Fish and Wildlife faces tough choices

$6.9 million: Reductions could affect shellfish, salmon, herring fisheries

October 4, 2011 

Salmon fishing, shellfish harvesting and safeguards against invasions of nuisance species in Puget Sound would be affected by the proposed 2011-13 supplemental budget cuts offered up by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Under the 10 percent general fund reduction state agencies have submitted at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Fish and Wildlife Department would face another $6.9 million in cuts between now and the end of the biennium.

While much of the ongoing budget crisis has focused on the impacts to education and social service programs, the natural resource community, which receives about 1 percent of the state general fund money, would be hurt, too.

“All of the choices are ugly and hard,” state Fish and Wildlife deputy director Joe Stohr said. “People will definitely notice.”

The state agency has already lost 37 percent of its general fund support in the past three years. The $69 million in the 2011-13 budget is about 19 percent of the total agency budget.

Among the plans floated in the latest round of budget cuts:

 • Slash production of the Hoodsport hatchery and close the Nemah hatchery, which would reduce tribal, sport and commercial salmon fishing in Hood Canal and Willapa Bay.

 • Close all state commercial salmon and sturgeon fishing in Grays Harbor.

“Up until last year, the cuts were palatable,” noted Ed Owens, a lobbyist for the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries. “Now they are getting Draconian.”

 • Close the Puget Sound Pacific herring bait fishery, which means recreational salmon fishers would be hard-pressed to find fresh herring for bait.

“At the very least, it’s a tradition that goes back 100 years,” said Scott Knox, dockmaster at the Point Defiance Boathouse Marina. “Herring sales are a big part of our business – people count on it.”

 • Reduce the amount of clam and oyster seeds planted on public beaches in Puget Sound by 30 percent, which could reduce the recreational harvest by 20 percent or more in two to three years.

 • Stop inspecting for invasive species in the ballast water of cargo ships arriving in Puget Sound and the Columbia River.

Fish and wildlife enforcement, habitat conservation and salmon recovery all suffer under this latest round of budget cuts, Fish and Wildlife director Phil Anderson said in a cover letter to the Sept. 22 budget package submitted to state the Office of Financial Management.

“We understand that every agency must do its part in crafting solutions to the current dilemma,” Anderson said, “However, we find ourselves out of any good options to suggest.”

The state Department of Natural Resources has a similar general fund cost-cutting target as Fish and Wildlife – $6.89 million.

But DNR may be able to make up about $6.3 million of general fund money in its 2011-13 budget due to savings in firefighting costs thanks to a below-average outbreak of wildfires this year and stronger-than-budgeted revenues from DNR sale of timber and geoducks so far this biennium.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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