Advocates Call On WA, OR Governors To ‘Abandon’ Recent Move To Increase Columbia Gillnetting

A coalition of disparate fish and fishing groups have joined forces to call on Washington’s and Oregon’s governors to keep moving forward on reforming commercial salmon harvest on the Columbia and to “abandon” a recent decision to increase gillnetting.

They say that that move was “inconsistent with the conservation needs of wild Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead, undermines critical efforts to implement alternative, selective commercial fishing gears, and will erode public confidence and support for state fish and wildlife agencies.”

The two-page Oct. 20 letter follows the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s early September decision to again allow nontreaty gillnets on the lower end of the big river during larger spring and summer Chinook runs, as well as catch a bigger share of the fall king run.

NSIA, NMTA, Northwest Steelheaders, Wild Steelhead Coalition and CCA’s Washington and Oregon chapters, among others, say they were “alarmed” by that highly contentious 5-4 vote and they’re asking Governors Jay Inslee and Kate Brown to “direct your fish and wildlife commissions to abandon this misguided effort.”

They reiterate many previous arguments, including that increased gillnetting threatens struggling inland summer steelhead stocks such as the big B-runs that return to Idaho rivers. They state that fishery managers “have never conducted the studies needed to quantify steelhead release mortality rates in gillnets” and that on-board monitoring of commercial fisheries has been mostly lacking over the past three and a half decades.

“The WFWC vote to drastically increase mainstem gillnetting ignores these serious shortcomings and puts the conservation of wild steelhead in further jeopardy,” the letter states.

Other organizations that signed onto the message include Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, Oregon and Washington Councils of Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Wild Salmon Center, The Conservation Angler and Wild Fish Conservancy.

The hard-won Columbia reforms, born in 2012 and 2013 out of a political compromise, aimed in part to develop alternative commercial net gear and move the fleet to off-channel areas.

While those elements and others may have not worked out as well as envisioned according to a WDFW review, the groups ask Inslee and Brown to “maintain the progress … by moving forward with the reforms to transition non-selective gillnets out of the mainstem lower Columbia River.”

They call that “just one part of the region’s overall commitment to restore” the massive watershed’s wild salmon and steelhead runs.

In recent years, Inslee has shown a proclivity for overriding the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, directing them to reverse decisions on cougars and wolves.