May 1, 2013 | Vol.69 No 5

From the Fleet: Commissioners Unfit for Service

‘From the Fleet’ is intended to allow individuals and organizations the opportunity to express their opinions on commercial fishing-related issues and concerns. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author, and do not reflect nor represent those of Fishermen’s News staff and/or any related constituents.

Hobe Kytr sent a letter to members of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee last month:

“I read the bios of the members of the Committee, and none has any experience with or knowledge of commercial fisheries, so I adjusted my arguments accordingly. I bet they all eat in restaurants, and might like a nice salmon dinner now and then. And maybe, just maybe, they might care more about the redirecting of Washington’s share of an important public resource to Oregon than the Fish & Wildlife Commission. And maybe they might expect the public’s business to be done in public, and conflict of interest laws to be obeyed. It was worth a try.”

Dear Senate Natural Resource & Parks Committee Members:

Salmon For All is a nonprofit trade association of Columbia River commercial fishermen and processors, representing the Columbia River non-Indian gillnet fishery. Our member processors are residents of both Washington and Oregon. Our member fishermen and processors in both states have been severely affected by a radical reallocation plan undertaken by the Fish & Wildlife Commissions of both states at the behest of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. The resulting fishery “reform” will dramatically redirect the percentage of the Columbia River’s public fishery resource available to consumers away from the public to the small percentage of the population who participate in the Columbia River recreational salmon fisheries. No longer will the finest varieties and grades of Columbia River salmon be made available for sale in the fine restaurants of Seattle and Olympia, or Portland and Salem, for that matter. It is patently unfair to the majority of those of us who as taxpayers and ratepayers pay for fish production costs to be denied a fair share of these beautiful fish.

Not only is the decision by the Washington Commission contrary to the interests of Washington commercial fishermen and consumers, by redirecting the Columbia River gillnet fishery into “off-channel enhanced fisheries,” most of which are in Oregon, the reallocation plan effectively transfers Washington’s share of the Columbia River fishery resource to Oregon.

I write to you today on a matter of importance and urgency. Coming before your committee for Senate confirmation are four members of the sitting Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission who are now eligible for reappointment, none of whom has ever been confirmed previously by the Senate. The four are Commissioners Conrad Mahnken, Larry Carpenter, David Jennings, and Jay Kehne. I write with particular concerns about Commissioners Mahnken and Carpenter.

Washington law with respect to appointments to the Fish & Wildlife Commission is codified in RCW 77.04.040, which states “…In making these appointments, the governor shall seek to maintain a balance reflecting all aspects of fish and wildlife, including representation recommended by organized groups representing sport fishers, commercial fishers, hunters, private landowners, and environmentalists.” At present, the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission has several members strongly supported by recreational interests, but none supported by commercial fishing interests. The resulting imbalance in representation on the Commission has coincided with massive allocation transfers of the public’s fishery resource from commercial fisheries, acting as the surrogates for the fish-consuming public, to recreational fisheries – in effect, privatizing the resource. These transfers have included 800,000 lbs. of Puget Sound crab from the commercial fishery to the sport fishery, the elimination of the Puget Sound commercial spot prawn fishery, and the radical reallocation of the Columbia River salmon fishery resource from the commercial to the sport fishery.

I personally have had a chance to witness the performance of Commissioners Mahnken and Carpenter during this process. Neither seems capable of, or inclined to, fair and objective decision-making when it comes to the interests of commercial fishing communities. Neither shares any sympathy for the public’s access to its public fishery resource.

Commissioner Mahnken was a Washington member of the Columbia River Fish Working Group in 2008, which ruled upon allocation issues for Columbia River spring and summer Chinook for the 2009-2012 fishing seasons. After three long days of public testimony and discussions of fishery access matters spread out over a three month period, the three members of the Washington Commission and three members of the Oregon Commission retired behind closed doors, only to emerge over an hour later with a set of recommendations to their respective full Commissions that bore no resemblance to anything discussed in public. A dissenting member of the Oregon delegation described it as carefully prepared coup carried out with premeditated intent by the members of the Washington Commission. The public’s business most definitely was not conducted in public on this occasion.

More recently, the Columbia River Fishery Management Workgroup, similarly comprising three Commissioners from each state’s Fish & Wildlife Commission, met three times in the waning months of 2012 to discuss Governor Kitzhaber’s policy directive to establish a sport priority over Columbia River mainstem fisheries, in so doing, creating a management construct which treats Columbia River salmon as a game fish, in apparent violation of the food fish statutes of both states. Commissioners Mahnken and Carpenter were two of the three Washington Commissioners appointed to the workgroup. Their actions, statements, and policy decisions were openly prejudicial to any commercial fishing interests, and consequently to the public at large.

Commissioner Carpenter, as the owner of a large Skagit County sport fishing boat dealership, has had a material interest in recreational allocation issues facing Puget Sound fisheries. At minimum, he has had an ethical obligation to declare a conflict of interest in these matters when they come before the Washington Commission. It is my understanding that he has failed to do so, which is a clear indication he is unfit for confirmation.

I strongly urge you to reject both of these candidates. Not only are they undeserving of Senate confirmation, their prejudicial records dictate their removal from the Commission.

Hobe Kytr

Administrator

Salmon For All

Astoria, OR