The state plans another round of budget cuts, and it doesn’t look pretty for anglers and shellfish gatherers unless Washington lawmakers can come up with a solution.
State Fish and Wildlife has announced proposals of cuts and reductions at the request of Governor Christine Gregoire.
The governor earlier this summer told all state agencies to look at possible cuts due to a shortfall that now has reached $2-billion. The Legislature plans to meet for a special session that begins in late November.
The governor informed state Fish and Wildlife to produce a five-percent ($3.45-million) and 10-percent ($6.9-million) budget cut scenarios in their operating budget.
State Fish and Wildlife has lost 41 percent of its General Fund Support (GFS) during this recession, dropping from $110 million in 2007-09 biennium to $69 million currently. GFS money is used for four primary types of activities fish production, recovery and fisheries management (41 percent); habitat conservation (21 percent); enforcement (20 percent); and administrative activities including executive management, infrastructure and staff-support functions (14 percent).
The proposed cuts include:
Up to seven senior management positions in Olympia headquarters and regional offices would be eliminated: This would reduce key management and policy work in agency headquarters and in regional offices. Staff oversight would be reduced; customer service, agency responsiveness and coordination with tribes, local governments and partner agencies will decline.
Reduced hatchery production: Hoodsport Hatchery production in Hood Canal would drop by roughly 50 percent (a reduction of 12 million chum annually); reduce area fall chinook production by 12 percent (a reduction of 800,000 chinook annually), and eliminate pink salmon production (500,000 pink salmon produced every other year). The cut would negatively impact local personal income generated by chum and associated fisheries in the Hood Canal region, estimated at $6 million per year.
Samish Hatchery in Skagit County: The hatchery would be closed, reducing Department-produced chinook in Puget Sound by about 20 percent. This would eliminate annual production of five million fall chinook (90 percent of the chinook produced in the Nooksack/Samish region). The closure would eliminate about $1.46 million per year in local personal income generated from Bellingham Bay area commercial fisheries.
Nemah Hatchery in Willapa Bay: The hatchery would be closed, eliminating production of three million fall chinook and 300,000 chum salmon annually. This represents a loss of 43 percent of the chinook production in the Willapa Bay region, as well as 38 percent of chum production. The closure will represent an economic loss to the region of nearly $500,000 per year.
Twenty percent of Department’s hatchery programs (18 hatcheries) are funded by GFS dollars. These hatcheries produce fish for state recreational and commercial fisheries and for tribal harvest, as prescribed by court order pursuant to federal treaty rights. GFS dollars also fund our salmon-recovery programs.
Hatchery fish represent more than 75 percent of the salmon and steelhead caught in Puget Sound.
Our hatchery production generates personal income and jobs and contributes to state and local economies. Fifteen of our hatcheries (seven funded by the General Fund) have already seen fish-production cuts in recent years. In the past three years, chinook and coho production has been reduced by millions and steelhead production has been cut in half in the Puget Sound region alone.
Consistent with the Hatchery and Fishery Reform Policy, the Department has been implementing mark-selective fisheries to reduce fishery impacts on wild salmon stocks of conservation concern, while maintaining fishing opportunities. Mark-selective fisheries are critically dependent on sufficient hatchery production in order to maintain mark rates that provide a conservation benefit and viable fishing opportunity. Mark rates in major recreational fisheries are now nearing levels that will not support viable mark-selective fisheries.
Closure of Grays Harbor commercial sturgeon and salmon fisheries: The Department would eliminate fishery management activities, including abundance forecasting, planning, sampling and post-season harvest assessment.
This reduction would close all state commercial chinook, coho and chum salmon and white sturgeon fisheries in Grays Harbor (current ex-vessel value approximately $180,000 annually.) This also reduces ability to evaluate salmon and steelhead recovery.
Reduced Puget Sound crab and shrimp management: Management of the fisheries, including planning with tribal co-managers and in-season management such as setting regulations, assessing crab and shrimp populations and analyzing harvest share all would be reduced.
This reduction may result in delays in opening winter commercial and recreational crab fisheries, a more conservative harvest quota for shrimp, an inability to adjust crab quotas in-season to increase harvest opportunity, and less capacity to respond to public inquiries and communicate with fishers.
Reduced Puget Sound clam and oyster seeding on public beaches by 30 percent; reduce predator control, disease testing and intertidal clam and oyster assessment and management: The recreational harvest of clams and oysters from public beaches would be reduced by over 20 percent in two to three years. There would be an increased risk of shellfish disease and predators spreading and jeopardizing native shellfish and the state’s commercial shellfish industry.
Closure of Puget Sound forage fish fisheries; assessment of sea urchin and sea cucumber populations would be reduced, requiring more conservative management of those fisheries: Closing Puget Sound commercial forage fish fisheries will eliminate fresh bait from the market; fishers would have to seek alternative bait sources and may encounter higher prices. Sea cucumber and sea urchin fisheries would be less economically viable; harvest levels would drop by about 30 percent, and ex-vessel value (the price received by fishers) would decline by an estimated $500,000 a year.
Reduced summer chum salmon protection efforts in Hood Canal and Grays River, including monitoring of hatchery fish impacts on wild fish: Decreased protection and recovery activities for summer chum will keep state Fish and Wildlife from meeting Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG) recommendations for ratios of hatchery and wild-spawning fish; hatchery fish will continue to present a genetic threat to native fish stocks in Hood Canal and Grays River.
Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) activities and Salmon Recovery Technical Assistance would be reduced: Habitat loss is one of the primary causes of reduced salmon populations. This budget reduction will cause prevent or delay delivery of necessary expertise for effective salmon-recovery projects and to secure grants for many recovery projects ($80 million secured in recent granting cycles).
As a result, degradation of salmon habitat will accelerate. Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) biologists review plans for thousands of projects each year and set conditions to avoid or minimize impacts to fish life. This budget reduction would result in a significant delay for HPA applicants. There will be less on-site review to tailor permit conditions to the specific needs of the site. Applicants will likely experience increased costs for their projects and fish protection would be reduced.
Elimination of ballast water monitoring activities in Puget Sound and on the Columbia River would be eliminated: This would eliminate ballast water inspections of arriving ships, increasing the risk that aquatic invasive species could be introduced into state waters. Some of these invasive species could create potentially catastrophic economic impacts if they spread into hydropower facilities, agricultural irrigation and other water-dependent systems. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Economic Advisory Board estimates economic impacts to the Columbia River hydroelectric system from zebra/quagga mussels alone could range from $250-$300 million annually.
Elimination of Puget Sound toxic contaminant monitoring: This cut would completely eliminate WDFW’s ability to detect toxic contaminants in Puget Sound indicator species (English sole and Pacific herring), eliminating the Department’s ability to guide recovery efforts in the Puget Sound Action Agenda.
Suspended wildlife damage compensation: The Department would suspend payments to agricultural producers and associated evaluation for crop damage by deer and elk.
This would result in economic losses to agricultural producers and could reduce tolerance for deer and elk populations near agricultural communities.
Payments in lieu of property taxes to local governments would be temporarily reduced: The Department is required by statute to make payments to counties in lieu of property taxes on WDFW lands, if counties choose that method of payment. This reduction would require a temporary statutory amendment to reduce those payments 10 percent during the current biennium.
Hatchery maintenance activities would be reduced: Department hatchery maintenance funding allows for only minimal repairs when systems fail. This reduction presents the risk of system failures and potential catastrophic loss of hatchery fish production for commercial and recreational fishing and compliance with tribal treaty agreements.
(Photo taken by Mark Yuasa)