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Sports >  Outdoors

Washington fishing closure necessary to slow spread of virus, draws ire of anglers

Toby Wyatt of Reel Time Fishing based in Clarkston scans a steelhead for embedded tags before state fisheries manager Chris Donley promptly returns the wild fish into the Snake River so they can resume fishing on Friday Dec. 13, 2019. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Toby Wyatt of Reel Time Fishing based in Clarkston scans a steelhead for embedded tags before state fisheries manager Chris Donley promptly returns the wild fish into the Snake River so they can resume fishing on Friday Dec. 13, 2019. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

The decision Wednesday to close fishing throughout the state sent waves throughout Washington’s angling community.

Many lambasted the closure, calling it unnecessary and noting that fishing is notably a solitary activity.

As for reports of overcrowded piers, boat launches and riverbanks, people such as Joel Nania, the former president of the Inland Empire Bass Club, asked why those areas weren’t just shut down.

“This is a blunt approach to something that should be done more surgically,” Nania said, echoing many of the complaints posted online.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife considered a more targeted approach, said Chris Donley, WDFW regional fish program manager in Spokane. WDFW also considered opening up all state waters for fishing, in hopes of spreading use out more evenly.

It quickly became evident that wouldn’t cut it.

“Where we saw really large concerns was on ocean beaches,” he said. “We had thousands of people over normal. They just flooded into those communities.”

Opening up fishing through the state also would likely encourage people to drive, thus violating Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order issued Monday.

“Spreading them out is still encouraging travel,” Donley said. “You’re just pushing the problem around.”

WDFW therefore made the tough decision to shut down fishing throughout the state, Donley said.

“It’s unfortunate for the folks who live on a lake and they could go down and have a nice day,” he said.

“But let’s be honest, most of us don’t live within a few miles of a fishery.”

As for other states like Maine and Ohio that opened fishing up to everyone in response to similar state orders, Donley said Washington is too different to make that sort of comparison. The population densities are greater and so is the outdoor culture.

“I think Washington’s outdoor culture was seen loud and clear, which is one of the reasons I love living here,” he said. “But at this point, it’s a little bit of a risk. Actually, more like a lot of risk right now.”

As for those noting that Western Washington is more crowded than Eastern Washington, Donley reiterated the belief that closing some parts of the state would only push anglers to other areas.

“If we had implemented closures in Western Washington and left it in Eastern Washington, where do you think Western Washington anglers would have ended up? We would have been exacerbating the travel issue,” he said.

There is some evidence of that happening in Idaho. The Idaho Statesman and the Lewiston Tribune reported that some rural towns have seen an influx of out-of-town visitors in the past week.

Josh Mills, a member of the board of directors of the Wild Steelhead Coalition, said the closure “sucks,” but he understands the need.

“It’s unfortunate that many people went shoulder-to-shoulder in places, causing the blunt change necessary,” he said in a message.

Donley urged anglers to take the closure seriously. If they don’t, he said, it will only drag on.

“We don’t want to do this,” he said. “I usually fish two or three days a week. This sucks. I don’t like it. This is my release valve … I’m in exactly the same boat no pun intended.

“But there are a lot of things in my life going sideways. I haven’t been able to hug my 83-year-old mother in two weeks.”

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