LONG BEACH, Wash. — Fishermen are looking keep their grounds through Pacific County’s new shoreline buffers.
The Shoreline Management Program limits development to protect water quality, habitat and coastal functions. For years, local agencies have worked to rewrite the program to match new state guidelines.
The shoreline plan buffers will redraw the rules of the coast.
Most of the state’s outer coastline is federally controlled by the National Park Service or by local tribes. Out of the state’s remaining 38 miles of coast open for fishing and development, roughly 32 of those miles border Pacific County.
The limited space has caused fishermen to worry that offshore development will cut them off from the catch.
“We realized the SMP really is the teeth of what happens in the ocean,” said plan Chairman Tom Kollasch.
He said the prgram’s authority extends three miles into the ocean. If the buffer’s language is adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new guidelines also could determine development rules for federal waters and reach 200 miles offshore.
The county is responsible for developing the management plan draft and the Department of Ecology determines if the plan meets guidelines established by the 1971 Shoreline Management Act.
The program determines shoreline buffer zones for development on the land, but fishermen are focused on the Coastal Ocean Section, said Dale Beasley, the chairman of the oceans subcommittee.
He said the most important line prohibits “fixed structures associated with ocean energy production that interfere with other ocean uses, including fishing or navigation.”
“If we get nothing else, that one line is protection for the people in this county,” Beasley said. “The only place offshore energy development can go is in already crowded waters.”
When Beasley talks about the shoreline program, he quotes a Brookings Institute study that labeled Pacific County as the fourth most fish-dependent community in the nation.
Beasley was a fisherman for 40 years. When he hauled in a catch, two crew members and processors at the Port of Ilwaco went to work.
Beasley said he’s watched fishing grounds disappear.
In 1994, NOAA designated the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to protect the area’s natural resources. As a result, fishermen lost rights to 64 miles along the coast.
The following year, a court case known as the Rafeedie Decision recognized Native American rights to 50 percent of coastal shellfish north of Point Chehalis. The ruling also deemed 559 square miles of crabbing grounds as Special Management Areas set aside for tribal boats.
The loss of space sent a lot of commercial boats to fishing grounds in Southwest Washington, from Cape Disappointment to Point Chehalis.
Beasley said less space meant more of a rush for fishermen to meet their quotas.
“Every time you take a piece of the commercial fishery away, it puts more pressure on fishermen and they will take risks they shouldn’t,” he said.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is a federal agency responsible for finding ideal offshore energy areas. The bureau’s Pacific Renewable Energy Program chief, Doug Boren, said he believes offshore programs will reach Washington.
“The harder question to answer is when will we see offshore renewable energy be developed off Washington,” he wrote in an email.
Ocean Energy’s public affairs officer, John Romero, said a lot of the state is off limits to projects due to national historic monuments and marine sanctuaries — leaving southern Washington as their only potential grounds.
He said each project takes regional collaboration and an awareness of community needs, such as fishing efforts.
“The technology for offshore wind keeps improving as projects develop around the world,” he said. “The United States, well we’re playing catch up, but the good news is we’re started.”
The rules in the Shoreline Management Program aren’t expected to be finalized until 2016, according to the Planning Director Tim Crose.
In the last draft, the Department of Ecology had more than 70 comments on the Coastal Ocean Section. When it came to the sentence on fixed structures being prohibited, one comment hovered over the line: “Not consistent with (Washington Administrative Code).”
Ecology’s Southwest Region Communications Manager Chase Gallagher said nothing is definitive about the offshore structures.
“We’re in the drafting phase right now,” Gallagher said. “There could be changes from the department after we get the final thing, but there would also be a process so the public’s voices are heard.”