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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

August 28, 2009 at 10:08 AM

Skokomish River fouled by human waste, and might be blamed on sport anglers

There’s a dirty situation happening on the Skokomish River salmon sport fishery.

And the finger might be pointing to human waste and trash being left by sport anglers, which has also led to the closure of an important tribal shellfish harvest site in Annas Bay, near the mouth of the Skokomish.

Thousands of sport anglers are lured in August to the Skokomish where salmon fishing for mainly hatchery chinook right now has been good.

The Skokomish River which originates from Olympic Peninsula National Park through a sparsely population region and feeds into Annas Bay, a rich shellfish (mainly oysters) source used by tribal, commercial and recreational harvesters.

The state Department of Health cited “human waste from sport fishers” as the reason for the closure, which will remain until further notice.

“The fact that the Skokomish Tribe must close an important shellfish harvest area as a direct result of non-Indian activities that are authorized by [state Fish and Wildlife] is an outrage and violates the tribe’s treaty rights,” Skokomish Tribal Chairman Charles “Guy” Miller said in a press release.

State Fish and Wildlife is taking measures to encourage better sanitary practices by anglers fishing the Skokomish River to protect both human health and fish and shellfish resources.

With hundreds of recreational salmon anglers fishing the river each day, an accumulation of human waste and trash is creating potential health and water quality problems, Jim Scott, assistant director for state Fish and Wildlife’s fish program said in a press release.

To improve the situation, the department is increasing the number of dumpsters and portable toilets in the areas along the river that are most affected.

“We know that the state Department of Health has closed a portion of the Skokomish River delta to shellfish harvesting due to multiple sources of fecal coliform bacteria,” Scott said. “We can’t say for sure that human waste is contributing to the problem, but we want to eliminate that possibility by offering more waste-disposal means for anglers.”

Fisheries is also posting signs in the area asking anglers for their assistance in keeping the area safe and clean.

“We’re telling the public that we need their cooperation to keep the Skokomish River open to fishing,” Scott said.

That includes fishing legally in addition to improving sanitation, he said. Since the fishery opened Aug. 1, WDFW enforcement officers have been monitoring the river, where numerous fishing violations have occurred. In a recent emphasis patrol, officers issued 56 citations for violations such as using illegal gear, snagging fish and exceeding catch limits.

“Our intention is to conduct an orderly fishery on the Skokomish,” Scott said. “Continued fishing opportunity depends on the behavior of anglers and the choices they make.”

The Skokomish River is currently open for recreational salmon fishing seven days a week from the mouth of the river to the Hwy. 101 Bridge.

The area that is now closed, known as Potlatch East, is a harvest area for the tribe and includes tribally owned tidelands. The tribe currently has more than 170,000 oysters available for harvest on the beaches affected by the closure. In addition, plans to open tidelands along the eastern portion of Annas Bay, which have been closed for years, have now been shelved indefinitely as a result of the contamination.

The tribe recommends the following actions:

An immediate closure of the recreational fishery in the Skokomish River until the current emergency shellfish closure is lifted.

Clean-up of human waste and garbage along the Skokomish River from Purdy Creek downstream to the culvert replacement project site on U.S. highway 106.

Implementation of a public awareness campaign prior to the re-opening of the recreational fisheries.

Placement of adequate portable toilets and garbage facilities in key locations prior to the re-opening of the sport fishery.

Adequate numbers enforcement officers to reasonably assure compliance of fishers in the recreational fishery.

The problem isn’t new, tribal officials said. In 2003, DOH and WDFW addressed the problem in a report entitled “Skokomish River Detailed Implementation Plan for Fecal Coilform Bacteria,” which addressed the pollution issue and potential solutions.

“We think it is particularly important that the recreational fishery in this area be closed immediately to prevent the problem from getting any worse,” Miller said. “The area also needs to be cleaned up. Simply waiting for floodwaters to flush the area is an unacceptable return to the philosophy of ‘dilution is the solution.’ The tribe is working hard to eliminate sources of fecal and nutrient contamination in Hood Canal. This contamination contributes to poor water quality leading to beach closures and oxygen depletion and we need some cooperation from WDFW.”

The small number of Skokomish tribal fishermen who harvest salmon in the lower river do not contribute to the problem, tribal officials said.

“Our people are taught to respect themselves and the environment in which they live. You take care of your needs before and after you go out, and don’t use the riverbank as your bathroom,” Miller said.

Here is an article from The Seattle Times that was written by staff reporter Lynda Mapes in today’s paper.

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