The campaign to get a minimum of 181,667 registered voters’ signatures on petitions to put the Save Our Sealife initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot may be faltering.
Backers of SOS are sending out SOS signals to sportsmen throughout the state. They’re saying they need help now.
Work hard to get more signatures on the Initiative 640 petitions, they’re saying, or the initiative won’t be on the ballot and the state’s commercial fishermen, primarily the gillnetters and bottom trollers, will continue to decimate salmon stocks, as well as kill thousands of birds and mammals that get into their nets.
The backers are not saying how many voters have signed the petitions - maybe they don’t know - but they said in an I-640 campaign update that they need a lot more signatures. And they’ve got only two more months to get the required number of signatures.
The initiative is aimed primarily at commercial fishermen. Among other things, the initiative would require the use of salmon and sturgeon fishing gear that would result in the release, unharmed, of 85 percent of non-targeted salmon, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat and sturgeon.
In effect, the initiative would allocate chinook and coho salmon to recreational anglers.
That provision has infuriated the state’s commercial fishermen, and they’ve pulled out all the stops to discourage the state’s voters from signing petitions. They know it would be nearly impossible for them to cut the by-catch to 15 percent or less.
Backers of the SOS initiative claim commercial fishermen are resorting to all kinds of nasty practices.
For example, they said in their SOS update that Jerry Rehberger, owner of a store in Bellingham, “is enduring pickets and protesters outside his store and that they have signs that call him ‘Rat.”’
A Seattle public relations firm, hired by commercial fishermen, “is being paid huge amounts of money to distort the truth of I-640.”
Furthermore, I-640 petitions are being stolen from stores, SOS supporters claim.
Salmon for Washington, the commercial fishermen’s organization, is contending that thousands of jobs would be lost if the initiative becomes law.
Florida’s commercial fishermen employed similar tactics before last fall’s election. They asked voters to think of how many jobs would be lost if the sports anglers’ proposal to ban most types of commercial entanglement fishing became law.
Florida sportsmen, supported by guides, sporting goods stores and manufacturers and sports magazines, fought back. An amazing 72 percent of Florida’s voters decided to ban commercial fishermen from coastal waters.
On July 3, Florida’s sports fishermen no longer will have to share coastal waters with commercial fishermen.
Four days later, Washington’s sports anglers will learn whether the initiative to curtail commercial fishermen will be on the November ballot.
One of the reasons supporters of I-640 don’t have thousands more signatures on petitions is that they’ve done little since February to convince Eastern Washington sportsmen and others to support the initiative.
Top officials of SOS, including initiative author Frank Haw, one-time director of the Washington Department of Fisheries, visited Spokane in late January and tried to win support for the initiative.
They failed to win the support of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, one of the biggest sportsmen’s organizations in the state. They wanted to present their case to the council’s board, but had to be content to tell their story to the council’s fish committee. The board heard the committee’s report, discussed I-640 and then decided not to support the initiative.
I-640 has widespread support in Western Washington, but not all sports groups think the initiative is a good idea. The King County Outdoor Sports Council decided not to become involved in the drive to get the initiative on the ballot.
Several Eastern Washington anglers’ groups are already supporting I-640, but many more probably would be gathering voters’ signatures if they had been approached by SOS leaders.
I-640 backers haven’t even contacted Eastern Washington newspaper, television and radio editors and producers on a regular basis to argue their case.
Maybe it’s not fair to criticize I-640 backers. They’ve undoubtedly worked hard, but they’ve probably learned by now that it’s extremely difficult to get sportsmen involved in political matters, even those that affect them.
The deadline for submitting signatures to the state is July 7. SOS leaders have set their deadline for July 5.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Fenton Roskelley The Spokesman-Review