Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Guest Editorial: Don't Give Our Fish Away


In the Pacific Northwest stakeholders have argued back and forth for bigger shares of our salmon for more than 100 years. On a regular basis there have been attempts to pass various bills and or initiatives to further limit or outright ban commercial fisheries in Washington State.

The very small commercial fleet in Washington State, along with support from seafood processors, wholesale, retail and consumers seemed to prevail, and we are still fishing, so far.

In 2007, the tenor and morality of this 100 plus year old argument changed. A very large powerful group of Recreational folks was invited to form chapters of the “Coastal Conservation Association” (CCA) in Washington State. Almost immediately our Governor-appointed Fish and Wildlife Commission (the Commission), seemed to enthusiastically adopt the CCA’s road map to “Recreational Priority” along with various other anti-commercial fishing policies.

In 1993 Robert Fritchey of Golden Meadows, Louisiana wrote a book, Wetland Riders, that chronicles a similar struggle all along the Gulf Coast, and the formation of the CCA group by men like Exxon heir Walter W. Fondren III, among other very wealthy oil men.

The CCA, with their vast funding and powerful lobby, in short order destroyed almost all of the small sustainable seafood harvesting fisheries across the Gulf coast.

Looking back to 2007 here in Washington state, a balanced and functional WDFW policy shifted drastically to support Recreational Fisheries over Commercial.

In 2008, Governor Gregoire directed the Commission:

“To allow us to fully educate the public on the importance of fishing, I would like the Commission to summarize the economic benefit that our commercial and recreational fisheries provide the state.”

We looked forward to this much-needed educational material and facts – we were sure it would help stabilize our fisheries.

What we got – “Final Report” Economic Analysis of the Non-treaty and Recreational

Fisheries in Washington State, December 2008”– was shocking.

The state’s commercial fishermen soon saw this for what it was –a shrewd, calculated misinformation campaign modeled after successful campaigns in the Gulf States; the smokescreen deluge of data was a careful embellishment of all recreational impacts while carefully omitting and undervaluing huge portions of the Commercial Impact to our state’s economy.

This “Final Report” (why final?) was intended to be the hallmark data/tool to later argue for “sport priority” access to our resources based on a supposedly vastly superior economic impact of the recreational industry.

Some points I think are relevant:

Why was this 2008 analysis labeled a “final” report? Why were the treaty fisheries omitted from the report, and by whom? Intentionally omitting the treaty contribution to our economy is a slap in the face of the tribes and arguably fraud by omission.

On the recreational side of the report, “anglers” includes people that dig clams and pull shrimp and crab pots. These “anglers” were included in the recreational Economic Impact.

On the Commercial side, against the advice of TCW economics who produced the report, the $121 million shellfish aquaculture operations were intentionally omitted.

The first potential contractor WDFW approached to compile this report was Hans D. Radtke, PhD. Of Corvallis, Oregon.

After reviewing the scope of the project as outlined by WDFW Dr. Radtke he told them “You need a lobbyist to do that kind of work not an economist.” Ironically the final selected contractor used data produced by Dr. Radtke to build the report, selectively edited as directed by WDFW.

The Economic Impact of the recreational side of this report includes:

All recreational fishing activity across the state, including money spent by tribal folks, including trout fishing in rivers, lakes and streams, including second home purchase costs, including what was spent at the casino on the way home, bar tabs and even including an amount “net willingness to pay” in anticipation of an enhanced fishing experience. All these numbers were added to support recreational impact.

In contrast to the above, commercial fisheries are conducted only in the marine waters. The credit given to the commercial industry expenditures is stark by comparison, and only taken to the wholesale level.

The economic models used to generate economic impact for the two fisheries are very different. NOAA, the author of the commercial model cautions that these models should never be used to compare recreational Economic Impact to commercial Economic Impact. Yet by design this report is laid out to do just that.

The state also produced several smaller publications over the years on “Fish and Wildlife: Washington’s Economy”. Prior to 2008 the commercial industry was reported to be pretty valuable. Then suddenly there was a 2.2 billion dollar drop by commercials from the 2009 to 2010 report, in spite of the fact that both of these reports used the same year 2006 data from both NOAA and US Fish & Wildlife. Why a 2.2 billion dollar drop?

At the request of the Seattle Marine Business Coalition, Dr. Radtke wrote a white paper ( on the “Final Report” and it was distributed to state legislators. A meeting was arranged by Rep. Jim Mcune. Senator Brian Blake came along with a lobbyist from the NW Indian Tribes, Lobbyist Ed Owens, WDFW Director Phil Anderson, his WDFW Attorney, and Jim Scott the Head of the WDFW Fish Dept. along with 4 fishermen.

WDFW Director Phil Anderson said he did not agree with the report when it was being produced and described it as “a misrepresentation of our fisheries” he also agreed it should be removed from the WDFW website. Everyone in the room agreed.

Yet to this day it remains on the WDFW website and continues to be quoted as fact supporting the general narrative that the Recreational Fisheries of Washington State have a far greater Economic Impact to the State’s economy then the commercial, justifying the State in adopting the “sport priority” viewpoint in management decisions.

We have already lost the gillnet fishery on the Columbia River. This bogus “final” report was one of CCA’s only supporting documents in their fight to end that 150-year-old fishery.

Both the commercial crab and shrimp fisheries have lost allocation to recreational in recent years, again with the “final” report as the primary weapon.

In 2013 the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish Rivers had huge over escapement goal returns, but 2.4 million pink salmon went unharvested due to concerns about Sport Priority.

In 2014 Approximately 232,000 Coho and 370,000 King salmon were wasted in the Columbia River. Commercials were not allowed to catch them and sports guys couldn’t stop them.

More than 98 percent of the people of this state get their fresh local seafood via commercial fishermen. As our population increases, fishing license sales do not. Meanwhile, there is a steady increase in the percentage of Washington’s population that apparently prefers to buy their fresh local seafood rather than attempting to catch it. Our State’s commercial fishing industry stands ready to meet this need, if our “Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission” allows us to.

Commercial (and many recreational) fishermen feel there are enough fish for all of us. The problem is, the CCA wants it all, and WDFW wants to give it to them.

Bill Gardner

F/V Equator

Seattle, WA


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