by Greg Larson, February 03, 2017
We can agree that our fish are in trouble. Every year we witness another set of disappointments. If it’s not another early closure, or reduced catch, or some other concession, we are losing the battle to improve our fisheries. I dare say, we are losing our fisheries altogether.
As we spoke to hundreds of citizens at the recent Sportsmen show in Puyallup, one thing became very clear. A good many sportsmen are really not aware of how our fisheries are managed.
The 1974 Boldt Decision split the annual salmon harvest equally between Native Americans and non-tribal Commercial/Recreational Fishermen. Our Federal Government has mandated that the management of fisheries must be a cooperative agreement between the State and the Treaty Tribes. The tribes and WDFW are collectively known as Co-managers.
Through a series of meetings called the North of Falcon process, our Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) forms our seasons. It is near the end of this process that WDFW goes into meeting(s) with the Tribes to finalize the rules, regulations, policy and laws that become our rules pamphlet and seasons.
Most of the meetings in the North of Falcon process are open, or the public is asked for input. At a recent public North of Falcon meeting, we were disappointed to learn that our community was divided up during the process. It was a shock to learn that the meetings between our representatives (WDFW) and the Tribes were not only conducted separately, but that not a single member from the public was allowed to see what was going on in these meetings.
The most important of these meetings, where the real deals are made, are closed to any public knowledge. There are no observers allowed, no video feed permitted, and no voice recorders or written minutes made! Secret meetings are conducted between the WDFW and the Tribes that result in our seasons, closed waters, allocations of fish and who knows what else! This is not only ethically wrong, but also violates the Open Public Meetings Act!
The current Sunshine Laws relate to eliminating government decision-making meetings held behind closed doors, thereby creating the transparency coveted by those citizens directly impacted by said decisions.
We need to apply legal rights and practical sense to the ongoing WA State salmon season setting process. We need to move out of the ongoing confrontational clash between Recreational, Tribal, and Commercial forces and progress forward. Our effort centers on two guiding principles—that all the parties involved hold the salmon resource in high esteem, and that they must all equally share in creating a sustainable yield salmon harvest.
This can’t be what our fisheries management has become. Keeping secrets from the stakeholders? What can possibly be going on in these meetings that it needs to be kept out of public oversight? Is this the way to work towards cooperation? A way to really get everyone to work together for the fisheries? WE SAY NO!!
After reading an article by Tim Hamilton from the Twin Harbors Fish and Wildlife Advocacy that highlighted the issue of transparency in our fisheries, we realized there must be others out there. Others who are just as concerned those secret meetings are no way to manage an already troubled program.
Exercising our First Amendment Right, which includes the "right to petition government for a redress of grievances”, we put a petition together to voice our dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in our Management Program. We are telling the State and Tribes in clear and concise terms that we will no longer sit by idle as our resources are destroyed!
To date, we have over one thousand, five hundred on-line signatures and over six hundred and fifty signatures on paper. We have people standing in solidarity.. Sport fishermen, non-tribal commercials, WDFW wardens and biologist, school teachers…people from every walk of life. They stand together to tell our state officials and Tribes we will not tolerate secrecy in the management of our fish!
If you feel as strongly as we do, that secret meetings are no way to run our fisheries, we need you to add your voice to ours. A signature on the petition is a powerful way to tell our state and co-managers NO MORE!
The North of Falcon process for our fishing seasons is at hand. Now is the time to act, before it is too late. Please sign, and share the petition with others. It is our duty as citizens to fix our fisheries!
GO TO: WWW.CHANGE.ORG and search for OPEN WDFW. This will bring you to the citizen petition to Open the WDFW/Tribal NOF Meetings.