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Recommendation To Ban Gill-Nets On Lower Columbia Mainstem Sent To State Fish Commissions
Posted on Friday, November 16, 2012 (PST)

A work group comprised of Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissioners on Thursday agreed on recommendations that would change state management of lower Columbia River fisheries by eliminating the use commercial gill nets by non-tribal fishers on the mainstem lower Columbia River.

Commercial fishing advocates testifying during a meeting of the work group in Seaside, Ore., said such a decision would be the death knell for the industry and the businesses it supports. They said it would pull salmon from the mouths of non-anglers who buy their salmon in the market or order it at restaurants.

Sport fishing interests said the move is necessary to buoy conservation efforts aimed at reviving wild, protected steelhead and salmon caught indiscriminately in fish-choking nets.

“This is the first step but not the last step,” said Paul DeMorgan after reaching agreement among the six state commission members in the work group.

That agreement is to forward a joint state management framework developed by agency staff and through work group discussions to the two state commissions for state regulation rulemaking and/or policymaking action. DeMorgan was hired to facilitate the work group meeting.

Agency officials as well as representatives of both the sport and commercial industries provided input for the work group during a process that began in September and included a series of three all-day meetings.

The process was instigated in August when Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber offered an alternative to a gill-net ban proposal approved for consideration on Nov. 6’s Oregon general election ballot. That measure was defeated by voters, but the work group process continued.

(See CBB, Nov. 9, 2012, “Oregon Voters Say No To Gill-Net Ban, States Continue Discussions On Alternative ‘Off-Channel’ Plan”

The governor initiated a state rulemaking process in that Aug. 9 letter to Bobby Levy, chair of the Oregon Fish and Wild Commission, and Roy Elicker, director of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The letter asked the commission and ODFW to work with their counterparts in Washington to complete the necessary rulemaking before the end of 2012.

Kitzhaber’s directive includes the following key elements:

-- Prioritize selective recreational fisheries in the mainstem Columbia River and commercial fisheries in off-channel areas of the lower mainstem Columbia River.

-- Phase out the use of commercial gill nets in the mainstem Columbia River and transition the use of gill nets to off-channel areas.

-- Allocate a majority of available salmon to the sport anglers.

-- Improve off-channel fisheries by increasing hatchery production in those areas and by enhancing area boundaries and/or locations and fishing time.

-- Continue development and use of alternative selective fishing gear for commercial mainstem fisheries, and implement these fisheries when recreational fishery objectives are met.

“The report is consistent with the governor’s recommendations,” the ODFW’s Tony Nigro said of the joint-state recommendations to be sent to the full commissions.

The recommendations suggest that the use of gill nets by non-tribal commercial fishers on the mainstem by phased out completely by the end of 2016.

Nigro said that, if the recommendations are approved by the state commissions, gill nets “will still be used in the off-channel fisheries” – so-called select areas in the lower estuary where hatchery fish are outplanted as juveniles, and where they return as adults. They provide harvest at sites where fishermen are less likely to encounter wild fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposal recommends the reprogramming of more hatchery fish for release in existing select areas “to offset the economic harm” of banning mainstem gill-net harvests.

Juvenile hatchery spring chinook, fall chinook brights and coho salmon now released elsewhere will be shifted to the select areas to promote higher returns and “increased harvest in those areas,” Nigro said.

The report recommends that the states both commit to develop and evaluate the possibility of allowing the use of “alternative” commercial gear on the mainstem such as beach or purse seines or, for the late fall coho fishery, tangle nets. Such gear is believed to provide a better survival rate for fish, such as unmarked, potentially wild salmon, that are captured and released.

The transition period would also be used to evaluate the potential for increasing the fishing time and fishing area at three existing select areas in Oregon and one in Washington. The plan also calls for state managers to explore the potential for creating additional select areas, “probably on the Washington side,” Nigro said.

The report does not call for additional hatchery production.

“We want to work with the fleet” to identify the best options, Nigro said.

Salmon for All President Jim Wells said the proposal “cuts our share to the bone.” The fisherman served as an adviser to the work group, representing commercial fishing interests. He said the alternatives presented in the proposal aren’t likely to be economically feasible.

Jim Martin, an adviser representing sport fishing interests, called the recommendations a fair proposal that would aid in conservation of imperiled stocks, and still allow commercial fishermen to make a living.

Bruce Buckmaster, also of Salmon for All, said that “the plan that I see in front of us only has accidental conservation benefits.

“It’s clearly about allocation,” away from gillnetters and toward river angler, he said.

During Thursday’s meeting the work group made numerous changes to the agreement. The document will be fine-tuned over the next week before being sent to the commissions.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider the recommendations at its next meeting, Dec. 7 in Portland. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to make a final decision on the proposed management alternatives Dec. 14-15 in Olympia.

For more information go to Lower Mainstem Columbia River Fisheries Management Reform


Among the considerations in the management reform package is the possibility that the white sturgeon fishery in the Columbia from Bonneville Dam to the river mouth will be catch and release only next year. The population of “legal size” white sturgeon in the lower river reaches has been shrinking in recent years. If that trend continued this year, the workgroup recommends that no lower river harvest be allowed in 2012. Agency staff are amidst and evaluation of population status.

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