Port of South Whidbey OK’s crab, fishing rules for marina

Crabbing was heavily restricted and fishing eliminated entirely from the new floats at the Langley marina under a set of rules changes approved by the Port of South Whidbey this week.

District commissioners met for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting Tuesday and, after taking public comment and a short discussion, OK’d the marina regulations with an unanimous 3-0 vote. They may be unpopular with some, but the board has a greater responsibility to act on problems that may threaten the success of a public facility when they arise.

“We don’t do our business for love and admiration,” board President Ed Halloran said.

Commissioners Jack Ng and Curt Gordon are also members of the board.

Crabbing and fishing on docks “E” and “D” have been largely unregulated since their installation in 2014 as part of a greater marina expansion. The new floats added 330 feet of dock space and better fishing grounds due to their location in deeper water. The result was a popular spot for anglers, some from as far away as Seattle and Olympia. Marina staff reported as many as 30 people fishing at a time.

The crowds have become a headache, however, generating noise complaints, violating marina operating hours, making messes and not returning dock carts. As a result, Harbormaster Duncan McPhee proposed eliminating fishing with hooks and line, citing safety concerns, and limiting crabbing to just nine people. Those allowed to fish could only do so with a $10 permit, according to the original proposal.

Public reaction to the plan was largely negative, and both port commissioners and marina staff acknowledged receiving unsupportive comments from the community. They added, however, that many people appeared to understand the necessity of some regulation once its importance is explained. It’s the port’s responsibility to ensure a healthy and economically viable marina, which means keeping paying customers — boaters — happy.

The argument that all district residents have an equal say doesn’t float, Ng said.

“Even though you’re a taxpayer, it doesn’t mean it’s free,” he said.

“People need to understand we’re here for economic development… ,” he added, referring to one of the primary charges of port districts. “It’s not free.”

Few who objected to the proposed rule changes were present at the meeting, though they weren’t a total no-show. Wendy Sundquist voiced concern that those who utilize the docks the most may not read the newspaper or live in the area, and may be caught unaware. Similarly, Virginia Keck questioned how this might affect the port’s reputation, earning it bad publicity.

The most vocal opponent was Brian Lowey, who said the proposal seems to pit “yacht owners against a raggedy bunch of locals” who utilize the docks. It also would be a shame, he said, to lose the cultural mixing pot that exists as a direct result of unregulated crabbing.

“It’s about the only spontaneous cultural interaction that happens around here,” Lowey said.

He suggested taking the outer float and reserving it solely for crabbers and fishers.

It’s unlikely such a scenario is plausible as $800,000 of the $1.7 million used to pay for the project came with strings attached — it was grant money specifically dedicated for economic development.

The proposal wasn’t without supporters. Gwendy Hastings, who’s associated with the overnight lodging industry, said visitors would likely appreciate the predictability the new rules would afford. They could plan ahead, she said, and apply for and secure one of the nine spots before they arrive.

“I can say for the people coming in to Langley, this will be a benefit,” Hastings said.

Commissioner Curt Gordon said he viewed the proposed regulations as “practical” as they would successfully bring into equilibrium two competing uses.

“To me, it’s a balance,” he said.

Gordon noted that he didn’t care about the $10 fee, and could just as easily scrap that part of the proposal if it caused less heartburn. What’s more important, he said, is that the port continue to run a “well organized” marina.

“It can’t stay that way if it’s in total disarray,” Gordon said.

In the end, the board agreed to approve the new rules without the fee. They go into effect immediately for fishing, but the crabbing permit application period won’t begin until shortly before the opening of crabbing season this summer.