Calls for Unsworth Removal
Intervention on Secret Salmon Plan
By Terry W. Sheely
The fiery grass roots campaign by Washington sports fishermen to stop WDFW and treaty tribes from secretly negotiating binding salmon management has escalated into:
- Requests for the resignation of WDFW Director James Unsworth,
- Boycotts of fishing licenses interrupting agency funding,
- Revelation that the state senator behind a successful legislative bill that secreted tribal harvests information from non-tribal monitors is a member of the Tulalip Tribe.
- Triggered sharp criticism from Washington’s leading and normally moderate boating association, along with calls for WDFW Commissioners to “intervene” in the implementation of a secretly negotiated 10 year chinook management plan for Puget Sound.
- Renewed vows from tribal leaders to continue establishing salmon management programs in secret, and denying requests for public monitoring,
- Calls by PSA, Washington’s largest sportfishing organization, to scuttle the latest secretly negotiated 10-year chinook management plan, calling it a “disaster” that will result in thousands of lost jobs, cripple some salmon recovery efforts, and denigrate agency-angler relations.
- Outrage from more than a dozen sport-fishing advisory and advocacy groups at the top-down lack of transparency at WDFW, a state agency funded by tax dollars and licensing money, and bound by state open-meeting laws.
- A push to have WDFW commissioners revise North of Falcon policy, and place a legal requirement into the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) binding the fish and wildlife agency to the state’s open meeting requirement.
Push To Oust Director
The lack of transparency from Unsworth’s office, sparked sharp and rare public criticism from some commissioners, and proved to be the catalyst for the push to remove Unsworth and install a state law requiring WDFW to meet state open meeting laws.
The call for required transparency is being lead by Washington Citizen Sportsmen and Twin Harbors Advocacy, a group formed in 2014 to support Willapa and Grays Harbor management and conservation issues.
The two groups have co-submitted a petition to the state demanding WDFW commissioners consider moving the North of Falcon (NOF) process from “advisory” to a WAC rule compelling Unsworth and his agency to follow open meeting laws. NOF is the process where multi-fish management agencies annually evaluate and estimate salmon returns and set harvests guidelines allocations. Tribes are government entities and not required to meet WACs. Petitioners argue that WDFW does not have the right to negotiate secretly.
Deals negotiated between the tribes and WDFW are part of the NOF process. Troubling many is that it was after Unsworth agreed with tribes for a decade of questionable chinook management that he brought in the public, appointed salmon advisory committees and commissioners charged with overseeing the agency.
Commercials Back Secrecy
While dozens of conservation, salmon recovery and sport-fishing advocacy groups are criticizing Unsworth’s position and rallying to the open-negotiation demand, industrial fishermen are not.
Lead by commercial gillnetters and seiners, the industrials are encouraging continued secret deals between WDFW and some 20+ treaty tribes. The objections appear rooted in fears within the industrial ranks that if negotiations are publicly monitored tribes will react by demanding an end to non-tribal salmon netting in Puget Sound.
Unsworth has steadfastly said his agency supports public involvement but is prevented from opening NOF negotiations by tribal demands for secrecy.
Unsworth told open-meeting campaigners that tribal objections to open talks are, “due to "mischaracterization" of the tribal positions by observers allowed to sit in on meeting in the past. Unfortunately, this means the general public has not had direct access to the negotiations without an invitation from the tribes."
However, Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, dumped the responsibility for transparency back on the director.
“For this process to work in a timely and orderly fashion,” she said, “there is a need for open and frank discussion among all co-managers. Keeping these discussions confidential allows the parties to freely share their viewpoints and to explore various management options without prejudice.” She added, “Opening these government-to-government negotiations to public participation or observation would both stymie progress and constrain the dialog.”
The current process, Loomis said, “allows the co-managers to collectively evaluate the biological consequences of options collectively with their respective constituencies.”
That WDFW elected to ignore its constituencies, is on Unsworth, not the tribes.
She said, salmon plan models “are available for review throughout the entire process.” Her contention does not appear to square with the reality of secret negotiation allegations, or development of the ten-year Puget Sound chinook plan.
Unsworth’s explanation was challenged by The Advocacy which said it “will never accept the notion that citizens can only participate in governmental processes by invitation from tribal co-managers and only then, if the citizens agree to give up their constitutional rights to free speech.”
The director’s apparent support of the tribal position prompted the advocacy groups to demand, “Commission take actions to insure the department ceases operating outside the state's transparency laws.”
Native Senator Pushed Exemptions
Those operations include dropping a blanket of secrecy over specific tribal harvests information.
While WDFW-compiled information on sport-fishing and commercial harvests is public record, a state law passed in 2016 went into effect last July and protects the tribes from having to make their fishing information public outside the tribes.
Senate Bill 5761 was passed and pushed into law by Senator John McCoy, 38th District (Everett region) a member of the Tulalip Tribes. It modified state revised code to exempt tribal fish ticket information from public disclosure, according to WDFW’s Ron Warren.
Little-known outside the tribes and state lawmakers, the exemption was supported by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and tribal members who lobbied for passage.
It exempts the tribes from sharing some tribal fish and shellfish, specifically:
(a) Fisherman names;
(b) Fisher signatures;
(c) Total harvest value per species;
(d) Total harvest value;
(e) Price per pound;
(f) Tribal tax information;
Warren points out that, “the tribes still provide the listed information on fish tickets to WDFW, as co-managers; however, given this legislation, the Department is limited in its ability to share that information.”
In a written response to Salmon Advisory Committeeman Dave Croonquist, Warren assured that WDFW “will continue to provide tribal information to the extent we can within applicable state and federal statutes and laws.”
According to Croonquist, “the information has been controlled for a number of years now.”
Slap In The Face
In January, Perry Menchaca a driver behind the Washington Citizen Sportsmen open-meeting movement, said, “We are all aware under Director Unsworth’s leadership the 10 year Puget Sound Harvest Plan was done intentionally leaving the Commission out of any details.
“It seemed a deliberate slap in the face and yet, we haven’t seen any reaction from the Commission. Their lack of action so far is sending the wrong signal. It’s obvious at this point that the only possible solution for some of the problems at WDFW involves new leadership. So far, the commission has been reluctant to provide it.”
Referring to Commissioner Larry Carpenter’s public criticism and reprimand of Unsworth for not bringing the commission into the planning loop, Menchaca said, “A mild public tongue lashing does not qualify as leadership, nor will it provoke meaningful change. The way we see it, the Commission can collectively remove the Director, or they surrender their authority to him by their inaction!”
Menchaca argues that Director Unsworth, “challenged them (commissioners) in public. He needs to go! What Director Unsworth did was essentially gut the Commission on public TV in front of all the stakeholders! Why would there be any question as to his immediate dismissal?”
He also asks why, “some on the board are hesitant to exercise their authority to fire him.”
According to Menchaca, “This is not his only issue. His POOR leadership has plunged the department into chaos. His failure on Point No Point, the failure of any progress on the Skokomish River and the loss of quality staff are some examples of his deficiency at leadership! Not to mention he has lost all support and confidence from the stakeholders, business leaders and members of the legislature. His direct challenge to the authority of the Commission, effectively neutering them openly in public cannot go without repercussions!”
CCA & NMTA Positions
Nello Picinich, CCA executive director confirmed that, CCA “has been supportive of Perry’s great work on the transparency issue, and try to “promote” what he is doing in our CCA communications. While we don’t believe that live streaming (of negotiations) by itself will solve the broken NOF process it is a good start in that direction.”
CCA is preparing a letter “laying out our concerns,” Picinich said.
A letter of protest was also fired off to the commissioners, legislators and Governor Jay Inslee by George Harris, president of Northwest Marine Trade Association, the largest boating group in the state, producers of the Big Seattle Boat Show, and manager of the highly popular Northwest Salmon Derby series.
Harris called the Puget Sound chinook management plan, “The most concerning issue to ever come across my desk.”
He said that after two meetings with the director and WDFW top staff NMTA concluded, “the plan would devastate selective fishing in Puget Sound for the next 10 years, confirming our worst fears.
“Even with closing down selective fishing in Puget Sound we still will not recover critical chinook runs as described.” NMTA “would like to know why WDFW would support a plan that closes Puget Sound selective fishing and provides no conservation benefit for doing so?
“We are asking,” Harris wrote, “that the commission intervene in the implementation of the plan before it is finalized,” and added that his group is willing to work with WDFW to develop “a plan that achieves appropriate selective fishing opportunities and conservation benefits.”
Menchaca worries that director’s decision to blame the tribes for secrecy and to formulate a decade-long salmon management plan widely regarded as “disastrous” in the words of PSA State Board President Ron Garner, without constituency input will set back tribal-sportfishing relations.
“Perhaps the worst effect of the secret action of the adoption of this highly contentious fish management plan is the further acceleration and the increase of distrust between the angling public and the Puget Sound tribes,” he worried.
“At a time when more than 5,000 concerned citizens requested a more open and transparent regulatory procedures with the affected tribes so that more understanding of the process of managing our publicly owned fisheries resource with the co-managers, WDFW leadership did just the opposite of what was needed to be done.
“Instead of building trust between the tribes and the stakeholders, WDFW undermined it. Working in secrecy and disregarding the will, much less the opinions of knowledgeable stakeholders, the Puget Sound Chinook policy was formalized and adopted in secrecy.
“This outrageous conduct by senior staff and leadership must not be tolerated,” Menchaca concludes.
Under state law the commissioners have 60 days after receiving the petition to act or reject on the petition, to intervene in the plan, and retain or remove Unsworth.
Washington State Salmon Fishing Rights Signed Away
Puget Sound Anglers State Board President
We have a real problem on our hands called the Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan. The outcome of the signed 10 year plan has tremendous implications that shutdown or severely constrain our saltwater fisheries. Very likely you would see Marine Area 5, 6, 7, 8-1, 8-2, and 9 completely shutdown year round. MA 11 would lose the winter fishery and MA 10 would have limited salmon fishing. Ocean Marine Areas 3 and 4, La Push and Neah Bay would most like be constrained too. I won't go into details but we had this 338 page plan thoroughly researched by professionals that used to write the plans for WDFW and do the negotiating as well as other expert biologists. All came back with... it should have never been signed due to the Stilly component alone. National Marine Fisheries Service only Stilly criteria was to lessen the impacts coast-wide from 25% to 24%. Alaska, Canada, and lower U.S.: Ours, the lower US south of the Canadian Border, was managed under, to stay under 15% for both the tribes and us previously.
The way it was written and agreed to was to drop it to 8% and make it a ceiling cap. Our last 5 years have averaged 13% and all were way over 8%. This was never modeled and applied to existing fisheries to see how they would have fit. We had them model it for us after the signing. So now all fisheries have to stay under this. It would be managing to go to roughly 6% and possibly up to 8%. If the northern fisheries go over in Canada and Alaska, then none of us fish in the lower U.S. The last 5 years we would have cut them by 40% if that helps you understand. These Chinook impacts would also curtail coho fisheries.
Will we be fishing with the Stilly 8% cap? NO-to very little
Was the 8% required? NO
What did NOAA require for these negotiations? 24% coast wide
What would, should have happened? 12% north/12% south
Would we have been able to fish with 12%? (24% split in half) Yes
The 8% cap shuts down recreational fishing with no way to for us to recover even if runs come in 10 fold. Additional impacts from Canada and Alaska cannot be used for us, even if neither were to fish through this plan and our returning fish were here in the hundreds of thousands.
This plan, the way the Stillaguamish inclusion was signed, closes most of our saltwater salmon fisheries. They have not to date answered us as to who required the 8%. Director Unsworth has had an attendance problem at our North of Falcon salmon setting seasons. Little to no participation. We work with many on the inside of these negotiations. Director Unsworth is also on the Pacific Salmon Treaty that is between Alaska, Canada, and lower U.S. When I talk to negotiators of those meetings, our director is not usually there and when he is he is not paying attention if he is. He is not being engaged to understand what he is signing, then we have a problem. If he had reported this to the commission, as the WDFW Policy makers should have been inside the deal, we would not be in this situation.
Because he is not engaging at the required level to learn our fisheries and is making decisions for us that he does not understand, I asked him to resign at the January 19 meeting in Ridgefield Washington. The plan did get kicked back by NMFS for not being conservative enough. This is our chance to fix it and the Commission is going to vote on what they are going to do as they are very upset. By the time you read this, that decision will have been made. This is a self made disaster and we cannot allow our commission to be sidestepped. As president of the largest sportfishing organization in Washington State, I vowed to our business owners to try to save their businesses and our fisheries. This plan will close their doors. The tribes did not cause this problem. WDFW top management did. They gave away the farm. Washington State can no longer afford Director Unsworth at the wheel of our fisheries.
We are not saying the Stillaguamish fish are not important because they are, but the river habitat is in such bad shape it cannot recover wild fish in its current form. This is even written in the plan itself. We need to be working with our tribes mutually on pinniped and bird predation issues. Also reducing northern interception of our salmon while increasing hatchery production. Removing pinnipeds would reduce the greatest impact of all on our fisheries. 86% of our Salish Sea smolts are being eaten by harbor seals, not taking into account sea lions and birds. Our Orcas are in trouble due to harbor seals eating their food base. We are losing habitat faster than it can be rebuilt. Time for all of us to come together and fix our problems. Tribes, commercials, and recreationals all need to come together. Time to stop fighting and fix the fisheries and their habitat.