Here is the story I just filed for Tuesday’s edition of the TNT regarding the resignation of Jeff Koening as director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The topic has been a hot one on local fishing Web sites and the search for a new director will certainly fuel forum discussions.
Here is my story:
Jeff Koenings resigned Monday as director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, a position he has held since 1999.
The state Fish and Wildlife Commission met Monday night via telephone conference call and voted to accept Koening’s resignation.
After accepting Koenings resignation, which takes effect Dec. 11, the commission named Phil Anderson acting director. A long-time department employee, Anderson has been the deputy director for resource policy the last 18 months. He has been the state’s lead negotiator during the annual meetings with tribal fishery managers at which salmon fishing seasons are set.
The commission will conduct a nationwide search for a new director beginning in 2009, said chairman Jerry Gutzwiler.
Koenings had been under pressure in recent weeks from members of the commission to step down. Supporters of recreational fishing have viewed Koenings as a director who often favored commercial fishermen during debates over allocation of salmon and Puget Sound crab.
"The rumors have been flying the last couple of weeks regarding change, especially post election," said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association and former department employee. "The news was not a surprise to many of us in the recreational fishing industry.
"I have served under 10 directors in my 30-year career with the department. I’ve seen the tide ebb and the tide flood," Floor added. "I don’t think Jeff will ever be seen as a leader of the recreational fishing community. We’ve been looking for change in leadership in the department for some time."
Clint Muns, director of resource management of the Puget Sound Anglers, admits Koenings took a lot of blame from recreational anglers. But not all the blame was Koenings’, he said.
"I think the issues are more complex than most people think they are. Until the budget issues are resolved, I don’t think the department is going to have a lot of success accomplishing all it wants to."
Muns put much of the blame on the Legislature.
"They haven’t provided funding to the department. The Senate is supposed to confirm the commissioners so they can provide the oversight. That hasn’t occurred," he said.
Only two of the current eight commissioners have been confirmed by the Senate. There also is a vacancy on the commission.
In a news release announcing his resignation, Koenings said he accomplished much of what he set out to do when I became director. Koenings could not be reached for comment.
"I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in creating a comprehensive, gravel-to-gravel system of stewardship for wild salmon, re-building 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."
Among the accomplishments Koenings cited were the new 10-year chinook-harvest agreement under the Pacific Salmon Treaty that requires British Columbia and Alaska to reduce harvest of Washington chinook by a million fish over the next 10 years, the establishment of selective harvest fisheries where anglers can keep hatchery fish while releasing wild fish, and land acquisition to protect habitat.
Koenings’ nearly 10-year career as director was the longest in the history of the department that has more than 1,500 employees and a budget that is more than $280 million.
He was hired as the director in January 1999, after working as an Alaska fisheries manager and a special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He has a doctorate in natural resources, a master’s degree in water resources and a bachelor’s degree in fisheries, all from the University of Michigan.