State government shutdown would close some fisheries

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Salmon and steelhead fishing will stay open in the Columbia River and its tributaries, but angling for trout, kokanee and bass in lakes and reservoirs will close if there is a government shutdown, state wildlife director Phil Anderson said Wednesday.

“I think the likelihood of a closure is remote, but it is a potential,’’ he said.

If the government closure materializes on Monday, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will close the gates at its many wildlife habitat and public hunting areas.

No decision has been if the gates would close at state boat ramps and water access areas, he said.

With only a few exceptions, the state cannot spend money unless it is authorized by the Legislature.

But one of those exceptions is the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement, an $8.75 fee anglers pay to support management in the Columbia and tributaries.

Anderson said endorsement fees can be used to pay enforcement officers, catch monitoring and hatchery workers to keep Columbia River recreational fisheries open.

But ocean fisheries, such as the salmon seasons out of Ilwaco and Westport, would close.

“There’s no way to pay port samplers and to do the catch accounting and selective fisheries,’’ he said. “There’d be no ability to carry that out.’’

Fishing for resident species in lakes and reservoirs would close because there would be no way to enforce bag limits, size limits, seasons and hours, he said.

Anderson said he has no idea if the northern pikeminnow sport reward fishery in the Columbia and Snake rivers could continue.

Washington has 83 hatcheries raising 175 million fish a year. He estimated about 75 million have been released and 100 million remain on station.

At 12:01 a.m. Monday, money to pay the hatchery staffs runs out without a budget.

Anderson said an informal opinion from a state assistant attorney general is that the agency cannot walk away from fish involved in watersheds where there are federal endangered species listings.

“If we walked away it could be considered a ‘take,’ and we don’t have take authorization so we have a federal mandate to operate those hatcheries,’’ he said.

The Endangered Species Act linkage would cover about 45 of the 83 hatcheries, Anderson said.

He estimated 49 full-time equivalent employees are needed to operate the other hatcheries, at least for a short duration.

“We’re working with legislators and OFM (state budget office) to keep those open and not lose the fish in them,’’ Anderson said. “I’m confident we can find a funding mechanism.’’

Anderson it is a perplexing decision what to tell the public about the potential closures. His citizen advisers have offered mixed opinions.

“The charter (fishing) guys want to wait until the last minute, until Saturday, to discuss potential closure,’’ he said. “That’s understandable. Others say you’ve got to tell the public something — at least advise them of the potential closure.’’

Regulations to close widespread fisheries are going to the state code reviser, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife waiting until Sunday to give the go ahead to file them.

“There’s a good probability we’ll not have to do this,’’ he said. “There’s a small potential we may have to enact them.’’

Steve Watrous of Vancouver, who is Washington’s sport-fishing representative to the Salmon Advisory Subpanel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, is one of those advisers Anderson mentioned.

“It’s too bad our legislators aren’t as diligent and dedicated about the state as our fish and wildlife department about the health of the natural resources in our state,’’ Watrous said.