The following is a guest opinion that I submitted and was published in our local newspaper the Aberdeen Daily World. My opinion folks.


On Thursday March 27th the WDF&W Commission will have a conference call to review options for the 2016 Grays Harbor salmon season. In recent days the forecast for salmon returning home this fall has been released and the numbers of harvestable Coho is dismal. Questions are everywhere as to what this means but this salmon harvest thing it is complicated. For Grays Harbor fishers this comes on the heels of last year's closure following the Quinault Nation's and WDF&W state managed commercial fisheries that left many in the inland community feeling disfranchised as once again as the inland communities recreational fisher bore the brunt of conservation and lost its fall salmon season with over a million dollars of economic activity. The 2016 Coho forecast with only a few thousand harvestable natural origin Coho this year it is difficult to see how one crafts meaningful seasons for Coho fishers without addressing some very difficult issues.

In 2014 the WDF&W Commission implemented the Grays Harbor Management Policy ( GHMP ) which are conservation driven guidelines for harvest that are fundamentally a solid management strategy. That said it does not mean that the GHMP is without issues. The most difficult resides with Chinook which is the most prized fish of the vast majority of fishers be it commercial or recreational. Within the GHMP is a clause that dictates that if a species fails to achieve the goal of the required number of spawning salmon ( escapement ) three out of five years that we cannot have a directed fishery and are limited to a small catch and release mortality of 5% of the runsize. This has become known as the " 3 / 5 Penalty Box " and at the time of the implementation Chehalis River Chinook had been just below escapement for years. The WDF&W Commission chose 2009 as the year we started to a count our 3/5 Penalty Box years from and resulted in no directed Chinook harvest just catch and release.

This is where as in all things the world of unintended consequences come into play. 2014, 2015, and our projected 2016 Chinook returns are some of the best in many years with a 2016 forecast of 23,910 returning Chinook which provides 13,452 above escapement in 2016 and are available for harvest. The 3/5 Penalty Box clause will dictate that rather than harvest the states non treaty 50% of 13,452 we will be limited to the 5% catch and release mortality impact of 1195. Add to the mix is the fact from the GHMP implementation the Quinault Nations fisheries managers have simply utilized their fisheries to harvest the Chinook that the state fishers were not allowed to harvest due to the 3/5 Penalty Box clause as the GHMP only governs the state's share of harvest. This must be viewed with the backdrop of the fact that WDF&W and the Quinault Nation have very different views not just in management philosophy but right down to how you count the returning salmon.

So what to do? My thought is pragmatism and logic would dictate that the Commission change GHMP start date for the 3/5 Penalty Box from 2009 to 2014 which would remove the Chinook harvest limiter. This would also give WDF&W staff two or more years at the least to reach some accommodation with the Quinault Nation on the differing views of how to count and manage harvest.

So we have a problem that only the WDF&W Commission can address that is mired in the politics of salmon harvest. From those on the conservation side it is do not change a word in the GHMP, stay the course which is driven by history of poor management choices in Grays Harbor by WDF&W. From the non treaty commercial gillnetters it is throw the entire GHMP in the dumpster as it limits them to their share of harvest. From inland communities the fear resides in the fact that the 2015 harvest was a return to the ways of old where the inland recreational fisher shouldered nearly the entire conservation burden. Pragmatism and logic are the two things that appear to the first victims of a process that is being driven by fear and anger in how we manage our salmon harvest with the conservation driven GHMP.

The answer resides in the Adaptive Management provision of the GHMP which provides the tool needed to address issues not foreseen at the time of the implementation of the GHMP.

Adaptive Management
The Commission recognizes that adaptive management will be essential to achieve the purpose of this policy. Department staff may implement actions to manage adaptively to achieve the objectives of this policy and will coordinate with the Commission, as needed, in order to implement corrective actions. Components of the adaptive management will be shared with the public through the agency web site and will include the following elements:

Hopefully the Commission will act to act to rectify in some manner the problematic 3/5 Penalty Box clause. At risk are the of the recreational fisheries economic impacts in Grays Harbor and the entire Chehalis Basin communities which have averaged over 2.3 million dollars a year in the last fifteen years and in the last five years over 3.2 million dollars a year. This is not chump change and to throw the Chehalis Basins communities under the bus due to a process underway driven by inflexibility, fear, and anger is not what was intended with the adoption of the conservation driven GHMP salmon harvest guidelines. What seasons that can be crafted will emerge rather quickly and they may actually provide harvest opportunity with protection for those salmon that need it . Will the Commission be able to craft a solution? I do not know as I said this salmon harvest thing it is complicated but we will all know shortly.
Dazed and confused.............the fog is closing in