Home On Watch No Off-Season for Boating Politics

No Off-Season for Boating Politics

by Peter Schrappen

There really is no quiet time when it comes to embracing or fighting boating regulations or ideas. There is no off-season; no downtime. They can come at any hour, from any legislator, and just about anyone that has an opinion (and a megaphone/keyboard). And that’s certainly true with the latest from the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

It was just two months ago that I broached the subject of saving the whales but not at the expense of boaters. Since then, the task force’s steering committee has written the latest chapter in this epic. Some people I trust liken the latest round of proposals to throwing every good (and bad) idea at the wall and seeing what sticks. As soon as you look closer at the items in the draft report, it’s apparent how misguided this approach tends to be with some of the ideas.

Creating a no-go zone in the San Juan Islands. Without a doubt, this is the biggest threat to boating on the entire list. The whales are tracked 24-7. Why not create a dynamic and safe bubble of 400 yards around them versus a complete boating closure? Even if boaters support a no-go zone, keep in mind that any restrictions to boating and fishing do not apply to tribes. Because of their federal treaty with the U.S. Federal Government, they are not bound by what this state task force develops.

Increasing boating registration fees by $10. This increase seems like a money-grab. As George Harris, Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) president, has said, “I’ve never met a recreational boater who has bought a boat to explicitly go whale-watching. It’s an ‘oh by the way’ activity.” Tacking on $10 for whales on the backs of boaters makes little sense. At this point, I’m tempted to tout how boaters already pay our fair share with taxes and fees (like the derelict vessel and aquatic invasive species programs).

Increasing hatchery production. Yes, at the outset if whales are starving then it makes complete sense to increase hatchery production of salmon, but the adage is true: The devil is in the details. Did you know that Puget Sound Chinook salmon have seen a 14 percent increase in the last ten years? While restaurants and grocery stores are increasingly refusing to sell Chinook (again, one of those feel-good headlines), it’s incumbent upon any citizen to let the numbers tell the story.

By numbers, look at who is eating the Chinook. It’s those cute seals (163,400) and sea lions (160,000). Compared to the 3,500 Chinook salmon that are caught by recreational anglers, it’s apparent that pinniped predation needs to be a top priority (and not restricting recreational fishing opportunities). These figures come from long-time Washington Department Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) policy advisor and now current recreational fishing statistician and policy advisor Pat Patillo.

Before the state starts pumping out salmon, I would caution them to keep in mind how detrimental and susceptible to lawsuits it may be if there is intermingling of wild and hatchery-produced salmon. Just search “hatchery production, lawsuit, Wild Fish Conservancy” on your computer to read more on what too much hatchery salmon can mean.

Make permitting more difficult for marinas and family docks. This is another one of those ideas that made the latest cut. Here’s some news for you. A recent direction by the Northwest office of National Marine Fisheries Services puts a halt on improvements to marine facilities. It’s already next to, if not, impossible to create new docks and marinas. I can’t see how making it anymore impossible does much good.

While it’s easy to point out the different parts of the task force report that the boating community opposes, let’s look at some of the well-thought-out concepts that have advanced. When it comes to what recreational boaters can support, the Recreational Boating Association of Washington and NMTA have weighed in.

Specifically, we support having transducers flipped to 200 kHz in whale areas (versus the 50 kHz commonly used). Adding whale-wise best practices to the boaters’ exam makes complete sense. A 400-yard stay-clear zone or go-slow zones (meaning 7 knots) in these targeted areas and buying back the licenses of commercial gillnetters are all good suggestions on the table.

Before I close out, here’s some more news for you. The state has a new Boating Law Administrator in Rob Sendak. He will oversee Washington’s boating program, which includes all the state’s boating outreach and law enforcement. This office is housed under Washington State Parks. Each state has a Boating Law Administrator, and I’m looking forward to working with Sendak in his new role here. Another new face in the boating world is WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. He started on October 1 and will oversee this state agency that connects boating and fishing. WDFW will be looking to raise fishing licenses this year and this agency is the lead on salmon allocation issues.

Getting back to the whales, many more chapters will be written, and I’ll be reviewing each one!

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