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NW Fishletter #390, February 4, 2019

[15] Bill To Reclassify Bass, Walleye To Help Orcas Considered By Washington House Committee

The Washington State House Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing Jan. 29 on a bill that would allow unlimited fishing for certain fish that prey on salmon, and encourage state agencies to enforce the state's hydraulic codes that protect salmon habitat.

House Bill 1579 seeks to increase prey for endangered southern resident orcas, and would implement some of the recommendations made by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), the bill would remove bass, channel catfish and walleye from a current classification as game fish, so that anglers would no longer need a license to catch them. Fishing for smelt--which currently requires no license--would require a license under the bill.

These changes would address two task force recommendations. One calls for reducing populations of non-native predatory fish that prey on or compete with Chinook--which include bass, walleye and catfish--and adjusting fishing regulations to remove catch and size limits when appropriate.

"I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fishers to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they're not predating Chinook salmon," Fitzgibbon said in support of his bill.

Another recommendation calls for monitoring forage fish--including smelt--which are important food sources for Chinook.

A third recommendation seeks to strengthen laws protecting Chinook and forage fish habitat by providing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stronger authority for enforcing shoreline permits for bulkheads, shoreline armor or rock walls before they are issued. The bill includes several measures designed to improve compliance.

"If we pass this bill, I think we'll see a significant turnaround in the abundance of Chinook in our waterways, both for fishermen as well as for orcas," Fitzgibbon said at the hearing.

A public hearing on another bill aimed at reducing threats to the killer whales from oil tankers in Puget Sound was held Jan. 31 by the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. Senate Bill 5578would require tug escorts for certain sized oil tankers through Rosario Straight and connected waterways, and provide other measures for tug escorts or emergency towing in other parts of Puget Sound. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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