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Oregon To Seek Parity With Washington On Lower Columbia Salmon Harvest Changes, Gillnet Rules
Posted on Friday, March 17, 2017 (PST)

After today, March 17, when the Oregon Fish and Wildlife commission meets, Columbia River salmon harvest rules will likely look similar in both Oregon and Washington, bringing both states into closer compliance with 2013 legislation that was intended to have completely removed commercial gillnetting from the river’s mainstem and allocate more fish to recreational anglers by the first of this year.


As the Oregon Commission in January extended rather than ended mainstem gillnetting, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission also reset its harvest reform rules, but the Washington rules contained far less gillnetting and within two years gave recreational anglers the allocations called for in the initial legislation.


The Oregon Commission’s January 20 decision, which it called “Enhanced Commercial Rebalance,” did eliminate gillnets from spring fisheries, but not in other seasons, according to a Commission announcement. The rebalance differed substantially from the policy adopted by the Washington Commission and could have led to significant enforcement issues for the two-state Columbia River Compact as it sets in-season harvest regulations this year.


And, it caused a backlash from a sport fishing industry that felt it had been betrayed by the Oregon Commission that allowed gillnetting to continue in the river. Some asked for a refund of the $9 annual Columbia River Endorsement Fee that has gone to offset some of the costs of transitioning gillnets off the mainstem river, some demanded the resignation of Commissioners who voted for the Enhanced Commercial Rebalance and many said they would never again purchase an Oregon angling license.


"Sport anglers have held up our end of the reform plan," said a petition signed by 5,891 anglers from the Association of Northwest Steelheaders. "We've transferred smolts from our Willamette and Sandy river systems, paid our endorsement fee to transition gill-nets off the mainstem Columbia, and were promised a fair allocation of the public's resource that save wild salmon and steelhead while prioritizing sportfishing opportunity and economics."


Public comment is at


In a February 9 letter, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown urged Commission chair Michael Finley to “adopt rules that clearly match policy and law in the state of Oregon and the policies of my administration,” saying that the policy enacted by the Washington Commission was consistent with her request, and clarified that non-concurrence was unacceptable and would “make enforcement complicated, confusing and untenable, and put at risk ongoing funding and bi-state cooperation necessary for fishery reforms.”


She expected the Commission to revise the rules by April 3, 2017.


(See CBB, February 17, 2017, “ODFW Reopens Harvest Rules Focused On Phasing Out Mainstem Gillnets Below Bonneville.”


Largely as a result of Brown’s directive, the Oregon Commission today will instead act on her request to reach concurrence with Washington harvest reform regulations.


The original harvest reform policy, required by Oregon Senate Bill 830, called for the removal of all commercial gillnets from the mainstem Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam by December 31, 2016.


Adopted as rules 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.


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


Harvest reform 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.


In a summary that makes the case for concurrent state regulations prepared for the Commission meeting today, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff outlined the four basic differences between the two states that could lead to non-concurrent regulations:


--Oregon rules allow for a spring mainstem tangle-net fisheries after an early May run-update if impacts are not needed in off-channel fisheries. The Washington policy does not.

--Oregon rules allow summer mainstem gillnets. Washington policy does not.

--Oregon rules have a 66 percent/34 percent sport/commercial allocation of fall chinook impacts. Washington policy has an initial 75percent/25 percent sport/commercial allocation for 2 years then shifts to 80 percent/20 percent, as required by the harvest reform policy.

--Oregon rules do not have a sunset provision for gillnets in mainstem Zones 4 and 5 during fall fisheries. Washington includes a 2-year sunset provision for gillnets on the mainstem.


The ODFW staff summary is at


Having differences in state rules bring risks, according to the staff report.


--When on the water, enforcement agencies can only enforce their own state’s regulations.

--Fishing reciprocity agreements could be voided.

--Managing Columbia River fisheries is complex and allocations, gear requirements, season structures, all have far-reaching effects, ODFW staff said. “One possible outcome of significant non-concurrence could be a subdivision between the two states of the overall allocation, which would then be allocated per individual state policy and/or rule, in individual state waters within the Columbia, and managed per individual state policy and/or rule. The end result of which could be a fishery that overlaps in both time and space but had separate gears fishing with separate landing requirements.”

--Non-concurrent regulations can increase the risk of losing significant economic value of bi-state managed fisheries.


At the January 20 Commission meeting, ODFW staff had recommended a “rebalance” plan that was similar to that enacted the same month by the Washington Commission. Gov. Brown had identified each of those – the staff plan and Washington’s plan – as options that would meet her criteria to provide “a clear and enforceable path forward” and the staff designed its new recommendation with that in mind.


The differences between the January staff “rebalance” recommendation and the current rules set by the Commission January 20, according to a staff summary, are:

-- Use of summer mainstem gillnets: staff recommended no, Commission voted yes.

-- An emphasis on a conservation fishery: staff recommended more, Commission voted less.

-- A fall sport closure off Youngs Bay in Astoria: staff recommended no, Commission voted yes.

-- A fall chinook allocation: staff recommended 70/30, Commission voted 66/34.


The differences between the January staff recommendation and the Washington Commission’s adopted rules are:

-- Mainstem tangle nets allowed in spring: staff recommended yes, Washington voted no.

-- Conservation fishery emphasis: staff recommended more, Washington voted less.

-- Fall chinook allocation: staff recommended 70/30, Washington voted 75/25 first two years and 80/20 after.

-- Removal of fall mainstem gillnets after two years: staff recommended no, Washington voted yes.


Some additional changes the ODFW staff is making today to its initial rebalance proposal are:


--The March recommendation retains the sport closure off Youngs Bay because it has not been an issue of non-concurrence in the past and aligns with current rules.

-- Adds more spring chinook to off-channel areas to help improve commercial economics.

-- Includes an allocated conservation fishery targeting lower river hatchery fish if possible.

-- Provides a reaffirmed emphasis on Commission support for improving survival of upriver wild and hatchery fish through the Federal Columbia River Power System.


The Commission will meet today, 8:30 am, Friday, March 17 at the Benton County Fairgrounds (Guerber Hall, 110 SE 53rd Street, Corvallis) to reconsider their rules on Columbia River Fisheries Reform adopted Jan. 20. The agenda is at


The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meets today and tomorrow, March 17 and 18, in Olympia. Harvest reform is not on the Commission’s agenda (


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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