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Columbia River Workgroup Discusses ‘Transition Period’ If Gillnetters Removed From Mainstem
Posted on Friday, October 26, 2012 (PST)

The Washington/Oregon Columbia River Fishery Management Workgroup, created upon direction from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, met Oct. 18 to discuss rulemaking options to reform commercial and sport fisheries on the lower Columbia River (the area downstream of Bonneville Dam) -- a process that could include the eventual removal of commercial gill nets from the mainstem.

The all-day session was the workgroup’s second meeting.

The proposed option aims to phase out the use of non-tribal commercial gill nets on the lower Columbia River. It would transition the commercial gill-net fisheries to off-channel areas in the Columbia River estuary, and allocate the majority of salmon available for harvest in the mainstem to sport anglers.

Commercial fisheries in off-channel areas would target hatchery fish since most wild salmon and steelhead, many of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, remain in the mainstem Columbia during their upstream migration. Young hatchery fish are outplanted in the select areas so they become familiar and then return there after maturing in the Pacific Ocean. That program is designed to provide fishing opportunity on hatchery fish.

The proposed Oregon rulemaking option follows guidance outlined by Kitzhaber to end non-tribal commercial gill-net fishing in the Columbia River, while minimizing the economic hardship to the commercial fishing industry and communities. Oregon’s governor initiated the effort as an alternative to a proposed ballot initiative, Oregon Initiative 81, which would have changed state law to ban the use of gill net and tangle net gear by non-tribal fishers in all Oregon inland waters. The statute change would affect commercial fishing in the lower Columbia River, and the sale of salmon caught there, waters under Oregon’s jurisdiction.

Instead, Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to develop a more gradual end to the use of gill nets by non-tribal fishers, as compared to the ballot measure. Working with counterparts in Washington, the Oregon commission created the workgroup. The workgroup involves fishery managers and stakeholders from Oregon and Washington, including three fish and wildlife commissioners from each state.

The approach proposed by the workgroup at the Oct. 18 meeting would phase out the use of non-selective gillnets in the mainstem Columbia by the end of 2016, or 2017 if circumstances warrant an extension. Gill net use would continue in the mainstem Columbia during the transition period with the idea that commercial fishers would develop and move to alternative selective fishing gear that allows the live capture of fish so unmarked, presumably wild, salmon and steelhead can be released.

The transition period would also be intended to allow time to improve off-channel fisheries by increasing hatchery production at existing sites, and by enhancing area boundaries and/or locations.

Providing the transition period would also lessen economic impacts on commercial fisheries, and on the businesses and communities that they support, according to the proposal.

Under the strategy only a partial shift toward a higher mainstem priority for recreational fisheries would occur during the transition.

The transition period would span the time needed for returns on new investments in off-channel areas, for evaluation and implementation of alternative selective fishing methods, and for evaluation of economic objectives for commercial fisheries under the alternative management framework.

Workgroup participants last week expressed mixed feelings about the proposal.

Peter Hahtula, with the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners, expressed concern about restricting commercial gill-net fishers to off-channel areas. Clatsop County, located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River in the lower estuary, contains three of four off-channel fishing sites where hatchery fish are released through the Select Area Fisheries Enhancement Program. Clatsop County raises and releases juvenile salmon in the three Oregon off-channel sites: Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough. The fourth site is Deep River in Washington.

“Clatsop County is a partner with ODFW and WDFW and the Bonneville Power Administration in the SAFE Program,” Hahtula said. The workgroup needs to “discuss options with the Board of Commissioners to find out how much it wants to be involved in expanding the select areas and the costs involved,” he said. The Clatsop Board of Commissioners has raised concerns about the ability to meet additional demands in the off-channel areas to accommodate gillnetters displaced from the main channel.

Several people also expressed approval for the approach to increase sport-fishing seasons and catch, while also protecting wild fish and commercial fishing interests.

In response to the discussion, the workgroup decided to explore options to minimize the economic harm to the commercial fishing industry. Bobby Levy, chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, suggested that they look at options that would restrict the level of economic harm to the commercial fishery to 0-5 percent. Representatives for the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission also expressed a desire to limit the economic harm to the commercial fishing industry to 0-5 percent, and to come up with a plan that would support the economic viability of both states.

The workgroup decided to meet again on Nov. 15 in Astoria. Before the meeting, staff will develop a document that describes the proposal and examines options to reduce economic harm and other impacts. The document will also outline an adaptive management process and describe funding considerations.

Levy stressed the importance of looking at all the pieces of information, especially those related to reducing economic harm, and Kitzhaber’s letter to produce the document.

The workgroup is to develop and present a plan to the Oregon and Washington commissions before the end of the year that will achieve the objectives outlined by Kitzhaber and the state of Washington. The respective fish and wildlife commissions in Oregon and Washington will determine the final approach.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will accept public comment on proposed management alternatives during its regular meeting Nov. 8-9 in Olympia.

The full Oregon Fish and Game Commission next meets Nov. 9 in Salem.

Information on the Lower Mainstem Columbia River Fisheries Management Reform is available at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/LMCR_fisheries_mgmt_reform.asp

For more information, see CBB, Aug. 17, 2012, “Oregon To Launch Rulemaking On Removing Non-Tribal Gill Nets From Columbia River Mainstem” http://www.cbbulletin.com/422184.aspx

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