SEKIU — Another Sekiu summer full of early morning salmon fishing and family fun is underway, and the plan for resort owners and recreational anglers is to keep making memories for generations to come.
Up to $1 million in grant funding from the state Recreation and Conservation Office is in place to provide year-round public access to the only non-tidal dependent boat launch between Port Angeles and Neah Bay.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to use the grant to buy the four-lane boat launch, boat trailer parking and two additional overflow parking areas at Mason’s Olson Resort to continue to provide recreational boaters access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“I know they want it, they [Fish and Wildlife] know they want it and we all know it’s the best thing for the public,” Mason’s owner Brandon Mason said Tuesday. “They are wanting the water access and parking. The moorage would still be ours, the store, the [rental] houses and cabins, Straitside Resort, the motel. The dry camping would still have full hookups.
“The only thing that would change then is … I don’t know if you buy your fishing license and that provides access to the water or if that would come by buying a [state] Discover Pass.”
Mason stressed that as of now, there is no formal agreement between Mason’s and the state, and there are multiple steps to complete before Fish and Wildlife takes ownership of the boat launch.
“Everything is the same as its been for years and years right now,” Mason said. “Nothing has changed yet. We’ve got a lot of sitting down and talking to do between myself and the state.
“They have reached out and said at some point they’d give me a heads up and do the appraisal. That could be this summer or the fall. There’s a lot of different pieces to tie up and a lot of stuff was said in a short period of time. I still have a lot of questions. But if the state and I can come to an agreement this is the best thing for the public — ensuring open access for generations to come. This is what needs to be for the public.
“I’m going to make sure that I see in writing that they can never shut down the full launch for maintenance … public pick times … especially if I keep store and moorage, if I sell to them, we would be partners for years and years to come.
And Mason said the plan is continue all other resort operations at the state’s longest continually running fishing resort (1939).
“I plan on it anyway,” Mason said. “I should be here because all we are talking about is buying access. So somebody has to be here to run the store, collect the moorage, put the docks in and pull them out.”
A move to state ownership of the boat launch and parking areas has been something Mason, who purchased the resort from longtime operators Arlen and Donalyn Olson in October 2014, has contemplated for the past few years in the wake of continuous cutbacks to recreational angling opportunity, particularly for salmon.
Mason enjoyed a solid 2015 fishing season, the last time fall wild coho retention was permitted.
With poor ocean conditions expected to impact coho returns in 2016, no silver season was held and the halibut fishery was limited by a less-than-ideal season setting structure that include midweek open dates — that made scheduling trips to the remote resort difficult for out-of-area anglers.
Sekiu anglers also were unable to fish for hatchery coho in September 2017.
Fisheries Canada’s move to shutter salmon fishing along the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect southern resident orca whales also has had an impact.
“It’s been tough,” Mason said. “I was hoping the downward trend was over and we would start to see more time on the water but other issues have popped up.”
Mason represents Sekiu and Marine Area 5 on the Puget Sound Sport Fishing Advisory Group.
“We were sitting down after a pretty bleak fishing meeting and I was talking to a couple of guys and it started to turn into a big discussion and it hit me, I might end up down the road here, selling. Or the best thing, and I spoke up a little louder, have Fish and Wildlife purchase the launch to keep some access open along the Strait.”
Mason said he has been approached by private individuals and entities interested in purchasing the full resort.
“I can’t tell you who, but the thing that really got me pushing for public access is a group had come out who had wanted to buy it for themselves and shut it down and make it their own private get-together place.
“I didn’t want to see it become the playground for a wealthy family.”
Two public meetings to discuss the potential sale and inform the community have been held in Sekiu with Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach (R-Forks) and State Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) on hand along with Fish and Wildlife District 6 Regional Director Larry Phillips.
“They were super worried,” Mason said of the feedback he received from residents. “They didn’t want to see it go to a private owner or the [Makah] Tribe.”
Phillips, a lifelong angler who said he fished out at Sekiu himself as a kid, said residents told him water access presented a quality of life issue.
“They want to make sure the quality of life present now is maintained and from an access standpoint it provides folks with a consistent opportunity to maintain that lifestyle,” Phillips said in a March 2018 interview.
“This is a key water access point between Neah Bay and Port Angeles and long-term public access could be jeopardized if it goes in private hands or if a private developer has a different intent for the property.”
At that time, Phillips didn’t envision charging those with fishing licenses to launch their boats as the state offers a Vehicle Access Pass for license holders that ensures parking access at Fish and Wildlife-operated wildlife areas, boat launches and other water access sites.
A Discover Pass would be needed for boat launch users lacking a fishing license.
Going forward, Mason said he will have to have certain points clarified in any contract with the state.
“I’m going to make sure that I see in writing that they can never shut down the full launch for maintenance,” he said. “They could shut down two lanes at a time and maintain access. If I sell to them, we would be partners for years and years to come, so that is important.
This point becomes more important with Fish and Wildlife’s stated plans down the line to pursue a second grant to update the existing boat launch area and parking lots in the “next couple of years.”
Mason said he hopes customers and the public can be patient while the state and his business work through this process.
“Every day people come up and ask me what’s going on,” Mason said. “It makes them nervous that they haven’t heard anything. This place is important to them and they want to be in the loop. I promise them that I put all of them in my thoughts and I will make darn sure you will have access.”
Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]