Controversial plan to keep sport fishers from Cape Flattery area might be put on hold

By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News

NEAH BAY -- A member of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission behind a controversial proposal to close a six-square-mile area off Cape Flattery to sport fishing to protect groundfish and rockfish now says he expects the issue to be tabled for about a year.

His fellow commissioners need more time to review whether a closure is needed to protect the area's groundfish population, said David Jennings of Olympia.

Jennings' proposal remains in the agency's draft 2010-2012 sport fishing rules document, which will be considered for a vote during the commission's Feb. 4-6 meetings.

"We're just going to put this on a different time track," he said.

"We probably need another year to work with everybody to work out those type of details and what makes sense."

The proposed closure was added in September to the draft document, which will govern sport fishing for the next two years.

While the commission, a nine-member citizen panel, has several responsibilities, its primary role is to set policy for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, including basic hunting and fishing rules and regulations.

Opposition posed

Several recreational fishermen object to Jennings' proposal.

"It shuts down pretty much the entire Neah Bay zone," said Marty Michaelis, 45, of Port Angeles.

Michaelis, who runs the www.steelheader.net Web site, said the area is valuable to fishermen because it can be accessed by small boats and it's the most populated area in the state for groundfish and rockfish.

"It's probably the most productive spot we have in Washington," he said.

"What he is looking to do is absolutely a blanket coverage of shutting down everything -- that's just wrong."

The Makah tribe, whose reservation includes Cape Flatter, also has told the state that it is opposed to the sport fishing ban.

Tribal Chairman Michael Lawrence said the issue for the tribe is the effect a fishing closure would have on its economy.

"I think the effect that it would have on Neah Bay's economy would be devastating," he said.

Michaelis also accused Jennings of not having any scientific data to show that groundfish and rockfish are threatened in the area.

Healthy population

Jennings acknowledged that Cape Flattery hosts the healthiest groundfish and rockfish population in the state, which is why he thinks it needs to be protected.

He said elsewhere in Washington state, their numbers have been allowed to drop too far.

He thinks the state needs to be pro ­active with ensuring that the waters near Cape Flattery don't reach the same fate.

According to the state's draft Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation plan, which will be updated in 2010, four species of rockfish in the state are considered to be endangered or threatened.

Jennings said that by protecting them off Cape Flattery, the species have a better chance of recovering throughout the state.

"We're trying to stay ahead of conservation issues, not get more issues," he said.

Steelheader.net's Michaelis also accused Jennings, an avid diver who has mentioned the possibility of using the area as an underwater dive park on an online forum and at commission meetings, of pursuing a special interest agenda and for missing the deadline to add proposals to the draft document.

Offshore dive park

During an interview, Jennings admitted to making an Oct. 4 online posting as "Biodiversity_guy" in which he urged other divers to write to the commission to support the creation of a dive park at that site and make it off limits to fishing.

"Please send an e-mail to the WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife requesting they establish an underwater park within that portion of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary lying within the Straits [sic] of Juan de Fuca. Tell them to protect this national treasure by placing it off limits to fishing and invertebrate harvesting," said the posting on scubaboard.com, in which he didn't identify himself as a commissioner.

Said Michaelis of the post: "He's drumming up the troops to push" the proposal.

Other fishermen also have criticized the commissioner online for the post.

While Jennings said the area provides "world-class diving," he added that his motivation comes from protecting rockfish and groundfish, not pushing any special interest.

"This is not at all a my-group-versus-your-group [issue], he said.

"We have a serious conservation issue with rockfish.

"We're trying to maintain our natural resources so we can enjoy them in the future."

Jennings said he doesn't think it was wrong for him to make the online post but added that he is not going to do "something like that" again.

Appointed by Gregoire

Members of the Fish and Wildlife Commission are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. They serve six-year terms.

Jennings was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on June 18.

He said he submitted the closure proposal as a citizen before a June 1 deadline.

He attributed it not getting added to the document until September to a staff oversight.

He added that the rest of the commissioners approved having it added in September.

________

Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 28. 2009 11:42PM
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