UPDATED: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announces an unprecedented temporary statewide fishing closure to begin at midnight on March 25 19
We are living life in a moment where change seems to happen by the minute and this newly implemented ruling will turn the statewide sport fishing world upside down for the time being.
It was just a few weeks ago when many anglers were making spring fishing plans for a last chance winter chinook or booking trips for upcoming lingcod, halibut, trout and spot shrimp fishing openers.
Now all that has changed in response to Governor Jay Inslee’s order to ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ where the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced it will temporarily close all recreational fishing and shellfishing statewide.
This is likely the first such measure implemented by a state in order to limit the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19 in the country and is unprecedented as far back as sport fishing history goes.
The closures will begin at midnight Wednesday, March 25 and last until at least 5 p.m. on April 8. WDFW will re-evaluate on April 6 whether the closure may need to be extended.
“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,” WDFW 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.”
Fishery managers have reported that some anglers have been seen crowding banks like the Cowlitz River as concerns over coronavirus have continued.
“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.”
The news release went on to say, in addition, many salmon and steelhead fisheries require regular monitoring under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which includes conducting angler interviews at access sites surrounding the state’s marine waters. The on-site, face-to-face nature of angler interviews puts people at potential risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Without such monitoring, these recreational fisheries must close to ensure ESA protections.
WDFW and other state agencies previously closed all of their water access sites, including boat launches, and other public lands where people may gather. Local and tribal governments are taking similar actions across Washington.
WDFW Enforcement officers remain on duty and will be enforcing these new closures.
The lowland lakes opening day for trout remains scheduled for April 25; halibut fishing is supposed to open in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and most of Puget Sound on April 16, and the western Strait, Ilwaco, La Push and Neah Bay on April 30; many Puget Sound salmon fisheries were supposed to remain open through either April 15 or April 30; many parts of Puget Sound were supposed to open May for lingcod; and the spot shrimp fisheries were planned to open in early May.
In other related news reported on Thursday (March 26) that anglers at Sekiu, Port Angeles, Bellingham or the San Juan Island region (any US territory) planning to cross the border into Canada in their boats which is still open for fishing and then come back into US waters is a no-no. Fisheries and Oceans Canada enacted a ruling on March 21 and will be in place for 30 days that all non-essential travel across borders including by water is prohibited to limit the further spread of COVID-19. Once the 30 day time line is reached it will be reviewed by both parties (US and Canada). Canadian border patrol will have boats on the water enforcing this rule.
These are tough times we live in if you’re an angler in Washington, but always keep in mind we need to follow these extreme safety measures to ensure one day we’ll eventually be able to get back on the water.
And hopefully sooner than later. Be safe…