Letter from Legislature to Commissioners [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Letter from Legislature to Commissioners

Leland Miyawaki
07-04-2004, 07:46 PM
Fellow flyfishers,

This letter was sent to the WDFW Commissioners April 13. I don't know if you have seen this or not but this, I believe, is the politics of the issue.


April 13, 2004

Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission
ATTN: Commission Members
600 Capital Way North
Olympia , WA 98501

Dear Members of the Commission:

We are writing to express our disapproval of the commission's action to institute a two year ban on the retention of wild steelhead on western Olympic Peninsula rivers. We believe the commission's action violated the Administrative Procedures Act, is unsupported by fish management science and is contrary to state law expressed in RCW 77.

This letter will clarify the relationship between the legislature and the commission and then explain the reasons for the opposition to the ban on wild steelhead retention.

RCW 77.04.012 defines the mandate of the department and commission when it states:

"The commission may authorize the taking of wildlife, food fish, game fish and shellfish only at times or places or in manners or quantities, as in the judgment of the commission, does not impair the resource."

"The commission shall attempt to maximize the public recreational game fishing and hunting opportunities of all citizens... ."

RCW 77.04.013 further clarifies the legislature's intent saying:

"The legislature supports the recommendations of the state fish and wildlife commission with regard to the commission's responsibilities in the merged department of fish and wildlife. It is the intent of the legislature that, beginning July 1, 1996 , the commission assume regulatory authority for food fish and shellfish in addition to its existing authority for game fish and wildlife. It is also the intent of the legislature to provide to the commission the authority to review and approve department agreements, to review and approve the department's budget proposals, to adopt rules for the department, and to select commission staff and the director of the department."

"The legislature finds that all fish, shellfish, and wildlife species should be managed under a single comprehensive set of goals, policies, and objectives, and that the decision-making authority should rest with the fish and wildlife commission. The commission acts in an open and deliberative process that encourages public involvement and increases public confidence in department decision making."

RCW 77.04.055 sets out the duties of the commission:

"Commission - Duties, (1) In establishing policies to preserve, protect, and perpetuate wildlife, fish, and wildlife and fish habitat, the commission shall meet annually with the governor to:

(a) Review and prescribe basic goals and objectives related to those policies; and

(b) Review the performance of the department in implementing fish and wildlife policies. The commission shall maximize fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreational opportunities compatible with healthy fish and wildlife populations.

(2) The commission shall establish hunting, trapping, and fishing seasons and prescribe the time, place, manner and methods that may be used to harvest or enjoy game fish and wildlife.

(3) The commission shall establish provisions regulating food fish and shellfish as provided in RCW 77.12.047.

(4) The commission shall have final approval authority for tribal, interstate, international, and any other department agreements relating to fish and wildlife.

(5) The commission shall adopt rules to implement the state's fish and wildlife laws.

(6) The commission shall have the final approval authority for the department's budget proposals.

(7) The commission shall select its own staff and shall appoint the director of the department. The director and commission staff shall serve at the pleasure of the commission."

Conversations with commissioners reveal the commission believes it is a policy making body. This is not the case. The state constitution clearly gives the legislature the job of creating public policy. The commission has the job "In establishing policy to preserve, protect and perpetuate wildlife, fish, and wildlife and fish habitat" of meeting with the governor annually to review and provide basic goals and objectives; and to review the performance of the department in implementing those policies. Changes in policy direction are to be presented to the governor and the legislature for enactment into law. The commission has no ability to create its own policy and is limited to the role of a consultant in presenting new directions it feels the state should follow. Changes from existing legislative direction to those new directions are not to be pursued unless legislation is enacted giving the commission authority to implement the change.

With this in mind, the commission's decision to ban retention of wild steelhead for two years is a policy change made without legislative approval. In fact, legislators have consistently told the commission over a two year period that a rule of this type would be considered a policy change and further indicated that legislative approval would not be forthcoming unless WDFW fish management showed the runs were in trouble. Wild steelhead runs on the western Olympic Peninsula rivers are not endangered. According to WDFW and tribal biologists they are not impaired and are capable of supporting the limited retention called for in 2003-2004 fishing regulations. Therefore, the decision violates the legislative directive that the commission "SHALL" attempt to maximize the public recreational game fishing and hunting opportunities of all citizens..." AND the commissions duty that it "shall maximize fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreational opportunities compatible with healthy fish and wildlife populations."

The commission's failure to consult coastal Indian tribal co-managers when considering the ban violates federal court requirements for co-management of the runs under US v Washington .

The commission's failure to provide adequate public notice that the rule would be considered is at least a violation of the spirit of the Administrative Procedures Act if not an outright violation of RCW 77.04.130. It is also a violation of the public's intent for an open commission process as expressed in R-45 (RCW 77.04.013) that specifies "The commission acts in an open and deliberative process that encourages public involvement and increases public confidence in department decision making."

The legislature spends a good deal of taxpayer money to employ wildlife managers at WDFW. The ban ignores the science presented by these managers and in doing so brings into question the commission's commitment to sound wildlife management. The legislature has also spent a great deal of money on salmon recovery. One must question why, if the commission is going to prevent fishers from retaining fish from healthy runs.

In conclusion, we feel the commission short circuited the legislative process when it adopted the rule. The rule should be rescinded and if the commission still believes it is necessary should be submitted to the legislature as request legislation in time for the 2005 Legislative session. We look forward to your response.


Representatives who have signed: Buck, Sump, Blake, Schoesler, Pearson, Kessler, Orcutt, Armstrong, Hatfield, Hinkle, Clements

Senators who have signed: Sheldon, Morton, Hewitt, Hargrove, Doumit, Honeyford, McCaslin

07-04-2004, 09:31 PM
Thanks for posting this Leland.


Notice the letter specifically tells the commission that in the opinion of these legislators (and this letter was obviously written by a legislative staff attorney) the commission does not have the authority to "change policy", which they claim only the legislature can do. The letter also clearly tells the commissioners that these legislators are of the opinion that the 2 year wild steelhead retention moratorium is setting new policy, which the legislature is opposed to doing.

In my opiniion, this letter to the commissioners from these legislators is the reason the commission included the other retention proposal that is different from the current regulation, the Forks Chamber, or the staff biologists. This is why I think we need to offer an alternative to WSR release on all rivers as a second option in our letters to the commission. It is also why I suggested including Smalma's suggestion of a few months back that only a single wild steelhead be allowed to be retained per year along with his other suggestion that once that single fish is retained, a fisherman forfeits the ability to fish during March/April.

These two regulations would prevent the self-same legilators from claiming that the commissioners are changing policy because there would still be wild retention allowed. Granted a very much reduced wild fish retention; but one nontheless. And I'd rather have only one wild steelhead bonked per year than 5 on the Olympic Peninsula rivers. Having the regulstion that once the single fish is killed, no steelhead fishing during March/April would also cause many who kill wild fish to stop and think if it is worth it when doing so means no fishing for them in March/April.

A third proposal I'm going to offer the commission along with these two is once that single wild fish is killed, steelhead fishing is over for the day. This will also cause some folks to stop and think whether they want to kill that fish or not.

My letter is in support of the moratorium and making WSR release a permanent rule; however, I've also included as an alternative the single wild fish per year; once it is killed, no fishing during March/April; and once the single fish is killed, steelhead fishing is over for the day because I want to see a reduction in wild fish kill and such a rule would keep the legislators at bay since they would not be able to claim a "policy change" was inacted by the commission.

07-05-2004, 11:06 PM
Thanks fly tyer, I like the idea of offering compromises that have some teeth not just an easy way out.

07-06-2004, 11:01 AM
This is a n old letter and I know at least one of the signing members had no idea what they were signing when they put their name to this letter.

But here is a question that no one can answer. How is WSR no exception a change in Policy when WSR is already the rule of the land?


07-06-2004, 02:05 PM
Thanks Rich,

I too think that a win-win should be offered instead of simpy insisting on one way or no way, or rolling over and giving up. Offering the commission the one fish/year, once the single fish is bonked fishing is forfeited in March/April, and once the single fish is bonked fishing for steelhead ends for the day provides a win-win. The fish win, the commission wins, the bonkers win (albeit at greatly reduced oportunity to bonk). This lets the commissioners stay within the complaints of the legislature, the Forks Chamber of Commerce, the City of Forks, the Quilleute Tribe and the bonkers all the while having a very positive impact of the number of wild fish that escape. In effect, it would allow those of us who wish to see greatly reduced wild fish bonking to have a bloodless coup.


The change in policy is WSR release year-round on all rivers regardless if they make escapement or not. Currently, wild bonking is allowed in winter if the river exceeds escapement.

07-06-2004, 03:12 PM
So are there evidence that the wild fish bonking will reduce. When they reduced it to 5 a couple of years ago the amount of wild fish bonked didn't reduce. Now I think 1 might reduce it some but I think it is short sighted to say it will reduce bonking because reductions in the past on seasonal limits haven't accomplished this.

Any ideas or comments on this?

A compromise isn't bad especially when the department and commission kind of looking like they have made up their mind.

WSR is the rule of the land there is no change in policy. WSR doesn't say release steelhead if they don't meet escapement it is Wild Steelhead Release. It is a little bit of a management shift not policy shift.