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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: Fish and Wildlife Commission

Check…mate. Last-minute procedural move foils latest attempt to revamp Fish and Wildlife Commission…

For weeks now, Sen. Ken Jacobsen has been trying to revamp the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The backstory, from an earlier blog post I wrote:

Commercial fisherman say the board is tilted too far in favor of sport/recreational anglers. The latter say that the board is simply making the hard decisions necessary to preserve the region’s fish runs, and that rod-and-reel anglers are inherently more selective than folks who scoop up fish with nets.

Jacobsen wants to reduce the number of commissioners, shorten their terms, assign them by geographic region and — this is the most important one — remove their ability to hire and fire the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. As he put it in a moment of candor before a House committee last month, Jacobsen’s bill would “neuter ‘em.”

Jacobsen’s proposal sailed through the state Senate, where Majority Leader Lisa Brown said that she felt there were legitimate questions over how the commission was doing. Rep. Brian Blake tried to tone it down a bit while still preserving the intent of Jacobsen’s bill. But Blake’s amended version collapsed at the last minute when Rep. John McCoy proposed taking away the commission’s authority over many fish and all hunting. (The department and, ultimately, the governor would have taken over that role directly.)

Then Jacobsen managed to quietly graft his plan onto another bill, House Bill 1778, that was moving swiftly toward passage.

That’s the bill that came up in the Senate today. On the Senate floor, Jacobsen was cueing up his arguments for final passage of the bill when Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield stood up and objected.

In the legislature, bills must contain basically what is described in the bill title. (This rule is what prevents lawmakers from trying to camouflage controversial legislation with motherhood-and-apple-pie titles, although there are still an awful lot of very vague bill titles out there.)

Zarelli protested, saying that an overhaul of the commission didn’t remain in a bill that was supposed to be about things like allowing anglers who pay extra to fish with two poles. Jacobsen’s amendment, he said, “goes far beyond dealing with enforcement and licensing issues.”

The bill was tabled. The attorneys huddled. And Senate President eventually agreed with Zarelli. The provisions to change the commission, Owen said, “go well beyond the original” subject of the bill.

Zarelli’s challenge was “not a surprise,” Jacobsen said in an email afterward. But it looks like the death of the proposal, at least for this year.

“I am not aware of any vehicle that I can use” to revive the proposal, he said.

Trying to broker a way out of a longstanding fish war…

From this morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ Trying to broker a truce in a long-running dispute, state lawmakers are considering stripping the state Fish and Wildlife Commission of its role overseeing commercial fishing.

The move – likely to be voted on in a House committee today – caps a tug-of-war with high emotions on both sides.

The nine-member citizen commission, appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, oversees fishing and hunting policy.

Critics – including some key lawmakers and Indian tribes – say the current members are biased in favor of sport fishing.

But the commission’s defenders say the group is simply doing the best it can to preserve struggling fish populations. And fishing with a rod instead of a net, they say, is far more selective at a time when the state’s trying to preserve wild fish runs.

The commissioners “are acting on behalf of conservation,” said Ed Wickersham, a sport fisherman from Ridgefield. “They’re frightening interests that have lived by exploiting these resources.”

One of the most high-profile critics of the commission is Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle. He has allowed the Senate to confirm just one of the commissioners, Spokane’s George Orr.

Jacobsen is unhappy that agency director Jeff Koenings – perceived as a commercial-fishing ally – resigned under heavy pressure in December. He’s also offended that the commission snubbed commission vice chairman Fred Shiosaki two years ago, deciding against making the Spokane angler chairman. Shiosaki later resigned from the commission.

“He’s a wonderful gentleman, and they blighted his career at the end,” Jacobsen said.

This year, Jacobsen proposed a bill to shrink the commission, shorten the terms, and strip it of authority to choose the head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The governor would do that instead.

“They’ve managed to enrage the tribes, the commercial fishermen, the hunting community. And that’s pretty hard to do,” he said. “They’ve proved it doesn’t work.” The Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House earlier this month.

Jacobsen’s clear about the goal.

“If this bill passes,” he told lawmakers this week, “we neutered ’em.”

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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