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ODFW Reopens Harvest Rules Focused On Phasing Out Mainstem Gillnets Below Bonneville
Posted on Friday, February 17, 2017 (PST)

In an apparent response to a letter sent Feb. 9 to Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission chair Michael Finley from Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department staff reopened the Commission’s January 20 harvest reform decision.


The Commission decision allowed for more commercial gillnetting on the mainstem Columbia River than was proposed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff. It also allowed more gillnetting than did Washington’s recently adopted policy.


The ODFW staff recommendation, too, was a deviation from the original harvest reform policy, required by Oregon Senate Bill 830. That legislation called for the removal of all commercial gillnets from the mainstem Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam by December 31, 2016.


Adopted by both the Washington and Oregon commissions in 2013, the initial harvest reform policy was designed to promote conservation of salmon and steelhead, prioritize recreational salmon fishing in the lower Columbia River, and transition gillnet fisheries into off-channel or select areas by Dec. 31, 2016.


The policy also called for increasing hatchery releases in these areas, while expanding commercial fishing opportunities through the use of alternative fishing gear.


The policy included a four-year transition period, with full implementation that was to begin January 1, 2017, but it also allowed for modifications to the plan.


Brown, in the Feb. 9 letter, said the rules adopted for the non-tribal Lower Columbia River fishery reforms by the Commission last month were “not acceptable” and she directly asked for the rules to be reversed.


Instead, she said, “the rules should clearly match policy and law in the state of Oregon and the policy of my administration.” She gave the Commission until April 3 to make the changes.


Brown further noted that the policy adopted by the Oregon Commission did not match the policy adopted a week earlier by the state of Washington and that “Non-concurrence between the two states is not acceptable.”


In response, ODFW staff called an ad hoc last minute meeting February 14 of what it called the Columbia River Fisheries Reform Rules Advisory Committee to “consider new staff recommendations designed to ensure orderly fisheries with Washington” and to help design rules the Commission could consider at its March 17 meeting in Corvallis.


The committee included four representatives from sports fishing (all in the Commission meeting room) and three from commercial fishing interests, who were all on the phone.


“After rulemaking and adopting Harvest Reform rules, the Oregon Commission directed the agency to work with Washington,” Ed Bowles, head of the fish division at ODFW, told the new committee. “Also, Governor Kate Brown laid out her expectations of a more orderly fisheries with the state of Washington.”


Bowles added that ODFW director Curt Melcher said that he would be reopening rulemaking and wants to bring proposed new rules to the regularly scheduled Commission meeting March 17.


According to an ODFW news release announcing the committee meeting, the “Commission may adopt rules after consideration of additional information and/or further analysis that has occurred since Jan. 20, 2017, to address, among other considerations, whether modifications to existing rules are necessary to “[p]romote orderly fishery management with the State of Washington.” See ORS 508.980(1)(d).


“This rules advisory committee will meet to provide the Department its recommendations on (1) the text of potential rule(s) and (2) the fiscal impact of potential rule(s) in terms of (a) whether there will be a fiscal impact; (b) extent of it; and (c) how to reduce that impact on small businesses, if any, in a manner consistent with the public health and safety purpose of the rule(s).”


Interim department director for the committee, Michael Harrington, said it is state policy to include the public in rulemaking when possible, adding that he wanted to hear about the fiscal impacts of any policy considered.


However, the rules advisory committee gave very little guidance on fiscal impacts other than to react to staff fiscal impact assessments, mostly because it was given very little time (less than one day) to study ODFW proposals.


“A 24-hour notice is unfair,” said Steve Fick, representing fish packers. “No emergency exists and it is not good government. And, we saw the new rules from staff just 20 minutes ago.”


Tucker Jones, Ocean Salmon and Columbia River program manager at ODFW, laid out the impacts of several options, including the staff-recommended rebalance option, the final Washington Commission decision and the final option chosen by the Commission January 20, which included more commercial gillnetting on the river than either of the other two options.


The Washington Commission decision does not allow gillnet fishing in the mainstem Columbia River in the spring, but does allow recreational anglers to take 80 percent of the allowable Endangered Species Act impacts and gives 20 percent of those impacts to commercial off-channel gillnetting.


Endangered Species Act impacts are intended to protect wild ESA-listed fish during harvest periods. For example, based on the management agreement and the preseason forecast of spring chinook salmon, ESA impacts for 2017 fisheries are limited to just 10 percent of the listed fish.


Some 1.7 percent of upriver spring chinook salmon impacts go to commercial and recreational non-Indian fisheries and 8.3 percent go for treaty Indian fisheries.


Recreational fisheries, then, would be allowed 80 percent of the 1.7 percent of fish, while commercial fisheries would be allowed 20 percent of the 1.7 percent.


Fisheries managers, through in-season management, begin to limit harvest numbers and fishing periods when the ESA impacts approach their limits.


The Oregon Commission plan, like Washington’s, is also an 80/20 ESA impact split but would allow a small commercial mainstem fishery with tangle nets.


For summer, the Washington Commission set an 80/20 split on ESA impacts and doesn’t allow commercial gillnetting.


The Oregon Commission is also an 80/20 split for the summer, but of the 20 percent for commercial catch, it would designate 5 percent for off-channel areas and 15 percent to mainstem with large mesh gillnets.


Fall fishing in Washington is a 75/25 split on ESA impacts and coho tangle nets are allowed in commercial fishing zones 1 to 3, and mainstem gillnets in zones 4-5 for two years with enhanced monitoring, while continuing alternative gear assessments with a presumptive replacement at the end of two years. The decision allows beach and purse seine fisheries in zones 1 – 5, and calls for an aggressive buyback of commercial licenses.


Oregon set a 66/34 ESA split in the fall, allowing mainstem commercial fishing with gillnets in zones 4 – 5 and coho tangle nets in zones 1 -3, similar to Washington. Oregon would also implement a fall conservation fishery, but less than the staff recommendation, and add releases totaling 500,000 spring chinook juveniles to Gnat Creek, 390,000 coho at current Oregon off-channel sites, and 250,000 each to Westport and Coal Creek in Oregon, all to enhance off-channel commercial fishing. In addition, Oregon allows barbed hooks in the off-channel sports fishery and it removed a closure at Youngs Bay that had been set to protect the commercial fishery.


The staff-recommended rebalance option was similar to the Washington Commission’s final decision.


While the Washington decision phases out mainstem gillnetting after two years and gives recreational fishing a priority, it doesn’t enhance the viability of the commercial fishery, nor does it optimize regional economics and the conservation benefits are inadequate, Jones said.


Such features were required by the original legislation, SB 830.


Washington does, however, optimize angler trips, raising those trips to almost 429,000. For the commercial side, ex-vessel value is $4.3 million, far lower than if the reform policy was not in place where ex-vessel value is $5.75 million, and the overall economic value is $34.09 million. No policy would have resulted in an overall economic value of $34.61 million.


Angler trips for the ODFW rebalance plan is just over 427,000, with an ex-vessel value of $5.38 million and an overall economic impact of $35.51 million.


The Oregon Commission decision had 425,600 angler trips, an ex-vessel value of $5.87 million, the highest of the three plans, and an overall economic value of $36.08 million.


“Oregon decided not to go with the staff recommendation,” said Randy Wolsey of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Because of that, ODFW is receiving funding threats from the legislature. The people of Oregon who are paying the bills want (the Harvest Reform) enacted and the Governor’s letter supports that.”


He added that the Washington Commission action a week earlier was a compromise, allowing a two-year period to test alternative gear for commercial gillnetters, and sportfishers could approve that.


“We will do anything to get back on the policy (referring to Senate Bill 830) that’s been paid for the past three years (referring to a more than $9 annual fee each sportfisher has paid to fund the transition). We prefer the original staff recommendation. There are parts I’m not excited about, but given the suite of what is offered here, this would get us to the two-state concurrence.”


Commercial fishing advocates wanted to stay with the current Oregon Commission decision which allowed them more gillnetting time on the mainstem river.


Saying that concurrence is not a real issue since most of the river is in Oregon, Fick said there is a strong case we don’t need concurrence. “We need to see what’s best for the state of Oregon,” he said, and “that certainly is not going down the road two years and cutting off commercial fishing. We have nothing more to give up. I suggest you educate the governor.”


He said the plan adopted by the Commission is the best for the state and keeps at least some aspect of commercial fishing.


Gov. Brown also came down on the side of the staff-recommended rebalance option that would be much closer to concurrence with Washington.


“Oregon and Washington have invested a great deal of time and effort in resolving conflicts and providing uncertainty for fisheries in the lower Columbia River,” she wrote in her letter. “It is the policy of my administration to honor those commitments. Honoring those commitments means adhering to the intent of Senate Bill 830, adopting regulations and rules concurrent with the state of Washington, and providing clarity, unity, and enforceability in the rules that govern the Columbia River.”


She added that the staff-recommended proposal and the decision by the Washington Commission balanced these interests.


Also see:


--CBB, January 27, 2017, “Oregon Harvest Reforms Differ From Washington In How Much Gillnetting Allowed,”


--CBB, January 19, 2017, “Washington Votes To Move Forward With Columbia River Harvest Changes, Oregon To Consider Similar Plan,”


--CBB, December 9, 2016, “Washington, Oregon Fish/Wildlife Commissions On Parallel Course With Columbia River Harvest Reform,”


--CBB, December 2, 2016, “Washington, Oregon Fish/Wildlife Commissions Considering Next Moves On Lower River Gillnetting,”


--CBB, November 4, 2016, “Oregon Commission To Review Columbia River Harvest Reforms, May Consider Extending Mainstem Gillnets,”


--CBB, April 22, 2016, “Oregon Commission Hears Review Of Fishing Reforms Banning Lower Columbia Gillnetters From Mainstem,”


--CBB, June 7, 2013, “Oregon ‘Re-Adopts’ Lower Columbia Commercial Gill-Net Ban; Slew Of Uncertainties Remain,”

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