Fish People

A few years back, Ron Warren of WDFW asked those attending North of Falcon to participate in what he called a “plenary session.” Those present were asked to meet with the co-managers who were attending their own separate set of meetings that day. We were brought into one room so we could “listen to one another.” I listened closely as one tribal leader explained that his people were “fish people.” What this gentleman was expressing was no doubt accurate, encompassing heritage, lineage, tradition, and activities connecting him not just to fish but to the land. Here’s the thing: He was also describing me, my family, my friends, where I live, and how I live. We too are “fish people”. As such, I recognized that we share in the responsibility to conservatively manage salmon harvest and care for the land. We have to do this jointly so that generations to come can also be “fish people,” both tribal and non-tribal.

So in one sense, Ron’s idea worked. But the problem was this; I served on two WDFW advisory boards and attended North of Falcon over the course of ten years. As an involved citizen and business owner, I made the 31⁄2-hour drive to Olympia. I sat in on conference calls. I read and responded to the department emails. I made my voice heard, and year by year I watched North of Falcon deteriorate into a farcical dog and pony show as Ron began bowing to the demands of the co-managers to dismantle our seasons. Year after year Ron claimed he was powerless to stop the landslide because the Department had lost its leverage, its own permit. What’s more, through my involvement I learned about the Endangered Species Act and NOAA, the government agency responsible for implementing and overseeing it. I also learned that NMFS (NOAA) was allowing the over-harvest of native fish. I learned this was contributing to the overall decline in return of native fish to Puget Sound, and this action was, in turn, triggering further cuts to seasons. So imagine my surprise when I also learned the very agency tasked with implementing, overseeing, and enforcing a Federal law like the ESA, was looking the other way when it came to a particular user group as they pursued “their half” of the harvest. A few of us decided we were fed up! We were sick of seeing our trailered boats parked on our sideyards. We got tired of seeing our equipment and tackle stacked up in the garage. We grew bored of engaging in distracting busy work on those cold, calm, and clear days when we knew we should be fishing. And we grew weary of avoiding glances at the water in hopes of staving off that gut-felt indignation over something lost, which shouldn’t have been.

We at Fish Northwest are fish people, we care about the land, the fish, and fishing. So we turned to the courts, to sue over ESA violations, amongst other things.

Brett Rosson

President, Fish Northwest

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Brett Rosson