After over a decade of stalled progress, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced yesterday that recreational fishing will once again take a hit as “early winter” steelhead salmon will be released in inland lakes rather than state rivers due to continued delays by the federal National Marine Fishing Service. Nooksack, Stillaguamish, Snoqualmie, Green and Dungeness rivers will not receive steelhead after the federal government announced a full environmental impact statement (EIS) instead of approval for the release of the fish.
“This is devastating for our recreational fishing industry,” said Sen. Kirk Pearson, chair of Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee. “The federal government’s refusal to take action is a failure to take responsibility. We’ve been urging action for years and they chose to let recreational fishing pay the price rather than do their job.”
Earlier this year, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Pearson calling on the federal government to complete its work reviewing and approving state hatchery genetic management plans. State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials and stakeholders hoped an environmental assessment of early winter steelhead programs completed this spring would lead to approval of the release of steelhead this year. The time required to complete an EIS will prohibit the state from releasing about 434,000 fish into state rivers.
“Recreational fishing is one of the defining features of both our economy and way of life,” said Pearson. “This puts both our fisheries and fishermen on hold. It’s a huge loss for the state’s rivers and sportsmen.”
Industry estimates state that recreational fishing accounts for $1.2 billion in retail sales and 16,211 jobs in Washington resulting in $119 million of state and local taxes and $150 million of federal taxes.
Expediting the review and approval of fisheries plan this year would require congressional or presidential intervention.