners, local governments and others whose decisions impact fish runs to protect and improve the habitat along rivers, steams and estuaries.
"The state's status quo policies of the last 25 years have been a failure," Shanks said. "We clearly must change."
Commissioner Jolene Unsoeld said the department could no longer stand by acting as a neutral facilitator if the wild salmon and steelhead runs are to be saved.
"We must be aggressive advocates," Unsoeld said.