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Eye On Olympia

FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 2009, 3:14 P.M.

Fish and Wildlife commission dodges a bullet — deal to strip it of some powers falls apart at the last minute….

In a surprise move, a bill to restrict the power of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission abruptly died Friday as lawmakers deadlocked.

"There just weren't the votes to move it out of committee," said Rep. Brian Blake, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. After meeting with other Democrats behind closed doors in a last-minute attempt to keep the proposal alive, he abruptly adjourned Friday's committee meeting without a vote on the bill. It was the last meeting before a key deadline Monday, meaning that the bill is almost certainly dead.

"It was kind of tenuous throughout the day," Blake said."...There was no hope."

Blake had tried to work out a compromise version of Senate Bill 5127, which would have stripped the commission of the authority to hire and fire the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also would have ended the terms of the 6 current members of the 9-person commisson.

Some key lawmakers are unhappy with the commission, saying that it favors sports fishing over commercial fishing and isn't tolerant of dissent from the public. Other lawmakers and recreational anglers defend the commission, saying its members have a thankless job and are trying to defend struggling fish stocks.

Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat, joined with some Republican lawmakers to hash out a more modest overhaul, shrinking the commission to 7 people, giving the director authority over commercial fishing, and saying that the governor -- not the commission -- can fire the director.

A key wrinkle, however, came when Rep. John McCoy proposed putting more restrictions on the commission's authority. McCoy, a Marysville Democrat and member of the Tulalip tribe, wanted to do also away with the commission's authority over hunting, shellfish and fish like salmon. Those things would instead be regulated by the director. The commisson's authority would have been limited to non-game wildlife and warm-water game fish like trout and bass.

The resulting disagreement left Blake with too few votes to get the bill out of committee, he said.

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