Despite the 1995 and 1999 voter rejection of initiatives favoring sport fishing, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission moves steadily to restrict and eliminate commercial fisheries in Washington state. Under a veneer of conservation rhetoric, the commission has reallocated salmon, crab, prawns and now Columbia River Chinook from food fish harvesters to the politically powerful sport industry. On Jan. 12, they voted to eliminate the 150-year-old Columbia River non-tribal commercial salmon fishery, which has been a significant source of livelihood for the economically depressed southwest Washington region.
Not a single commercial fisherman nor any representative from the food industry sits on the nine member Fish and Wildlife Commission to speak for an industry which accounts for 15,000 jobs in the Seattle area alone, according to a Port of Seattle study. No one speaks for the fish consumers which my family fishing business supplies at King County farmer’s markets, nor for the majority of state citizens who buy their local salmon at the fish counter. While they are excluded, the trophy-hunting Safari Club, the sport gear sales industry, fish farm advocates and other game-oriented groups all find seats at the fish and wildlife table, alongside nominal conservationists. Arguably, the current composition of the commission violates state statute, which mandates that the governor “seek” a balanced approach to management of fish and wildlife in appointments.
Former U.S. Representative Jolene Unsoeld was one of the only dissenters on the commission to challenge the idea that “hook and release” sport fishing was a conservation measure. As a result, she was savaged by a sport fishing columnist as an “idiot” who “represented only the tribes and commercial interests.” After what Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times called “an ugly and personal campaign,” the sport lobby succeeded in purging her from the commission.
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