With a vote on a gillnet ban slated for the fall ballot, Oregon’s governor yesterday called on the state’s fishery managers to phase out nontribal netting on the mainstem Columbia and move the commercials into off-channel bays near the mouth of the river to better protect ESA-listed salmon stocks, a move that would also benefit recreational anglers because more Chinook would be available for our fleet.
Seeking a long-term solution to the always contentious issue of who gets more of the tasty fish, Governor John Kitzhaber told the Fish & Wildlife Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife that “proposals that fail to enhance benefits for both recreational and commercial interests in the lower Columbia within a conservation framework are an unacceptable solution, as is the status quo.”
He called on them to work with Washington, with whom Oregon has comanaged the border-straddling river for a century, to finish needed rulemaking work before the end of the year.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will take up the governor’s letter in a Tuesday, August 14 teleconference to identify “initial steps,” according to spokesman Rick Hargrave in Salem.
“We will work with our Washington counterparts and stakeholders and together develop rules that reflect the Governor’s proposals as well as the many legitimate interests among the public,” said Chairman Bobby Levy in a press release.
The Oregonian‘s Scott Learn blogs that it’s unlikely the commission would reject Kitzhaber’s request, what with him having appointed five of the seven members of the citizen oversight panel, including three since this June.
WDFW said it had also received a copy of Kitzhaber’s letter. Director Phil Anderson said the agency agreed with the issue’s complexity and respected his objectives while noting that the state wasn’t bound by them.
He said that long-term management plans must include the state’s working together on shared conservation and hatchery production goals, respect for treaty rights and managers, recognition of the economic importance of commercial and recreational fisheries to both states, and shared policing.
“The Washington Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife are ready to work with our counterparts in Oregon to engage in an open and transparent process to explore ways to improve the management of our commercial and recreational salmon and sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia River,” he said.
While certain it would involve “shared sacrifices,” a sportfishing representative termed the governor’s 21/2-page letter a “significant and important step.”
“We are grateful for Governor Kitzhaber’s recognition of the huge economics that sport fishing provides to our region, and for seeking shared solutions,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association in Portland.
She said the organization would study his ideas — by midafternoon Friday it appeared NSIA liked them if the email blast subject lined **BIGGEST NEWS EVER! was any indication — sentiments echoed by Stop Gillnets Now, the group behind Measure 81.
“We have to evaluate whether they can actually get it done,” spokesman Jeremy Wright told Learn. “There’s a healthy skepticism among those who have worked on these issues for years — good fish policy has gone to die at the ODFW commission level.”
Gillnetters were also studying the letter, which blindsided one lawmaker from the commercial-fishing town of Astoria.
“Given all of the conversations I’ve had with him, I’m stunned with his letter,” said state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D), according to an AP article in the Daily Astorian.
It also says commercial fishermen who met with Kitzhaber earlier this week came away expecting him to oppose Measure 81.
Under that initiative, which saw wide support during signature gathering, gillnetting and tangle netting by nontribal commercial anglers would be banned in all inland Oregon waters. The Oregonian reports that could result in some issues with Washington whose fleet could continue to use gillnets on the north side of the river. In recent years WDFW has been testing more selective nets that allow commercials to harvest the hatchery fish and release wild fish without harm.
Kitzhaber, a Democrat in the second year of a four-year term, his third as governor, said that the commission should adopt policies that prioritize sport usage of the mainstem Columbia and commercial usage of off-channel fisheries such as Youngs Bay. He asked that work begin immediately on the task to tie-in with rule-making on the Washington side of the river. The two states jointly manage the fisheries under the Columbia River Compact, along with upstream nations such as the Yakamas and Umatillas.
With a pair of Chinook run forecast failures this year alone, he also called on managers to “explore and develop alternative approaches to improve preseason forecasts of run size and timing, including the dedication of resources and expertise to the task.”
Run forecasts determine how many fish are available for sport, commercial and tribal harvest.
Summer Chinook have again come in well below forecast while the springer prediction was off by a third, some 100,000 fish.
Still, the latter run was robust enough that sport anglers were able to retain 12,950 kings in the mainstem while gillnetters harvested another 6,180. Neither fishery is strictly “clean” as wild kings are scooped up and killed along with hatchery fish by the commercials while a small percentage of the native fish that sport anglers must release die as a result of handling.
Through May 18, gillnetters also caught at least 4,795 spring Chinook in the SAFE or Select Area Fisheries, powered by hatchery salmon released at locations near Astoria including Youngs Bay and Blind Channel, though some wild Chinook are also killed.
The Columbia’s spring Chinook fishery is among the most prized of angling opportunities, the most lucrative for both fleets, and the most monitored because so many belong to stocks listed as endangered, such as Upper Columbia springers, or threatened, like Snake spring/summers.
“In a situation as complex as the lower Columbia, a long term solution must prioritize selective gears and fishing techniques to minimize mortality of ESA-listed and not-target fish and optimize recovery,” Kitzhaber wrote. “I believe the use of gill nets in non-tribal mainstem fisheries is inconsistent with this objective. I also believe the long-term solution must enhance the economic vitality of both recreational and commercial fisheries, which provide the public with benefits including recreation, family-wage jobs and businesses, local commerce and export economies, nationally-renowned culinary destinations, and the Pacific Northwest’s uniquely high quality of life and culture.”
Hamilton, of the NSIA, says that “for too long the issue has seen common sense solutions defeated by special interests at legislative and commission levels.”
Salmon For All, a group of commercial netters, were unavailable for comment, Learn reported.