OLYMPIA - Coastal and Southwest Washington lawmakers are talking about three big ones that didn't get away.

When it comes to supporting a family, commercial fishing is still king for a lot of Washington people - and for a lot of Washington communities. But environmental challenges and federal rulings have taken a toll on the viability of businesses that state Rep. Brian Hatfield calls "an essential but often-forgotten industry."

The state Senate on April 11 approved plans sending assistance to the beleaguered fishing industry.

A trio of bills prime-sponsored by Hatfield - and either co-sponsored or solidly supported by his 19th Legislative District seatmate, state Rep. Brian Blake - was approved in the Senate. The state House of Representatives has already endorsed the measures.

House Bill 1057 directs that commercial fishers won't face livelihood-threatening punishment for relatively small fishing infractions.

Hatfield, D-Raymond, said that a license-suspension-review committee will be set up to review allegations that a commercial fisher has committed a violation.

House Bill 1127 expands the Direct Retail Endorsement program so commercial fishers can sell sturgeon - along with salmon and crab - directly to retail shoppers and restaurants.

Commercially harvested fish sold under terms of the program don't have to be sold whole.

House Bill 1972 makes a commercial-fish seller's failure to account for commercial harvest a misdemeanor.

Terms of the legislation grant the Department of Fish & Wildlife the authority to track fish and shellfish at all levels - with the idea being to make sure that the fish being sold isn't from contaminated areas, Hatfield said.

"The department will be able to enforce shellfish-closure areas much more effectively," Blake explained.

Further, the new policy will enable the department to do a better job keeping an eye on potential poachers - scofflaws who can have a disastrous impact upon recreational as well as commercial fishing.

The problem right now, Hatfield and Blake said, is that poachers have a pretty easy time finding a market for their catch - and that means illegal competition to lawful fishers.

A person will be guilty of a misdemeanor, according to this legislation, if he or she:

* Sells fish or shellfish at retail (unless the person has a wholesale dealer's license, or is a participant in the Direct Retail Endorsement program).

* Doesn't document the fish that was sold - if it is required to be documented on the department's fish-receiving ticket.

* Fails to maintain sufficient records that specify the name and license number of the wholesale dealer who sold the fish to the retailer - as well as the date of purchase, and the amount of product bought from the wholesale dealer or fisher who is selling fish under terms of the direct-retail program.

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