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Statewide fishing ban ordered by Washington wildlife managers

Toby Wyatt of Reel Time Fishing based in Clarkston nets a steelhead caught by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional fish program manager Chris Donley as the two met on Wyatt's guide boat Friday Dec. 13, 2019 on the Snake River near Heller Bar. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

All recreational fishing and shell fishing in Washington will close tonight at midnight.

The unprecedented statewide closure comes on the heels of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Monday order directing Washingtonians to stay home to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“This is not a decision we take lightly, but it’s the right thing to do for the health and well-being of Washington’s families,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said in a news release. “Monday’s extraordinary order for the residents of our state to stay home requires all of us to work together to ensure these measures have the intended effect.”

The closure will last through April 8. WDFW will re-evaluate on April 6 whether the closure may need to be extended.

WDFW enforcement officers will be patrolling, spokeswoman Staci Lehman said. If they find people fishing, they will notify them of the closure.

“We will be asking people to comply voluntarily,” she said. “But if they don’t, citations can be issued.”

Citations would either be for fishing during a closed fishery or exceeding the legal limit. Fines could vary.

In contrast, Maine Gov. Janet Mills opened all inland waters Wednesday and waived the requirement that an angler must have a recreational fishing license to fish in the waters.

On Tuesday, WDFW announced closures of all wildlife areas and water access areas, alongside Washington State Parks. The Washington Department of Natural Resources closed its lands Wednesday.

“We’ve seen an uptick in outdoor recreation at some locations in recent weeks as people have looked for ways to get outside,” WDFW Fish Program Director Kelly Cunningham said in a news release. “We’ve had reports of crowded boat ramps and busy fishing on some rivers, which runs counter to the governor’s direction to stay home and practice social distancing.”

Lehman said WDFW enforcement officers will patrol WDFW lands.

If they find people on the land they will inform them of the closure and ask them to leave.

“We’re taking the closure pretty seriously,” she said. “And we expect the public to do so. We’re kind of counting on them to do the right thing and comply.

“We’re hoping not to cite anyone, but if someone does refuse, they can be cited.’

As of now, the spring turkey hunt is still scheduled to happen. Some youth turkey hunts open April 5 with the general season opening April 15.

Lehman emphasized that could change.

Craig Dowdy, the owner and operator of YJ Guide Service, said the fishing closure cuts into some of his prime guiding season.

“With what we have going right now, with walleye and everything else, I would have booked probably four to five days a week,” he said. “That’s a big hit coming to our household.

“I don’t see why we’re closing stuff outside, especially on a lake.”