Washington’s coastline provides abundant marine resources to the state. However, its small communities lack the power of their urban neighbors to garner funding and policy support. Resource policies are important to coastal communities, as many have resource-dependent economies. To address this, the Washington State Legislature created the Marine Resource Committee (MRC) structure in the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions.
The legislature’s support included $38,500 annually for each county to coordinate committees and local marine projects, and to facilitate local input on coastal policy. Based on prior work with Horizons in building community leadership and civic engagement, WSU Wahkiakum County Extension was well situated to take on the county commissioners’ request to coordinate an MRC in Wahkiakum County.
Wahkiakum County Extension formed an MRC in 2009. Extension recruited key stakeholders and worked with them to set committee bylaws and local goals for the committee. With support from Extension, the MRC coordinates marine outreach activities and public meetings each month. As part of its marine outreach, the MRC distributes state funding for community marine projects. For project development, Extension works with the MRC members to enlist participation from local schools, county and local governments, and ports, as well as regional agencies including Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board. These broad collaborations have resulted in several impactful projects in Wahkiakum County over the last six years.
The MRC initiated and funded a long-term stream monitoring program involving the biology class at Wahkiakum High School working with the Wahkiakum Conservation District to monitor water quality and fish returns on habitat restoration projects that lacked the means to otherwise measure whether the restoration was effective. Students were trained in monitoring methodologies by fisheries biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Abernathy Fish Technology Center.
Extension led the MRC to partner with The Nature Conservancy to create a proposal for value-added marketing and processing for local fishermen transitioning to the new alternative fishing gears on the Lower Columbia River, and worked with the county’s public works and Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board to develop a proposal for culvert replacements in the Elochoman and Grays River basins. Both proposals were incorporated into a coast-wide initiative for State Legislature funding in 2015 and fully funded in the capital budget. The budget provides $300,000 to create new opportunities in value-added marketing and cooperative development as fishermen transition to new fisheries, and $535,000 for culvert replacements and salmon habitat restoration in Elochoman and Grays River basins.
A seal and seal lion monitoring program began in in Wahkiakum County in 2014 to determine numbers, locations, and haul-outs (resting areas) in the Columbia River. Many pinnipeds were observed during another large smelt run in the Columbia River in 2015. A total of 1,472 Pinnipeds (1,116 California Sea Lions, 344 Pacific Harbor Seals, and 12 Steller Sea Lions) were observed between December 2014 and April 2015 in various locations. There were many pinnipeds observed eating salmon and smelt. Daily News reporter Tom Paulu of Longview, Washington, participated in the program and wrote an article about the experience. A cohort of 11 volunteers were trained by staff of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in 2016. All data is summarized by staff and a volunteer who is a retired marine biologist. Data is submitted to WDFW to add to their management of pinnipeds along the Lower Columbia River.
“It is important for students to understand the importance of estuarine health for future generations… Students cannot make well-informed decisions if they don’t understand the complexity of the issues. These (MRC) educational activities helped students view fisheries and estuary issues from a variety of social, economic, and environmental viewpoints; they challenge them to examine the issue with critical thinking skills and multiple perspectives, thereby giving them the skills to make well-informed decisions in the future.” – Jeff Rooklidge, Wahkiakum High School biology teacher
“The Wahkiakum MRC has facilitated the integration of our marine-based business into the local natural resource community, connecting us with agencies and entities that are assisting us in establishing a successful endeavor. In turn, we are proud to support such a vital intersection of marine related interests, and favor expanding similar programs that foster cooperation by sending direct financial and technical support to the local level.” – Sol Mertz, MRC Member, Business Representative, Rose Creek Retreat
Impacts of the MRC include a Columbia River fisheries exhibit winning the State Historical Society’s David Douglas Medal. The exhibit details the history of tribal and commercial fishing on the Columbia River and was created by Irene Martin, longtime fisher, author, and historian.
The MRC worked with partners at The Nature Conservancy and the Wahkiakum Conservation District to complete a new tidegate for restoration of tidal flow to two miles of Skamokawa Creek, termed “Dead Slough” due to poor water quality, and blocked since the 1940s. Extension solicited help from statewide MRC contacts to secure funding to complete the project, and Wahkiakum High School students monitor salmon returns to the creek as part of their long-term stream monitoring work with the Conservation District.
Fish preservation was taught to 33 participants. Seven hundred fifty pounds of Salmon were canned during six classes, primarily for senior and low-income residents. Participants also learned different ways to use the finished product with fish caught in the lower Columbia River. These classes were taught by trained and certified WSU food safety volunteers, and donation of salmon was secured by a local commercial fisherman and MRC member, who approached a local fish processing company for the donation.
This program is successful because of its valuable collaborations. We thank our partners, including Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wahkiakum County Board of County Commissioners, Wahkiakum County Public Works, Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, The Nature Conservancy, Wahkiakum Conservation District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Abernathy Fish Technology Center, Friends of Skamokawa, Grays River Grange, and Wahkiakum High School.