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Originally published Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Outdoors | State Fish and Wildlife director Jeff Koenings to step down

Rumors persist that Jeff Koenings, the longest-serving director at state Fish and Wildlife, was forced out.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jeff Koenings, the director of state Fish and Wildlife for the past 10 years, announced his resignation Monday, but rumors persist he was forced out.

Koenings' resignation — forced or not — has been a hot topic among sportfishing advocates and in online chat rooms since the middle of last month.

Koenings, the longest serving director at state Fish and Wildlife, has held the position since January 1999 and will leave Thursday.

In a news release, Koenings said of his resignation: "In collaboration with many other resource managers and Washington citizens, I've accomplished much of what I said I would do when I became director 10 years ago."

"I'm proud of the progress we've made in creating a comprehensive, gravel-to-gravel system of stewardship for wild salmon, rebuilding relationships based on mutual trust with tribal resource co-managers, bringing a scientific focus to state fish and wildlife management and improving the department's business practices."

Attempts to reach Koenings this past week through phone calls have been unsuccessful.

"He was a good director and carried the flag for the department," said Jerry Gutzwiler, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission chairman. "After 10 years of this, I'll tell you it wears on you, and he has been up for the challenge."

While Koenings gave no specifics, Gutzwiler said Koenings did outline his future interests.

"The impression I got is that he wants to work in national and international fisheries," Gutzwiler said. "He wants to be a problem solver of fisheries and has got a good formal education in that."

While much has been said about his 10 years in office, many in the sport-fishing industry are glad to see him go because of what they describe as his lack of support.

"We couldn't move forward with [Koenings], and it has been an absolute tug of war on sport-fishing issues up until now," said Tony Floor, sport-fishing director of the Northwest Marine Trade Association and former longtime state Fish and Wildlife employee.

"Hopefully now we can have a good communication link for the sport-fishing community, and we'll gamble on that change," Floor said.

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Gov. Christine Gregoire, in a Nov. 1 interview on Northwest Wild Country on 950 KJR-AM, said not enough was being done by the director and commission on sport-fishing issues.

In that interview Gregoire said she sent a letter to the commission and asked them to expedite plans with the department on how they were going to move forward on hatchery reform on selective fishing and tourism.

Selective fishing allows anglers to catch and keep abundant numbers of hatchery-marked salmon while releasing wild fish. This has become a popular way of fishing in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and off the coast.

"There is not a universal understanding of the cultural importance of recreational fishing in our state," she said.

She added, "The No. 1 agenda is to light a fire under the department and commission. I have a sense of urgency, so now let's get going and make it happen."

Koenings' interim replacement will be Phil Anderson, the deputy director of state Fish and Wildlife for the past 18 months who has worked at the department since 1994. He was also a longtime charter boat operator at Westport.

"My highest priority is to work through the next six months, and with meeting our budget challenges while sticking to our core functions and conservation of the resource," Anderson said. "Selective fisheries is a tool that allows us access to a resource through recreational activities, and plays a real important part of our economic benefits."

"Those [selective fisheries] aren't at the top of the cut list, and we need to do our very best to provide opportunity," Anderson said. "Now expanding beyond what we have now and utilizing beyond our funds is the big question."

"There are additional opportunities we can provide while meeting our conservation objective [but] adding things that have a lot cost associated are going to difficult to do," Anderson said. "We will look at everything, and focus on the core function of this agency and so when we come out of it we are whole."

The $40 million budget deficit for the next biennium remains a constant for state Fish and Wildlife.

"We've got our hands full like every agency in this budget situation," Gutzwiler said. "We don't know yet what will happen with federal funding that supports our hatcheries and different management habitat initiatives.

"We are all kind of holding our breaths, and we have a good team who are working diligently on this. We don't want to take a step backward on selective fisheries, and have got a good start on the Columbia River initiative. We've got to be creative to make our resource and money go further."

The search for a new director will begin in 2009.

Notes

• The Outdoor Emporium Customer Appreciation Day is 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 13 at 1701 Fourth Ave. S. in Seattle. Tom Nelson from Salmon University will provide hands-on demos of the hottest new salmon fishing gear. Glenn Hall from Hawg Quest on FSN will be at the store from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Details: 206-624-6550.

• The Renton chapter of the Puget Sound Anglers meets at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Kennydale Memorial Hall, 2424 N.E. 27th St. in Renton. John Fiskum of Kent Parks and Recreation will discuss his fishing trips, past and future. Details: www.pugetsoundanglers.org.

• A public workshop is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to discuss how annual seasons are set for recreational salmon fisheries by state Fish and Wildlife at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. in Lacey. Fisheries staff will talk about legal, technical and policy issues regarding the salmon season-setting process, known as North of Falcon. Details: wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/index.htm.

• The Issaquah REI Store is hosting a workshop, Snowshoeing 101, at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Learn skills, tips and techniques, and layering technology to keep you warm and comfortable. All ages welcome. No registration required. Details: 425-313-1660.

• The Washington Sea Grant is offering classes on boat engine troubleshooting and maintenance 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, 42 Water St. in Port Hadlock. Cost is $100, and preregistration is advised. Details: 206-543-1225 or e-mail sfisken@u.washington.edu.

• The Northwest Mountain School is offering an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course Jan. 2-4 in Leavenworth and at Stevens Pass. Cost is $275, and includes all course materials. Details: www.mountainschool.com or 509-548-5823.

• The Washington Fly Fishing Club beginner fly tying classes are 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. beginning Jan. 8 at the Mercer Island Covenant Church. The class meets once a week for eight sessions. Cost is $45 ($35 class fee plus $10 for the DVD featuring step-by-step video instruction for all flies tied in class). Details: 206-542-4623 or www.wffc.com.

• The Patty Wagon ski bus to Stevens Pass begins service every Thursday from Jan. 8-Feb. 26. Cost is $191 for the eight weeks or $29 for single trips. Bus starts from 185th and Aurora to Lake Forest Park to Bothell and a last stop in Monroe. Details: 206-546-6717.

• The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays through Dec. 31. The visitor center offers new exhibits, park information, a new park movie, book store and gift shop, as well as food service. Details: 360-569-2211 or www.nps.gov/mora.

• Hatchery steelhead fishing is open on the Upper Columbia River from Rocky Beach Dam to 400 feet below Wells Dam. Daily limit is two hatchery-marked fish, and they must be longer than 20 inches. Fishing will remain open through March 31, but could close sooner. A night closure and selective gear rules apply. Anglers may use single, barbless hooks and knotless nets, motorized vessels and bait are allowed.

• Lake Chelan is open for chinook salmon fishing through Feb. 8. Areas within 400 feet of the mouths of all tributaries are closed. Hatchery-reared summer chinook stocking have been successful to the point to allow fishing. Daily limit is two chinook with a minimum size limit of 15 inches. No catch-record card is needed.

• The Washington Trails Association offers statewide trip reports and trail conditions. Details: www.wta.org.

• The Northwest Fly Anglers offers various public classes through the year. The public also is invited to club meetings on the third Thursday of each month, at the Haller Lake Community Center, 12579 Densmore Ave N., in North Seattle. Details: 206-684-7524.

• The Emerald Sea Dive Club offers year-round activities including the big buddy program and weekly and monthly dives. The club meets on the first Wednesday of every month, 7-9 p.m. at Alfy's Pizza, 4820 196th S.W. in Lynnwood. Details: 425-775-2410 or www.emeraldseadiveclub.org.

• The Seattle Audubon Society offers field trips and classes every month. Details: 206-523-4483 or www.seattleaudubon.orgCQ.

• Northend Bassmasters is accepting new members who want to learn more about bass fishing. The group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Crystal Creek Cafe, 22620 Bothell-Everett Highway (Canyon Park) in Bothell. Details: 206-789-4259 or e-mail Gary Millard at glmillard@comcast.net.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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