By Jordan Nailon
For Peninsula Daily News
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Founded toward the end of February, the Northwest Olympic Peninsula Sportfishing Coalition, NOPSC, had its first public meeting last Friday in the Forks High School auditorium.
The meeting was well attended and held a friendly atmosphere throughout, as approximately 140 angling minded attendees exchanged a litany of concerns and ideas.
“For us as a coalition, we wanted to hear the people's voice,” Bob Kratzer, area fishing guide and NOPSC member, said.
“We didn't want to just start making decisions on our own.”
The stated objective of the coalition is to act as a platform for West End anglers to more effectively voice their opinions on the state of fishing in this isolated neck of the woods.
Their contentions go beyond the thrill of the catch and settle directly in the thicket of economic repercussions.
While anglers all over the state can sympathize with this reality, the North Olympic Peninsula has been especially hard hit by government regulation due to the fact that fishing is responsible for such a large percentage of the area's economy.
Historically, Peninsula communities were sustained off of the profits of the timber industry.
But when the spotted owl was designated as a threatened species in 1990, the impending legislation sent crippling ripples through the timber harvest industry, reducing its economic contribution to local communities to a fraction of what it once was.
Over the past 24 years, area communities have offset these losses by increasingly depending on the money brought in by sport fishermen.
A common estimate for the value of each adult salmon or steelhead harvested is $1,000 in local revenue, when including factors such as restaurant tabs, grocery bills, gasoline receipts, motel stays, guide services and gear outfitting.
With multiple species of wild steelhead and salmon now listed under the Endangered Species Act, the NOPSC believes that his area is steadily losing more and more of its viable economic opportunity.
As the coalition sees it, important decisions that directly impact the livelihood of Peninsula residents have, for too long, been made by legislatures in Olympia who do not fully grasp the magnitude and complexity of the issue.
As part of its presentation Friday, the NOPSC presented the following information to illustrate the cuts made to area fisheries over the last ten years:
■ 47 percent reduction in Sol Duc River hatchery fall coho.
■ 52 percent reduction in Sol Duc River hatchery summer coho.
■ 40 percent reduction of hatchery winter steelhead production.
■ 78 percent reduction in the average Sol Duc River hatchery coho returns.
■ Elimination of all summer and winter hatchery steelhead on the Sol Duc, including ending the Snider Creek winter steelhead broodstock program.
■ Reductions in the North Coast halibut quota.
■ Deep water lingcod fishing now closed April 30.
According to the NOPSC, these actions have limited the fishing opportunities for area anglers and visitors alike, and it argues that when fishing is down, so too is the local “revenue stream.”
The decline in numbers of returning fish is a complicated equation, with more than a few controversial points.
These contributing factors include altered natural habitat (dams, roads, clearcut forest and culverts), hatchery mismanagement (both poor hatchery practices and closures of hatcheries with positive results), overharvest issues (combined between commercial, tribal and sport harvest), and changing climate issues.
At the meeting, a film by Lance Fisher, titled, “Wild and Hatchery”, was presented.
At the film's debut in Portland, Oregon, more than 2,000 people turned out.
The film delved into the multitude of issues affecting fish health and productivity and took a decidedly pro-hatchery stance.
In particular, the film noted that the data presented in arguing for the closure of the Snider Creek steelhead broodstock program was based off of a study conducted on the Hood River in Oregon, which is a Columbia River tributary.
In the film, a scientist warns against “extrapolating” data from one unique river system onto another.
This broad stroke approach by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is one of the NOPSC's biggest gripes. The coalition does not believe that what is good for one river is inherently good for all other rivers.
During the meeting, the NOPSC stated its preference for unique “system management plans,” that are calibrated specifically for health and recovery of individual river ecosystems.
Dale Scott, a representative member of the Coastal Conservation Association, CCA, who sat on the NOPSC panel, said he supports the diverse dialogue.
“I think it's healthy,” Scott said. “We're all co-managers. We all want to see the resource survive. We all want wild fish to survive.”
According to Kratzer, the coalition is currently focused mainly on building its membership numbers and building strong relationships with government, tribal and existing fishing organizations.
“We are trying, as fast as we can, to get joined with CCA, Puget Sound Anglers, and NSIA [Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association],” Kratzer said.
By teaming up with existing organizations, the NOPSC hopes to present a more united front to state law and policy makers.
Currently, the rivers under the coalition's umbrella include the Sol Duc, Dickey, Calawah, Bogachiel, Hoh, Clearwater, Queets and Quinault. Of these rivers, all but the Dickey and Clearwater currently have at least one active steelhead or salmon hatchery.
“And we want to reach out to Sequim, Port Angeles, and across, but right now our representation is here,” Bill Meyer, coalition member and area fishing guide, said.
Meyer noted that the coalition is currently working on establishing a salmon brood stock program on the Bogachiel River, but he was most pleased that the Quileute tribe accepted an invitation to attend the meeting.
“In the history of sport fishing, when has the tribe and sportfishing sat down to talk? That is the most encouraging thing,” Meyer said.
Still, when asked directly about the Quileute tribe joining the coalition, there was a bit of awkward apprehension on both sides.
Kratzer replied first, saying, “We simply extended an invitation to the tribe to come to the meeting. Now it is up to them to decide if they want to join, or what the next step is.
"He [Quileute representative Chas Woodruff] can take it back to them and they will decide if, and when they want to be a part.”
Woodruff agreed that there is much to be done before the NOPSC and his tribe form an official partnership, but he said, “This is better than 40 years of finger pointing.
"I've got to applaud these guys for coming forward and starting this effort. We want to make this good for the future, for our grandkids.”
For more information about the Northwest Olympic Peninsula Sportfishing Coalition, or to join, contact Kratzer at email@example.com.
Guest columnist Jordan Nailon is a veteran outdoors writer in western Washington. Sports reporter Michael Carman will begin his tenure as outdoors columnist, taking over for PDN sports editor Lee Horton, in Friday's edition.