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Sport fishermen's waste fouling shellfish harvest
Sport fishermen fouling the banks of the Skokomish River with human waste and garbage have forced the state to close hundreds of acres of shellfish beds, jeopardizing clam and oyster harvests worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sport fishermen fouling the banks of the Skokomish River with human waste and garbage have prompted the state to close hundreds of acres of shellfish beds, shutting down clam and oyster harvests worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The fishermen's refusal to clean up after themselves also has cost the public about $1,000 for portable toilets and trash disposal, paid for by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to facilitate its recreational fishery on king salmon, stoked by a state hatchery up the road from the river.
The sport fishery on the Skokomish this year is unusually good. With about 10,000 more fish than last year, some at 15 pounds and larger, the run has attracted fishermen from across the state and as far away as Alaska. The Skokomish offers a chance to catch a big fish on the cheap: Pull over, park, walk to the river and throw in a line. It's been a draw for years — but not like this.
The return of the big fish, combined with a greatly extended season — about twice as long as last year — has drawn 500 to 2,000 fishermen to the river daily, most of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder along a mile and a half of river.
The fishery is open seven days a week, from dawn to dusk, and is scheduled to last until Sept. 30.
But less than three weeks after the fishery opened Aug. 1, the fishermen's conduct led the state Department of Health to enact an emergency shellfish-bed closure Aug. 18 at Annas Bay, near the mouth of the river, to protect the public from fecal coliform contamination in shellfish.
"I look at this as a spill," said Bob Woolrich, shellfish specialist with the state Department of Health.
The department closed the easternmost part of the bay four years ago because of water-quality problems. The state was on the verge of reopening the area, after years of cleanup work, but changed course because of the new influx of pollution. Instead, the state is taking a step backward, retaining its closure of 300 acres, and closing 500 more at the mouth of the river.
Taylor Shellfish Farms, a Shelton-based commercial shellfish grower, lost a potential $25,000 in clams the company was poised to gather, said Bill Dewey, company spokesman. "What a mess," Dewey said. "It's amazing that people can think that is OK."
The Skokomish tribe was counting on harvesting more than 175,000 oysters from shellfish beds, also on Annas Bay. It, too, is now shut out of the harvest by the sporties' mess.
That closure hurts the most low-income tribal fisherman without the money to buy a boat or travel to more distant venues, said David Herrera, fisheries-policy representative for the tribe.
The state has known since a pollution study in 2003 that the fishery was a problem, and it should have been better prepared, Herrera said. "There are so many people, and they are fishing shoulder-to-shoulder and they believe if they leave their spot for very long they will lose their spot. They would rather step in the bushes; that is how that fishery operates."
Joseph Pavel, a Skokomish tribal member and manager of the tribe's natural-resources department, said the fishery used to be fun for the whole community. "It used to be a local fishery, non-Indians, Indians, we all knew each other, we grew up together, we had a good time together," Pavel said. But the fishery has become a headache, with trucks and RVs lining the road, overflowing garbage bins, and worse, Pavel said.
"It's just real unpleasant," he said. "I don't even want to go down there, and I don't want to take my kids down there."
The tribe has asked the department to close down the recreational fishery so the mess doesn't worsen — a step the department is mulling, said Ron Warren, a fish program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It's theirs to lose if they continue to make bad decisions," he said of sport fishermen defiling the area.
Outdoor recreationists are responsible for taking care of their garbage and waste, Warren said. But the department opened the season with six portable toilets and a Dumpster supplied on the river, and has increased the number of portable toilets to 19, and Dumpsters to three. "We have taken extraordinary measures," Warren said.
The department also conducted a so-called emphasis patrol for fishing violations and turned up 56 in one weekend, from keeping more than the one allowed fish, to using improper gear and methods, including snagging. The department promises to continue patrols.
On his visit to the river this week, Warren said he found some areas clean. Elsewhere? "It's gross," Warren said. "I have witnessed ... gross."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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