Today’s Catch – Rules Revisited

by Chris Philips, Managing Editor

In this space last month (Playing by the Rules, February 2013) we noted that a group of Southern California brail-boat squid fishermen were concerned about an influx of big foreign-built seiners participating in the fishery. The brail fishermen complained that the big boats were reaching the quota, and the fishery closed before the smaller brail boats had a shot at filling their holds.

We subsequently heard from several owners and operators of the seine boats in the fishery, who had a lot to say about the topic. One seiner noted that his boat is registered and has the proper tonnage license, and complies with all state, federal and US Coast Guard regulations.

Another pointed out that the resource is strong, and the markets have responded. He believes the state has been fairly liberal with the allocation of squid quotas. Another fisherman told us there hasn’t been a good assessment of the biomass, and believes the current quota is low. He says an increase in the resource in the Santa Barbara area should allow the state to raise the quota even further.

Last month we erred in addressing the concerns of the brail boats without giving the big catchers the opportunity to respond. This story is bigger than this space allows, and deserves more attention, so next month Terry Dillman will cover the Southern California squid fishery in much more detail.

Also in this space last month, we noted the vote by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission to close the mainstem of the Columbia River to commercial non-tribal gillnets. Following the publication of the editorial, we were contacted by David Postman, Executive Director of Communications for Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, offering to answer some of our questions. Mr. Postman said the Commission’s Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy was developed through a transparent and extensive public process that included eight opportunities for stakeholders to provide comments to the Columbia River Fishery Management Workgroup or the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

We rephrased the question we had originally posed to Governor Inslee:
The nine-member Washington Fish and Wildlife commission has voted to close the Columbia to commercial gillnets. At the time of the vote, the commission included three members whose terms had expired the previous month, four members who had never been confirmed by the state legislature and zero members representing commercial fishing interests, in violation of state mandate. With the decision to close the Columbia having been made in violation of two Washington sections of the Revised Code of Washington, how does the Governor intend to address the illegal action of the Commission?

The Governor’s office declined further comment but promised to follow the issue and let us know when they had more to add. Mr. Postman also promised that Governor Inslee would carefully review the qualifications of new appointees to ensure a balanced representation of the interests that are affected by the Commission’s decisions.

In the meantime, the State of Oregon Court of Appeals, responding to a challenge from that state’s commercial fishermen, has ordered a stop to the enforcement of Oregon’s new gillnet regulations. According to The Oregonian, the decision came in response to two Oregon gillnetters who argued that the Oregon State Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision last December violated several Oregon state laws. The Oregon decision led the way for the Washington decision, and we hope both decisions will be overturned, either by the courts or, preferably, on further review by the respective commissions.

To that end, we hope Governor Inslee’s new commission will include the representation of commercial harvesters that, although required by state law, was missing from Governor Gregoire’s commission. In the meantime, the Governor will need the input of the commercial fishing community to help him find appointees for the commission.

When making appointments, the law (RCW 77.04.040) directs the Governor to “seek to maintain a balance reflecting all aspects of fish and wildlife, including representation recommended by organized groups representing sportfishers, commercial fishers, hunters, private landowners and environmentalists.”

Three seats of the nine-member committee are open, and the other six commissioners represent environmental groups, landowners, hunters and sportfishers. Governor Inslee will need the fishing industry’s help to find three members who represent the interests of the commercial fishing community. We’ve reached out to the Governor’s office to offer our help in the matter, and will keep our readers updated as the process moves forward.