Today’s Catch – Playing by the Rules

by Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Something Fishy in the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission
In mid-January the Washington
Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to adopt major reforms for the
Columbia River, including the eventual closing of the mainstem of the Columbia
River to commercial fishing. This vote was cast almost two weeks after the
terms of three of the commissioners had expired, and the Senate has not
confirmed several of the remaining commissioners.

While this was accomplished on
Governor Christine Gregoire’s watch, by the Commission she appointed to carry
out her administration’s agenda, a few days later a new Governor, former US
Congressman Jay Inslee, was sworn into office.
Fishermen’s News,
through our editorials as well as direct outreach to Governor-elect Inslee’s
office, has been very proactive in keeping Governor Inslee informed on the
issue. Then-candidate Inslee spoke at one of our commercial fishing conferences
in April, and in our May, 2012 Pacific Fisheries Review, Inslee noted that
Washington’s commercial fishing industry plays an important, yet often
unheralded, role in our state’s economy. He pointed out that nearly $4 billion
a year is added to personal incomes in an industry that employs boat builders,
gear manufacturers, electricians, welders, processors, and fishermen. He
pledged to sustain our local fishing industry by providing support to the
Washington State representatives on the Pacific and North Pacific Management
Councils and their respective scientific and statistical committees, as well as
international fishing regulatory bodies.
Now a small group of
gubernatorial appointees has essentially handed an entire public resource –
wild, sustainably harvested Pacific salmon – to a small, elite group of
well-heeled sport fishermen. The closure of the Columbia to commercial fishing
will devastate the local communities, and could do to Wahkaiakum County what
the spotted owl did to Grays Harbor County in the early 1990s, when Governor
Inslee was a State Representative.
Given the clear and
carefully-documented effect the closure of the Columbia River will have on the
families and businesses that rely on the gillnet fishery, we are asking
Governor Inslee to address the issue by appointing a more balanced board of
Commissioners, and have them confirmed by the legislature, to work toward a
more science-, environmental- and economics-based solution. We’re hoping
Governor Inslee will address the lack of process and work toward a reprieve for
the hundreds of families who will be devastated by this last-minute power grab.
Washington State law
stipulates that “… the governor shall seek to maintain a balance reflecting all
aspects of fish and wildlife, including representation recommended by organized
groups representing sport fishers, commercial fishers, hunters, private
landowners, and environmentalists.” In spite of this, there are no members of
the commission who represent the interests of commercial fishermen, either
tribal or non-tribal. This is contrary to State law, and it is the opinion of
this editor that the vote should be nullified until the commercial fishery is
represented by a commission which has been confirmed by the Senate. In the
past, Governor Inslee has been reluctant to comment on the closing of the
Columbia, but now that he represents the entire state, we hope he’ll find the
time to address the issue.
When is a Big Boat a Small Boat?
In Southern California, brail
(scoop) fishermen are concerned by an influx of foreign-built vessels ranging
from 50 to 80 feet in length participating in the California seine squid
fishery through state registration. These large seiners, while admeasured at
less than 5 net tons, can actually load 80 to 150 tons of fish.
In three years, the catch rate
for the California squid fishery has gone from 1,000 tons per day to more than
4,000 tons per day. The normally year-round California squid fishery is
currently closed for the season due to the quota being reached four months
early. These incorrectly admeasured foreign-built vessels with three times the
fishing capacity of the legal US fleet are shutting out American-built vessels,
and the squid quota is being reached before the squid scoop fishery even
The admeasuring and
documenting of large Canadian boats for US fisheries is a well-known practice,
and any number of helpful websites can instruct on the practice:
In order to commercially
fish a Canadian built boat it cannot be ‘Documented’ with the Coast Guard, it
must be registered with the State. In order for it not to be required to be a
Documented vessel, it must be under 5 net tons according to the US Jones Act.

Mathematically speaking,
any troller longer than 24 feet will displace more than 5 net tons and therefore
could not fish in the US. Fortunately, there is a process called
ad-measurement, in which a survey is performed by a certified professional who
excludes areas of the boat that are “not used for fish storage” thereby making
a normally too-large boat, technically under 5 net tons. This process costs
between $1000 and $2000.

Once your boat is certified
as being under 5 net tons you can register it with the State and then place
your fishery permits and whatnot on the boat, and go fishing.

Squid have a short lifespan of
only 9 to 12 months, and the scoop fishery targets squid that have spawned and
will die shortly thereafter. The result is a clean, bycatch-free product,
including minimal interaction with marine mammals. The scooping practices are
equivalent to a highly efficient hatchery program where the eggs are preserved
and the waste product is harvested for marketing. The squid harvested by the
scoop boats have spawned and are headed toward self-termination, and the eggs
have been laid to ensure the future of this sustainable fishery with no
destruction of egg beds. This harvesting practice is not only the cleanest and
most environmentally sound way to harvest the squid in California, but also
The squid float in their
spawning ritual approximately October 1 through April 1, normally allowing
scoop permit holders to harvest the floating squid. This year the squid season
closed on November 19th, four months early, after the seine fishery reached the
quota of 118,000 short tons.
Sustainably harvested seafood
is an important source of healthy protein and provides economic benefits to
entire communities. It’s hard enough to make a living as a commercial fisherman
without having to compete with sportsmen and foreign boats that have been given
an unfair (or illegal) advantage. Our state and local representatives answer to
us. Is it asking too much that they observe the same rules they impose on us?