UPDATED WITH QUOTES FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF NORTHWEST STEELHEADERS AND THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commissioners voted to adjust their Columbia salmon allocation reforms closer to Washington’s position but not all the way there, leaving sportfishing interests angered and concurrency of regulations on the big river in question.
The unanimous move came after four hours of public input and about an hour of deliberations by the citizen panel that oversees the state’s fish and wildlife.
On the most contentious issue, Oregon moved to a 70-30 sport-commercial split on Snake River fall Chinook impacts, up from 66-34 but shy of the Washington commission’s 75-25 compromise.
A plan agreed to between the states in 2012-13 had slated those to be 80-20 beginning this season, as well as the full removal of gillnets from the mainstem Columbia.
But tonight’s vote would leave them in below Bonneville during fall without a timeline for ending the practice, though 2 percent of the commercial allocation was moved toward the use of alternative gear, as well as allow the use of tangle, or small-mesh, gillnets during certain fisheries.
Impacts are allowable mortalities on ESA-listed stocks to prosecute sport and commercial seasons and represent slivers of runs.
The vote angered anglers, who feel that a promise is not being fulfilled on the Oregon end.
“I’ve never seen a commission step out to deliberately harm the sportfishing community,” said Bob Rees of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, pointing to moves to make sure unutilized commercial spring and summer impacts would not get used by the sportfishing fleet.
Oregon anglers have been paying $10 to fish the Columbia system the past few years, with the funding supposed to go towards moving the commercial fleet out of the mainstem while hatchery production was also moved into off-channel bays and sloughs.
Washington and Oregon jointly manage shared non-tribal Columbia fisheries but disagreements over the reforms have the potential to throw 100 years of concurrent management into question in 2017 if an agreement isn’t reached.
“This Commission has decided to perpetuate the battles indefinitely, and our allies are disgusted,” Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association executive director Liz Hamilton said in the email late last night.
Friday night’s vote came about after a letter from Oregon Governor Kate Brown asked the commission to reconsider a January decision that backed away from the agreed-to reforms, and to do so by early April.
With the commission only fudging a bit towards meeting Washington, Rees vowed that other lawmakers in Salem will be hearing from he and his allies.
“We’re going to take care of this legislatively,” he said.
Sportfishing interests are also depending on Washington’s commission and Governor Inslee to hold firm and continue supporting the plan, which supports more selective styles of fishing in an era of numerous Endangered Species Act listings, as well as conservation and economic benefits.
The Evergreen State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is also meeting this weekend, but there is no action item on the agenda concerning Columbia River reforms. Certainly, however, it will be a topic of discussion at Saturday’s meeting.
Meanwhile, Friday afternoon, dozens of anglers, guides, commercial fishermen and seafood processors provided testimony, some of whom were asked follow-up questions by commissioners, a few in an almost cross-examining style by Holly Akenson of Northeast Oregon and Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria that clearly bothered one speaker who spoke of the chilling effect the grilling of members of the general public might have.
“It broke my heart to see so much dysfunction in this process,” noted Hamilton. “Neither agency staff, nor the public deserve to be mistreated by our so-called leaders.”
Recreational anglers spoke to following the plan adopted by both states’ commissions, while gillnetters asked that Oregon hold to its Jan. 20 vote instead of concur with Washington’s position, which itself was an initial compromise. Netters talked of family heritages at risk, but one fishing guide felt disrespected, as if their efforts trying to make a living and bringing business to the Columbia wasn’t being recognized.
What follows is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife press release on today’s actions:
The Commission voted unanimously to further adjust Columbia River salmon fisheries rules today along the following lines:
- Spring Chinook 80/20 sport/commercial allocation of allowable ESA impacts. Commercial priority to off-channel large-mesh gillnet fisheries not constrained by run-size buffer. Mainstem commercial fisheries only occurring with tangle net gear after the run update if remaining impact balances allow.
- Summer Chinook 80/20 sport/commercial allocation of harvestable surplus; large-mesh gillnets not allowed for mainstem commercial fisheries.
- Fall Chinook 70/30 sport/commercial allocation of allowable ESA impacts of the limiting fall Chinook stock (tule or Snake River wild), and <70/>30 for the non-constraining stock. Large-mesh gillnets allowed in mainstem commercial Zones 4-5; assign up to 2 percent of the commercial fishery impacts for use with alternative gears in the lower river; commercial Coho fisheries restricted to tangle nets in Zones 1-3.
- Youngs Bay sport closure remains in effect.
More details will be available next week, when the new rules are posted online.