October 25, 1999
Washington Trout, a Duvall-based environmental research group that focuses on wild fish preservation, has officially endorsed I-696, which would prohibit all non-tribal commercial net fishing in Washington state.
"Objective reviews of current science and the history of salmon management in Washington clearly identify overfishing as a continuing major problem," said Ramon Vanden Brulle, spokesman for Washington Trout. "Initiative 696 will solve that problem."
Vanden Brulle says the resource will definitely continue to decline unless action is taken.
"Overharvesting is a problem," he said last week. "It's not so much what the commercial fishers are doing, but how the state is managing the fisheries. If we were confident that management agencies could manage the fish, we wouldn't need this initiative, but history shows that their priorities are on politics and economics, not on the needs of the resource."
The initiative is opposed in part by the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club, Washington Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters in Puget Sound, and the Westport Charter Boat Association. Those groups say it targets Washington's fishing families and ignores the real challenge of restoring fish habitat.
Vanden Brulle says the group is not "blind or deaf" to the problems of commercial fishermen, but that their job is to be a voice for the resource.
"We don't consider the initiative to be perfect ... we might be more comfortable if buyouts of fishing licenses were included to help out the fishermen, but our position is that this initative will definitely affect salmon recovery," said Vanden Brulle. "We have to leave it to other groups to take care of the political and economic aspects."
The initiative will not affect treaty fishing rights. "The Indians will continue to harvest," Vanden Brulle said. "But we expect their harvest level to stay the same, so there should be a net reduction in harvest."
Vanden Brulle said the group is basing its endorsement "on the interests of salmon, not salmon anglers. Washington Trout has a statewide reputation for focusing on the needs of the resource itself, not any user group, and for relying on the best available science in its practices and advocacy."
Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of Washington Trout, weighed in on the "harvest vs. habitat" question raised by some state environmental groups.
"We work harder on habitat issues that affect salmon than almost any group in the state," Beardslee said. "Habitat preservation and restoration is critical. But forwarding the notion, as some in the local environmental community have done, that commercial harvest is not an important factor in salmon decline is simply not supported by any objective data."
Those in favor of the initiative include seven Washington state chapters of the Audubon Society and David Brower's Earth Island Institute.