Washington Outdoor Report - The politics of fish, fishing and boating


The use of Personal Flotation Devices may become mandatory for anyone under 18 in a human powered boat in Washington – Nicole Lewis kayaking in the Columbia River near Bateman Island and Richland. / Courtesy John Kruse

Catch limits are being raised for bass and other warmwater species in 77 lakes across the state this year - Russell Johnston with an early spring largemouth bass from Downs Lake near Sprague. / Courtesy John Kruse

The States of Washington and Oregon have taken a number of actions in the last week that will affect both our fish populations and those who fish for them.  Here’s a brief rundown of the four issues at the forefront this week:
GILLNETS TO REMAIN IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER IN 2020:  The Directors of the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife released a joint announcement on Valentines Day as to how salmon will be allocated between commercial and recreational anglers in the Columbia River this year.
The main thing that stands out in this announcement is gillnetting will again be allowed on the mainstem of the Columbia River for fall Chinook, a practice that was supposed to end in 2019.  The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Coastal Conservation Association say this new rule opens the door to increased gillnetting on the river, a charge WDFW denies.  All this comes at an inopportune time for WDFW which is hoping for support from the state legislature to fill a gaping 26-million-dollar budget shortfall.  
MANDATORY LIFE JACKETS?  Currently, personal flotation devices (PFDs) are required to be used by children under 12 in small boats but a bill introduced in the State House proposed making the wearing of life jackets mandatory for boaters of all ages.  The original bill (HB 2443) made this mandatory on a lot of powered fishing boats under 19 feet in length as well as drift boats, row boats, canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards (SUPs).  
An amended bill that passed the State House now eliminates the length of the boat and now says PFDs would be required for anyone between the ages of 13 and 18 using a human powered watercraft except for competitive rowers, surfers and those on stand-up paddle boards if the user is tethered to the board with a leash or (and I’m not making this up) participating in yoga on a SUP in a designated swimming area or within 100 feet of shore.    
There is no doubt this bill will save lives.  However, some question whether our state government is acting too motherly by mandating the use of life jackets in vessels that may only be floating in two feet of water.  The bill got its first hearing by the in the Senate on February 18th.  
SOME FISH ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS:  In Washington State, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout and steelhead are definitely more equal than their warmwater brethren bass, walleye and catfish.  In recent years limits were abolished for these warmwater fish on the Columbia River below Chief Joseph Dam to help with the survival of steelhead and salmon smolts.  This will undoubtedly impact a world class walleye and smallmouth bass fishery on the Columbia sooner than later as anglers keep as many fish as they want.
Now the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife has announced expanded limits for warmwater species in 77 lakes across that state where salmon pass through as well as in all rivers and beaver ponds statewide.  Those limits are:
Largemouth bass: Change from 5 to a 10-fish daily limit; anglers must release fish between 12 and 17 inches, and only one fish may be over 17 inches.
Smallmouth bass: Change from 10 to a 15-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 14 inches.
Channel catfish: Change from 5 to a 10-fish daily limit. No minimum size.
Walleye: Change from 8 to a 16-fish daily limit; only one fish may be over 22 inches.
In the short term this will provide lots of meat for anglers who enjoy catching and keeping these fish.  In the long term though, a number of quality fisheries will be turning into not-so quality ones soon as fish in both size and number are depleted.  A few examples include Silver Lake in Cowlitz County known for a great largemouth bass fishery, Osoyoos Lake in Okanogan County which is one of the better smallmouth bass destinations in the state and the Palouse River in Southeast Washington where anglers go for big catfish in the spring.  
As to whether or not these rules will significantly help salmon and steelhead which face a host of other survival issues?  That remains to be seen.
COLVILLE RIVER IS OPEN FOR YEAR AROUND FISHING:  Last but not least, another rule change from WDFW returns year-round fishing to the Colville River from the mouth of the river at Lake Roosevelt upstream to the bridge in the small town of valley.

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