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Columbia Concurrency Still In Question After Oregon Vote

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.

LIZ HAMILTON OF THE NORTHWEST SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION PROVIDES COMMENT TO THE OREGON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION ON COLUMBIA RIVER REFORMS IN THIS SCREENGRAB OF TODAY’S PERISCOPE BROADCAST OF THE MEETING. (PERISCOPE)

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.

Document Outlines Risks Of Nonconcurrent OR, WA Columbia Regs

With Washington fishery overseers this week declining Oregon’s offered “compromise” on Columbia salmon reforms, Friday is lining up to be a very interesting day as the southern state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meets on the topic.

Concurrency of regulations on the big river is at stake the deeper into the year the disagreement lingers.

In the background are directives from two Oregon governors — the sitting one, who asked her commission to reconsider their earlier decision to move backwards on sport-commercial allocations and gillnetting and is expecting a fix by April 3, and the previous one, whose plan set in motion the reforms which were scheduled to take full effect this year but have been sidetracked by Oregon’s commission.

The two states, which jointly manage nontribal fisheries on the shared Columbia, are most at odds over fall Chinook impacts — originally slated to go to 80-20 from 70-30, Oregon expressed hesitation and Washington voted for 75-25, but then Oregon voted to go to 66-34 and then offered 70-30 as a compromise — and removing gillnets from the mainstem, part of the original deal and which Oregon anglers have been paying for over the past few years.

The chairs of both DFWs’ commissions have exchanged letters in the lead-up to tomorrow discussion in Corvallis, and the latest came yesterday as Washington’s Brad Smith responded to Oregon’s Michael Finley, and which wraps up thusly, keeping the ball in Oregon’s court:

Columbia River management reform is a difficult issue, but our states have a long history of working collaboratively and have previously solved equally challenging fishery, hatchery, and other natural resources issues.

Washington remains committed to that approach, and you can be assured that the WFWC will carefully consider any proposal supported by the OFWC as a whole that is consistent with the vision for Columbia River management reform and within the sideboards of Governor Brown’s letter.

I thank you again for reaching out to the WFWC and for all of your efforts in support of Columbia River management reform.

The sideboards of Brown’s letter would include honoring “rules that align with her administration’s fishery management policies, Washington’s regulations, and the commitments made to anglers in SB 830,” as summarized by the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

So, what happens if the two states can’t come to an agreement?

A document prepared by ODFW staff — which includes their recommendation on where to go with Columbia River reform — outlines the risks of nonconcurrent regulations:

… First, if non-concurrent fishing regulations exist, enforcement agencies from each state are functionally confined to enforcing only their respective state’s rules within their state’s boundaries. When rules are sufficiently similar in each state, enforcement officers from either state can enforce regulations in all joint waters (functionally the mainstem). This inability to enforce regulations throughout the mainstem creates enforcement problems and undermines conservation protections in both states.

Second, reciprocity agreements allowing individuals to fish (commercially and/orrecreationally) in joint state waters is facilitated by concurrent regulations. Reciprocity allows individuals licensed in one state to also fish in the other state (in joint waters of the Columbia River) as long as regulations are primarily concurrent. If rules are non-concurrent, individuals could be required to be licensed in the state waters they are fishing (Figure 1).

Third, management of Columbia River fisheries is complex and allocations, gear requirements, season structures, etc., all have far-reaching effects. It is difficult to foresee the potential outcomes of non-concurrence in allocation, allowable fishing gears, times, or techniques, between the states. The statutory language of the Columbia River Compact (ORS 507.010, 507.020, 507.030) could potentially address these issues at least in part; however, the court record related to the Compact is complicated and it is difficult to predict how a court may interpret the 1918 Compact language in 2017. 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.

Fourth, non-concurrent regulations can increase the risk of losing significant economic value of bi-state managed fisheries. This risk becomes real when the two states are unable to resolve substantive differences affecting joint fisheries. For example, unresolved allocation differences in the past have resulted in the difference remaining unallocated. Depending on the magnitude of this difference, the economic impacts to both commercial and recreational fisheries can be significant.

AN OREGON MAP HIGHLIGHTS THE STATE LINE BETWEEN OREGON AND WASHINGTON FROM MCNARY DAM TO BUOY 10. IF OREGON AND WASHINGTON FAIL TO AGREE ON FISHERY REGULATIONS, IT COULD AFFECT WHERE ANGLERS WITH ONLY ONE STATE’S LICENSE COULD FISH. (ODFW)

As they say, stay tuned, tomorrow could be interesting.