Friday night saw an utterly stunning decision by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to go backwards — BACKWARDS — on Columbia salmon reforms, a move that throws concurrent management of the shared river’s fisheries into question for the first time in a century and should leave Oregon anglers wondering why they ever bothered to pay the $9.75 fee to fund the transition of gillnets off of the mainstem in the first place.
The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association said the decision “violated a reasonable compromise the State of Washington passed last week, ignored recommendations from ODFW staff and broke a promise to over 400,000 anglers across Oregon and Washington. These actions were taken despite authors of the plan presenting evidence of its success and legislators, both Republican and Democrat, strongly encouraging commissioners to stay the course.”
This year, ESA impacts on endangered Snake River fall Chinook were set to move from 70-30 nontribal sport-nontribal commercial to 80-20 per a 2013 agreement between Oregon and Washington fishery overseers.
Impacts are slivers of the actual catch and affect a select stock, not an overall split of all the fish.
However, hesitance on the part of the southern state to implement the reforms first led to a 75-25 compromise by the northern state last weekend.
And then after six hours of testimony that lasted through the afternoon into the evening hours, Oregon went the opposite way, voting for 66-34 by a 4-3 margin.
They also voted to allow continued gillnetting in the mainstem.
“The majority of the commission is out of touch with its largest constituency,” Bob Rees of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders told Bill Monroe of The Oregonian.
It isn’t immediately clear what a lack of concurrent impacts will mean for the most important fishery of the year on the Columbia, fall Chinook.
NSIA’s Liz Hamilton said that during tonight’s meeting the Oregon State Police troopers had no comment when asked how they would enforce separate rules on the river.
“Are Oregon anglers required to purchase both Oregon and Washington licenses to fish the entire river?” Hamilton asked. “Or, more likely, will each side be forced to buy a license from their state and be required to only fish their side of the river. This has the potential to cost millions of dollars and jobs for the hard-working men and women who make up the sport fishing industry. Not including the months of potential litigation between the two states.”
Indeed, it isn’t immediately clear what the next steps are either.
Oregon officials didn’t seem to know, and WDFW officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the late-breaking news.
While the news was welcomed overnight in Astoria, home to much of Oregon’s gillnetting Fleet, on Saturday morning, Washington Commission Vice Chair Larry Carpenter termed the move a “dangerous and frightening decision for sure. Where is their Conservation responsibility?”
He was one of seven members of his citizen panel that voted in favor of a compromise the previous week; two voted against it. Their decision maintained gillnetting on the mainstem Columbia above the mouth of the Lewis River, but only this year and next.
Oregon seems to think Washington is not as in touch with Columbia River issues as it is.
In a report Friday night for The Columbian newspaper, Al Thomas writes, “Buckmaster said Washington’s director, Jim Unsworth, does not appear as involved in the Columbia River salmon issue as Melcher and questioned with whom specifically Melcher would negotiate.”
Buckmaster would be Bruce Buckmaster, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife commissioner whose appointment was vigorously opposed by sportfishing interests. Tonight he is quoted by Thomas as saying of the vote, “Washington did a horrible thing. We have to follow our conscience.’’
The Columbia River salmon reforms are actually a byproduct of a 2012 Oregon ballot measure that would have banned gillnets in the Columbia. Then-Governor John Kitzhaber forged a compromise to hold off that vote, which was agreed to by both states’ commissions.
Melcher and Unsworth are the directors of the Oregon and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
NSIA, which fired off an email labeling it the Oregon Commercial Fish Commission, trolled right into Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s lane.
“Governor Brown’s Commission has thrown the river into chaos, put the ODFW agency budget at risk, showed a disregard for our relationship with the state of Washington Commission, and insulted anglers who have sacrificed both financially and with less opportunity. Their complete focus on a select few gill-netters, despite statutory language that includes the enhanced economics of the sports fleet, is beyond comprehension and explanation. Frankly, their actions suggest they care nothing for the average angler, but for a select group of gill-net fisherman and its less than 200 licensees,” Hamilton said.
A breakdown by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shows that its Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed with Washington’s on moving forward on spring and summer Chinook fishery allocations, as well as other tweaks:
Spring and summer Chinook Endangered Species Act (ESA) impacts will be allocated 80 percent for recreational fisheries; 20 percent for commercial fisheries. Commercial fishing with tangle nets allowed on the mainstem river in the spring and largemesh gillnets in the summer.
Fall Chinook ESA impacts will be allocated 66 percent for recreational fisheries and 34 percent for commercial fisheries. Gillnets will be allowed in Zones 4 and 5 and coho tangle nets will be allowed in Zones 1 through 3.
Continuation of the Youngs Bay “control zone” fishery closure.
Removal of the barbless hook requirement for lower Willamette River and Oregon off-channel recreational fisheries.
Continued enhancement in off-channel areas for commercial harvest.
Additional spring Chinook production to Oregon Select Area Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) areas.