Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 26th, 1999


We are going to get very serious here.

Sometimes good intentions, mixed with a superior attitude, and assumed wisdom are deadly. The results far from the intended "good intentions."

Here in the Pacific Northwest, a battle has been raging between factions, all of whom assume they have the perfect solution to the horrendous problems which have caused the near fatal loss of most Pacific Salmon species.

The results of these on-going battles is the Federal Government stepping and listing those salmon species as threatened. All the cards will soon have to be on the table, nothing left to speculation.

All parties involved in this battle for the right to catch which fish when, who has priority or legal claim to which and when, ALL are to blame. The lack of proper management by the State of Washington is also to blame. Improper use of hatcheries and random planting of fish in streams willy-nilly is another culprit which can be laid at the feet of former Fisheries Managers and Commissioners.

There is no one, including the non-fishers who abuse the watersheds and habitat for profit or pleasure (some unwittingly) without blame. There are more than enough problems to go around to every person, home, business, and governmental body in this state and others.

An Initiative, to place banning of nets on the fall ballot in Washington is now gathering signatures. This Initiative (I-696) was brought forward by basically the same people who did get a similar Initiative on the ballot two years ago.

That Initiative failed.

Why? Laws banning near shore netting and off-shore trolling have passed in other states and have been very successful. Why did the previous Initiative fail?

Perhaps a look at why the Ban the Nets, or Save Our SeaLife Initiatives succeeded in Florida, California and elsewhere could shed some light on this murky situation.

In all the instances where a net ban was successful the key was - organization. Before a draft proposal was made public the organizers met with every possible group which had an interest in the fishery, (and some which may have only been marginal as far as the fishery was concerned but who did have a vested interest - i.e. tourism?) Each group had an opportunity to add their opinions. Each became convinced to support the net ban BEFORE the initiative was ever made public.

With a wide variety of interests involved, once the initiative was drafted and finally on the ballot, there still was some opposition, but most was predictable and the means to counter that opposition already in place. Funds were set aside to buy back boats and equipment, and re-train those displaced from the net fishery.

The very reasons the Ban the Nets initiatives worked in other places is the perfect example of why the Washington initiative failed. The Washington backers of the previous initiative did none of the above. They just rode off flailing at windmills.

So here we are the second time around, same group, backing a somewhat different initiative but still in essence, Ban the Nets, and what did they learn from the first defeat?

I say, WHAT DID THEY LEARN? Nothing.

Not that help wasn't offered, from folks who have been part of the successful initiatives elsewhere. " No thanks, we know better. You don't know nothing, we know it all." More flailing at windmills.

Now, some others folks are concerned, they can see problems the Windmill Flailers are creating. And they decided to get into the act. They write a letter to every Trout Unlimited member in Washington asking folks not to endorse I-696 as local TU chapters.

Well I guess that is their right - except these five people - all former or current big wigs in Washington TU put their letter on Trout Unlimited letterhead, mailed to a Trout Unlimited mailing list (members) which in my opinion is not proper (and certainly not what I want my dues used for.)

To make matters worse, parts of their letter were either poorly researched or they just flat lied. This is referring to the section about the Save Our Sealife net ban in Florida and non-migratory fish, and the economic inpact of the net fishery. Another section explains according to a study by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, " recreational fishers catch almost twice as many chinook and more than ten times as many coho as non-treaty commercial fishers. . . including bycatch." Having spent part of my life as a researcher, I questioned those figures, and discovered the year 1997 quoted had a very limited commercial non-treaty season. But this is political remember, you don't have to tell the truth.

If indeed the recreational fishers did take that large a percentage, hooray! Those are the exact species that are designated by the state for sport fishing. These are not the species of salmon the commercials are supposed to be catching in the first place.

On top of that, the TU letter repeats in several places, what I think their bottom line is, concern for the image (read that influence and dollars) of the Washington TU Council.

What appears to be a Washington TU letter is not. It is private individuals flying under a TU letterhead. It is inappropriate, and if Truth in Advertising was in effect in this case, it would not pass the test. Unfortunately, Truth in Advertising does not apply in anything political. Go figure.

Which leads me to ask, is this about money? Is this about influence? Is this about who catches the last Salmon in Washington?

Or is it about the fish?

For the former Fisheries Director, Bernie Shanks it was about the fish. That cost him his job. Yes, there were other problems, but the end result is he made too many waves and it cost him his job. If you missed the article here on that, by Ted Williams you should read it.

Now there is a new Director, who I understand is a bit more politically savvy, and new members on the Commission. The Federal Government has put most of the Pacific Salmon species on the threatened or endangered list, which means Washington puts out a plan to fix the situation - and implements the plan or the Feds take over. I can assure you, the last thing anyone in Washington state government wants is Federal control of the fisheries, water, and watersheds.

Now here is the place where TU could, should and has been involved successfully in the past in other states. Providing input for the plan, and taking the State to court if the plan is not adequate.

So what are we to do?

The average fisherman, including fly fishers are not politically active. They do not get involved in state affairs, and the number who bother to ever keep up with most issues is sadly small. A few get their dander up and show up for hearings on stupid bills and actually do some good. Most fishermen complain to their fishing buddies, don't buy a license this year since there aren't any fish anyway, and feel bad because they can't go fishing.

But hey! I-696 looks like an opportunity to do something! Never mind that there may be other matters in process which will help the plight of the salmon. The appearance is nothing is being done. The state, the commissioners, the press, tv included do not attempt to show any good news. What we do hear, see, and read is the bad stuff. Good news doesn't sell soap.

So the average guy says "Hey, I'll get behind the ban the nets!" Because it is better than what he seeing being done. (Which if you missed it appears to be nothing.)

It is my belief that this initiative is not enough, (lacking any means of funding the buy-out or gear, boats, or retraining of current commercial fishers,) nor proper in many other areas.

Can a net ban work in Washington? Yes. Go back and read the beginning of this article if you want to see how.

My vote? I will not sign the petition to place I-696 on the ballot, and if it should gain enough signatures to be on the fall ballot, I will vote against it. ~ LadyFisher

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