OUTDOORS: Lack of progress on guiding issues out west

PUBLIC COMMENT AT last week’s meeting of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in Port Angeles was a little disheartening.

This is because much of the initial public comment concerned limiting the number of guides on West End rivers, the same topic that came up in public comment at a Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Port Townsend in December of 2015.

And while the same steelhead keep getting caught and released on those rivers, little progress on this issue has really been made in the meantime.

The commission itself may not have the regulatory authority to impose a restriction on guided fishing trips out west, but they could certainly recognize the impact of shuttering Puget Sound-area rivers to steelheading on West End rivers and attempt to either reopen some of those waterways to fishing, or find legislators willing to introduce guide-limiting legislation.

Forks fishing guide Jim Kerr, a member of the Olympic Peninsula Guides Association (OPGA), likened the feeding frenzy of winter-run steelheaders on the West End to “a pizza party” where everyone in the world is invited “to have a slice.”

He mentioned an inevitable consequences of concentrating so much angling pressure in one area: catching and releasing the same fish over and over again.

Restraint of trade

Commissioner Barbara Baker brought up the idea of Darwinism among fishing guides, the concept that the best and most productive guides will win out over the less talented, as well as the reluctance she’s heard from stakeholders in having government limit commerce by restricting guide numbers.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife does collect annual fees from guides. For state residents, these guide license fees range from as high as $620 for a Salmon Charter, $330 for a Non-Salmon Charter, $250 for a Game Fish Guide and $220 for a Food Fish Guide (salmon, sturgeon, other food fish). Out-of-state guide licenses range from $480 to $925.

For a department looking at a budget gap, limiting revenue is not likely to be an easy sell.

Commissioner Dave Graybill asked Kerr if he had looked at guiding policies in nearby states like Idaho and Montana.

Kerr said he had looked at limited entry proposals in British Columbia and talked to guides about what is viable and came away interested in a charter permit system but was told there was no traction in moving forward with such a system by Fish and Wildlife.

Another Forks guide and member of OPGA, Ryan Bullock, asked Fish and Wildlife to reach out and talk to West End guides because of their connection to the water.

“There’s more knowledge of these fisheries than anybody else in the world,” Bullock said.

Commissioner Jay Kehoe asked Bullock if limiting angler pressure might make more sense than limiting the number of working guides.

Bullock answered by saying it makes more sense to him to limit the more effective group, the guides.

Graybill said fellow commission members should take heed of the appeal of the state’s wild steelhead and take action, extreme action if need be, or it will be too late for West End fish, let alone fishermen.

Other comments focused on providing more recreational fishing opportunities by adding more hatchery fish production for all species.

David Witsett asked about the former practice of planting hatchery steelhead in the short section of the Lyre River before the falls.

He said the program to plant up to 15,000 hatchery fish only cost $6,500 per year.

“Give something back other than always taking,” Witsett implored.

Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck commented that he preferred the historical halibut allocation and a schedule (i.e. a Thursday/Saturday schedule) that keeps flatfish anglers and their dollars coming to and staying on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Port Angeles City Council member Lee Whetham and Port of Port Angeles President Colleen McAleer both commented on public safety issues during derby-like halibut openings.

Fly fishers to meet

The Sequim Greywolf Fly Fishers will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Sequim Prairie Grange, 290 Macleay Road.

There will be a brief business meeting, followed by fishing reports on local lakes and favorite flies that successfully catch fish. The remainder of meeting is reserved for individual fly tying. Attendees may observe or tie a fly of their choice (bring fly tying equipment and materials).

There also will be a fly raffle and discussion about the recent casting event. For information, call Erik Simpson at 360-683-6684.

Duckabush change

The sport clam and oyster season on Duckabush Beach has closed, and going forward the beach will be classified as “conditionally open,” with an annual harvest closure from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year.

A comprehensive review of pollution conditions and marine water quality data has prompted the state Department of Health to change its classification for Duckabush.

The change impacts all clam and oyster species present on the beach.

________

Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or mcarman@peninsuladailynews.com.