Hundreds protest state's boating, fishing ban
Let Us Fish rally tries to change 'unconstitutional' government overreach
Last updated 4/21/2020 at 9:28am
RICHLAND — Under the watchful eye of a city park ranger, hundreds of protesters from across Eastern Washington launched boats and filled Columbia Point Park today calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to end the ban on boating and fishing.
Statewide, fishing, boating, camping and some hunting were shut down by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife until at least May 4, in accordance with the governor's quarantine due to the coronavirus outbreak.
More than 100 boats were visible on the water, and there were reports of supporters around the state doing the same closer to their homes.
Boaters and fishermen hitting the water carried not only fishing poles, but signs saying, "Let us fish," "Fish, don't spread COVID," "Inslee sucks," "Fishing = Freedom," and more. A number of boats also sported the "Stars and Stripes" and "Jolly Roger" flags.
A few kayaks joined the protest regatta.
In Columbia Point Park, chants of "let us fish," "impeach Inslee now" and "Inslee sucks" sporadically broke out.
More than 300 people had gathered in the park within an hour of the event's 9 a.m. start.
Protesters carried fishing poles and signs, too.
And Richland residents Marga Kerr and Pat Holten wandered the park playing the accordion and signing verses about fishing and freedom.
In the adjacent parking lot, supporters sat in trailered boats, pickups and other vehicles sporting signs encouraging motorists passing through to honk in support of the protest.
Honk they did, with a steady parade streaming through the area for several hours.
Back at the boat launch and along the shoreline protesters voiced their displeasure with Gov. Inslee, state Director of Fish and Wildlife Kelly Susewind and other officials responsible for the "unconstitutional" closure of public boat launches, water, land forests and campgrounds.
Here, though, the focus was predominantly on fishing.
"This is the only state in all the states that have this fishing ban," Ted Beach of Burbank said.
Beach was one of the volunteers in the park helping fishermen and boaters launch safely.
"We have a God-given right to be fishing," he said, suggesting there is more to the story than just the coronavirus.
Beach noted the push from Olympia to eliminate walleye, bass, northern pike and other fish in Eastern Washington as a political effort in the name of salmon.
Indeed, Gov. Inslee has pushed for removal of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, dams his administration and its political donors claim are decimating salmon and effecting the South Puget Sound orca population.
He wasn't the only one calling the ban on fishing and boating a strictly political move.
Mike Posey of Dayton said that he's been fishing the region his whole life, and has not seen many good decisions by Fish and Wildlife or the state in recent years.
"I'd like to take my daughter catfishing," he said.
His 13-year-old daughter, Parker Posey, sat in the boat holding a sign that said "Let me fish with my Dad!"
Posey and his daughter kept their distance from others on and off the water, something Posey said he believes in doing as a personal choice to keep his family and others safe.
"There's a fine line between keeping people safe and our individual freedoms, a very fine line," he said, calling out the state for unconstitutional overreach on the issue of recreation on public waters.
"Geez, just let me take my kid out fishing," he said.
Mother Ashley Cowan of Pasco brought five children to the protest.
"We're just standing up for what we believe in," she said. "We believe we should be able to go fishing."
Shelly Hall and her family traveled here Starbuck to protest.
"We're here to show the government that we can fish and social distance," she said, as her 6-year-old son, Sawyer Hall held a sign saying simply, "Let us Fish!"
"This is taking away from providing food for our families," she said.
Fisherman Nick Barron of West Richland couldn't agree more.
"There are people out here who don't want to go to the store and stand in that line and risk getting the virus," he said. "What's wrong with being out in the middle of the water, where you may not see another human for miles and miles and miles."
Closing navigable waters for boating and fishing is a "really poor decision," he said, as he launched a kayak flying "Old Glory."
As a military veteran, he said the closure not only takes away food, it also takes away the ability to relax and forget about things for a little while.
"Fishing is the No. 1 think I do to relax and get everything off my mind," he said.
In fact, it works so well for him that he's started the licensing process to get a guide service license.
But with the "unconstitutional" closure, he said he's being denied the time he needs to log to get that license.
And for those worried about the virus, Barron said, "I can't think of a better way to social distance than fishing."
Like Barron, another West Richland resident, Daniel Turlington, said the fishing ban is an unconstitutional overreach.
"This is unjustified," he said of the ban. "Being out in the middle of the river in a boat is absolutely no safety risk to anyone."
"It's a perfect form of isolation," Bjorn Hedges of Richland added. "Lines at the store are OK, but fishing isn't? I don't get it. It doesn't make sense."
Protestor Mary Murray of Eltopia called on the governor to "loosen up."
"He needs to treat us like adults," she said, noting that construction, golf and other activities need to be opened back up.
She also said the governor needs to take a look at the differences between Eastern and Western Washington.
"You can't compare the east side to the west," she said. "We are not as crowded."
Donni Garcia of Richland pointed out that Eastern Washingtonians social distance by nature and that "fishing is just social distancing on the water."
She, too, said she believes that fishing is a relaxing activity ideal for people struggling with the pressures caused by the virus outbreak.
She also cautioned that Gov. Inslee's reaction to the coronavirus is worse than the virus itself.
"This is going to hurt so many more than COVID," she said of the restrictions being placed on residents and businesses.
Most of the protesters said they don't believe Gov. Inslee or Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind are listening.
That was a concern echoed by Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, was attended the protest.
Jenkin said he's worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to try to alleviate some of the "things that don't make sense" to shut down, including fishing.
Jenkin called for the reopening of fishing, but said he didn't expect Inslee to hear him or others.
"We hope that he's going to think about it. But we've heard that the governor is making these decisions on his own, not even listening to staff," he said. "This just seems to be political."
Jenkin acknowledged the differences between Eastern and Western Washington, including the discrepancy between the "coronavirus emergency" west of the Cascades and the lack thereof east of the mountains.
When asked if lawmakers and bureaucrats in Olympia would consider getting away from a one-size-fits-all shutdown to a more logical district-based approach, Jenkin said, "that's not in the governor's thinking."
Jenkin said he is concerned that the governor's failure to listen to the public will lead to more protests.
"He's going to have to open his eyes," he said. "There are more and more of these things going to happen."