Time to re-open recreational fishing

By TODD MYERS  | 
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Apr 27, 2020

Across the country, states are encouraging people to take their family fishing. Every other state recognizes that recreational fishing is one of the one of the safe, outdoor activities people can enjoy while still following guidelines regarding safe distancing to fight COVID-19.

In New York, the state encourages “all anglers, novice and expert, to get outside and fish, but act responsibly by practicing social distancing and staying safe.” Fishing is still open for residents in Oregon, and the state says it “will continue to stock popular lakes and ponds as long as people do their part and continue to use social distancing.”

These states are following the science, encouraging an activity that is consistent with health guidelines and has a very low risk of virus transmission compared to other activities that are currently allowed.

Additionally, recreational fishing is an important industry in our state, offering more than 15,000 jobs and more than half-a-billion dollars in salaries and wages according to the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. Reducing the economic impact of the quarantine will help legislators and businesses focus recovery efforts when the health crisis has passed.

Finally, the sale of fishing licenses will provide funding at a time when every state agency is facing difficult cuts.

We understand and share the concern about the health risks to Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers. WDFW is already addressing those concerns for non-recreational fishing. Other states have developed strategies to allow fishing while keeping state employees safe. We encourage the state to develop safety guidelines that keep fishers and enforcement officers safe.

There is a different level of risk and enforcement associated with different species, so we think the state should follow a two-step strategy to opening recreational fishing.

  • Immediately open up fishing for species that are not listed as endangered or threatened.
  • Delay opening seasons for listed species while the state develops health guidelines for enforcement officers that allow them to be safe and to effectively enforce catch limits.

Several states, including Colorado, Georgia, and Minnesota are beginning to re-open the economy. We understand this is an uncertain process and should be done carefully and thoughtfully. Recreational fishing is an obvious choice in this process because of the extremely low risk of infection and the opportunity to limit the economic impact of the quarantine.

Spring is here, and enjoying the beauty of Washington state is a good way to reduce the stress that we all feel now. In the midst of what is a tough time for so many, recreational fishing is an opportunity to have a moment and a memory that can help alleviate the difficulty.