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Washington Fish/Wildlife Commission Allows Lower Columbia Fall Chinook Gillnet Fishing This Year
Posted on Friday, March 08, 2019 (PST)

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will allow gillnets in the lower Columbia River mainstem during the fall chinook salmon season, similar to a regulation on commercial fishing already adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission last year.

The change to Washington’s Columbia River salmon policy will be for this year only, 2019, and will give more time for Oregon and Washington to develop together a long-term policy for shared Columbia River waters from the river’s mouth to the Oregon/Washington border near the Tri-Cities.


The Washington Commission made the decision at its March 1 - 2 meeting in Spokane by a five to one vote, with two commissioners abstaining.


In what appears to be a counter move, the Washington legislature is considering a bill that would outlaw the use of non-tribal gillnets on the Columbia River mainstem as of January 1, 2021, give the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to buy out commercial gillnetting licenses and provide a fund to encourage commercial gillnetters to invest in selective gear. The ban on gillnets would also extend to Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and Puget Sound.


Senate Bill 5617 was introduced to the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks committee in January by Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline), and referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee Feb. 22.


Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said the Washington Commission’s decision to allow mainstem gillnetting this year was “turning back the clock” when “salmon runs are plummeting, the spring chinook run is less than the 10-year average and Orcas are at risk.”


But of the legislation, she said it is “a powerful affirmation of the Columbia River harvest reforms passed by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012.”


NSIA is an industry lobby group, with lobbyists in both Washington and Oregon, representing the business interests of members that depend on sport fishing for their livelihoods.


“At a time when Washington’s two most iconic creatures, orca and salmon, are at critically low levels, this bill represents an important part of the solution,” Sen. Salomon said in a press release. “Without legislation and funding, (the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) was unable to implement this part of the plan, creating uncertainty about the reforms. SB 5617 removes any doubt about our state’s commitment to the conservation and economic benefits envisioned in the reforms.”


Hobe Kytr, Salmon for All administrator in Astoria, said that alternative selective gear that have been tested so far have not been shown to be more selective in practice. “And Washington’s efforts to develop viable off-channel fishing areas have not been successful.


“Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s plan for Columbia River fishery reform hasn’t delivered any of its promised benefits.”


He added that “There is no biological reason for banning the gillnet, which is a commercial fishing gear that has proven highly adaptable, easily managed, and economically viable.”


Salmon for All is an association of gillnetters, fish buyers, processors, and associated businesses.


Oregon has two similar bills, but their future is uncertain. Senate Bill 547 was introduced by Senator Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) and referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It prohibits the use of non-tribal gillnets and tangle nets, and establishes a gillnet transition program and fund to help offset harm to permit holders resulting from the prohibition.


Senate Bill 619, introduced by Senator Fred Girod (R, Stayton), also prohibits the use of non-tribal gillnets and tangle nets and sets up a transition fund.


A Joint-State Columbia River Salmon Fishery Policy Review Committee, which was formed by the two state commissions, has been working to find common ground on ways to achieve policy goals adopted in 2013 for jointly managed fisheries.


A WDFW draft evaluation of the two-state Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy determined that the large economic benefits expected from the policy, also known as Columbia River harvest reform, have not been realized. It said that alternative gear and select areas for commercial fishermen have not materialized to the extent planned and that there have been only marginal benefits from changes to the catch allocation for anglers.


In its evaluation, WDFW staff concluded that the expectations the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission had when it adopted the policy in 2013 have not been met.


In January, Ryan Lothrop, WDFW Columbia River Policy Coordinator, said the review found that the states had made progress in implementing some of aspects of the policy, but that progress in other areas had not met expectations.


"The intent of the joint working group is to improve the management of the Columbia River," he said. "Having differences in policies in joint waters presents real challenges in managing, implementing and enforcing fisheries."


Washington's Comprehensive Evaluation of the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy is available on WDFW's website at


The Washington Commission's action at its March meeting to extend the use of gillnets was one of a number of recommendations for Columbia River fisheries developed by a joint committee with members of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, a WDFW news release said. It added that Oregon's full commission will also consider the recommendations when it meets March 15, but the Oregon Commission agenda has yet to include a review of the policy.


Commissioners from both states are working on an overhaul of each state’s Columbia River salmon management policy. Those policies are “designed to achieve conservation goals for salmon and steelhead, promote orderly fisheries in concurrent waters, and maintain and enhance economic stability in sport and commercial fisheries,” according to WDFW.


“The change in policy affects allowable commercial fishing gear and the allocation of catch between sport and commercial fisheries, among other adjustments. Conservation measures remain unchanged, and no additional fishing pressure was approved beyond the annual amount allowed in full compliance with all salmon and steelhead Endangered Species Act requirements and sustainable fishery management practices,” WDFW said.


Also recommended by the joint state committee to reach concurrent policies are:


-- change in sport fisheries from mandatory barbless to voluntary barbless hooks by June 1.

-- a good faith effort to develop this year comprehensive and concurrent Columbia River salmon policies for each state to begin in 2020.

-- For 2019 only, the recreational to commercial allocation for the spring fishery will be 80 percent/20 percent, with no buffer applied to the commercial share and no mainstem commercial fishing, unless the upriver run size update is more than 129 percent of the upriver spring chinook pre-season forecast of 99,300. The fall chinook allocation will remain at 70 percent/30 percent for recreational and commercial fisheries.


Both Washington and Oregon policies, approved in 2013, intended for the commercial fishery to have completed a transition from gillnets to alternative gear this year and be relocated away from mainstem Columbia River areas. However, the use of alternative gear has not yet been refined and the off-channel areas have been determined to be unsuitable, WDFW said.


“The commission modified that policy in response to a comprehensive performance review conducted over the past year. Without that action, fishing rules for Washington and Oregon would have been incompatible, because Oregon plans to allow the use of gillnets during the upcoming fall season,” it said.


Details of the motion that passed and more information on the Columbia River Policy Review can be found at


Also see:


-- CBB, February 1, 2019, “Oregon, Washington Commissions Continue Joint Discussions On Columbia River Salmon Management,”


-- CBB, November 2, 2018, “Evaluation Of Columbia River Harvest Reforms Shows Expected Economic Benefits Have Not Materialized,”


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


--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,”


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