PAT NEAL: The new fishing regulations

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. The good news is the 2023 Washington State Sport Fishing rules came out. The bad news is the 2023 Washington State Sport Fishing rules came out.

I have spent years studying our fishing regulations in an attempt to translate them into English. To understand our fishing laws, it might be helpful to understand how they are made in the first place.

The fisheries resource is divided between competing groups of tribal, commercial and sport fisheries who can only agree on one thing: banning the other guy’s gear.

This is done with a cabal of bought-and-paid-for biologists and the plundering rhetoric of greed-bloated lobbyists who stack the deck for a self-serving staff of anonymous career opportunists, who don’t fish themselves.

The end result is an erosion of our fishing opportunities.

For example, on page 2 of this year’s regulations, there is an update that says that fish requiring a punch card and all shellfish now require a license to be harvested on Free Fishing Weekend, June 8-9 in 2024.

These species could previously be harvested without a license on Free Fishing Weekend.

In other words, the Free Fishing Weekend is no longer free.

What if you are fishing for cutthroat on the Free Fishing Weekend, a species that does not require a punch card, and accidentally hook a steelhead, a species that does require a punch card? Are you in legal jeopardy?

It might be a good idea to consult an attorney before you risk fishing.

You may need a legal opinion to decipher the fine print in our fishing regulations.

Did you know that from Sept. 4 to Oct. 17, the Quileute River is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and also closed Sept. 27, Oct. 4 and 11? Did you know that the Hoh River, a stream only 50 miles long, is divided into eight different zones, each with its own seasons, gear restrictions and catch limits? None of these zones are on a map. There are few signs that would indicate what zone you are in.

If you cannot afford an attorney, you probably can’t afford to go fishing. Fishing, as a recreational activity, has been compared to throwing your wallet in the water.

It gets even more expensive when you are ticketed for breaking a law you did not know existed.

For example, Washington’s green crab regulations are insane.

We are not allowed to possess this invasive species. Green crabs are trouble. They can dig down 6 inches and eat 40 half-inch clams a day.

While they can’t crack open a mature oyster, green crabs can kill the small ones while digging up the eelgrass beds that are critical habitat for our seafood — from salmon to Dungeness Crab.

In January 2022, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared war on the green crab.

The state Legislature forked over almost $9 million to fund a committee to study the problem.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife admitted it was “counterintuitive” to not allow people to collect, remove and eat green crab on their own.

They insisted people in Washington are too ignorant to tell the difference between a green crab and a Dungeness crab.

Oregonians are a whole lot smarter than Washingtonians.

In Oregon, it is illegal to return green crab to Oregon waters.

They let you keep 35 a day.

Oregon suggests cooking green crab.

It appears that the goal of Washington’s fishing regulations is to limit fishing opportunities, while funneling money into bureaucracies for gratuitous studies and boondoggle projects that do nothing to protect and preserve our angling heritage.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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