Landers: Death of Valleyfest fish senseless

THURSDAY, NOV. 28, 2013

Several dozen rainbow trout large enough to please any angler are on their death bed at Mirabeau Point Park in Spokane Valley.

The fish are leftovers from the September Valleyfest celebration, when about 500 fish were stocked in the park pond with the approval of Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation for a supervised fishing day for kids.

Fishing is otherwise prohibited at the pond.

“Last year, I saw several carcasses along the shore after the uncaught fish were left to die over winter,” said Valley resident Dave Gay.

This year, because of rainy weather and a lighter turnout of kids, many more remain in the pond.

“I just saw at least 50 of these nice fish schooled up in the shallows and I know they’re going to die over winter just like they did last year,” Gay said. “It just seems cruel and wasteful.”

Washington Fish and Wildlife officials issued the permit that allowed the parks department to stock the pond with rainbows from the Trout Lodge Hatchery near Moses Lake.

“They had to be from a certified disease-free hatchery,” said Randy Osborne, the agency’s district fisheries biologist.

“As an agency, we don’t have a problem with the remaining fish dying over winter. Nothing is wasted in nature. The decaying fish will feed the birds and turtles and other creatures in and around the pond. It’s a natural cycle.”

On the other hand, Osborne said he recommended to parks director Michael Stone that they stock fewer trout in the pond before next year’s event to make sure the kids catch all or at least a higher proportion of the fish.

“I’m conflicted about this,” said Gay, who brought the dying fish issue to the attention of Valley parks officials as well as Fish and Wildlife. “I don’t want to dampen the event for the kids, but I don’t see why they can’t do something with these fish other than let them die and rot.

“Why can’t people go in and catch them, or why can’t they be netted and given to the Union Gospel Mission to feed the hungry?”

Parks staff said the pond is closed to fishing except in the case of the Valleyfest event when kids can be directly supervised.

The main concerns are safety, liability and protecting the plastic liner that seals the pond, parks staffers said.

Osborne said netting or electro-shocking weren’t viable options for a pond of that size.

“We don’t want the fish transferred to other waters,” he said, noting that the hatchery fish are no longer certified disease free once they’ve been stocked in the pond.

Basic fisheries management policy avoids transferring fish from one water to another without a plan, he said.

Well, how about a plan for letting kids or perhaps disabled adults have one more crack at catching those fish?

How hard would it be each year to let Boy Scouts, a high-school class or some other group organize a supervised post-Valleyfest fishing day to clean out the leftover trout and put them on somebody’s dinner table?

The pond has a path that leads down to a small dock where kids could be introduced to fisheries management rather than consumptive waste.

“I just want people to be aware,” Gay said. “I don’t have any pull anywhere, and I certainly don’t want to spoil anything for the kids.

“I know people do stupid things at that pond, like dump their unwanted goldfish and release unwanted ducks, and they all die.”

He said he understands that some things expire so others can live, and that kids should understand the circle of life lessons, too.

But in the case of fish that are certified and stocked ostensibly to give kids a taste of sportfishing, perhaps adults are mixing the message by leaving leftover fish to die and rot.

Washington fishing regulations prohibit anglers from wasting sport fish from public waters.

Bass anglers and fly fishers are great proponents of conserving fisheries and treating fish with respect.

But stocking fish and leaving them to rot seems counter-productive to all of that.

“It’s demeaning,” Gay said.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email richl@spokesman.com.

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