Commission Deadlocked on Allocation
by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, February 3, 2008
OLYMPIA - Washington's position on the split of Columbia River spring chinook salmon between sport and commercial fishermen will be decided Friday by a Moses Lake rangeland-grazing consultant.
That's because the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission deadlocked 4-4 on Saturday in votes whether to give sports fishermen a larger share or continue the status quo.
Commission member Chuck Perry was not at Saturday's meeting. A telephone conference call is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday to allow Perry to cast the deciding vote.
The public will be able to listen to the teleconference at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife office, 2108 Grand Blvd.
A policy that shared the upper Columbia spring chinook impacts at 57 percent for sportsmen and 43 percent for the commercial fleet expired at the end of 2007.
The department's staff recommended a one-year rollover of the expired agreement while a 13-member stakeholder group continues trying to hammer out a long-term deal.
But Conrad Mahnken, a commission member from Bainbridge Island, countered with a plan shifting the allocation to 65 percent sport and 35 percent commercial.
Mahnken said he is concerned about commercial fishing concentrating on the front end of the spring chinook run, because it is possible to change its timing and life history patterns by disproportionately culling early fish.
A retired fish biologist, Mahnken also said there is not good information on how many spring salmon die when they drop out of nets being picked by commercial fishermen or are killed by marine mammals once trapped in the net.
Commissioner Will Roehl of Bellingham said for the panel to set new allocation percentages relegates the stakeholder discussions to side issues.
"Eight percent (from 57 percent to 65 percent) is a gradual change, it's not significant,'' said commission member Gary Douvia of Kettle Falls. "I think it appropriate the commission provide a more clear cut, for the stakeholder group, direction and then have them focus on where we go a year from now, to reset the course and establish the commission's priorities.''
Voting for a 65 percent sport share were Mahnken, Douvia, Ken Chew of Seattle, and Jerry Gutzwiler of Wenatchee. Voting for retaining the 57 percent sport share were Roehl, Miranda Wecker of Naselle, George Orr of Spokane, and Shirley Solomon of Skagit County.
Neither sports nor commercial interests were happy with Saturday's stalemate.
A scientific review group has recommended removing more hatchery fish, so fewer mix on the spawning grounds with wild fish, diluting the genetics. Because wild fish survive catch-and-release on sport gear better than in nets, more hatchery fish can be caught with a higher sport allocation before reaching incidental kill limits on wild salmon.
"It's just a matter of how quickly we're ready to get on with doing the right thing for the fish,'' said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
"We work with sport groups to hammer out a deal in good faith, then a couple of radicals go behind the scenes with dirty tactics to sabotage the whole process,'' said Bruce Crookshanks, a Rochester commercial fisherman.
Oregon's decision - Also on Friday, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will adopt that state's position on the Columbia River spring chinook allocation. The Oregon commission meets at 8 a.m. at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife headquarters, 3406 Cherry Ave. NE, Salem.
Late last week, the Oregon staff recommended a sport spring chinook season between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam open six days a week through April 30. Between Bonneville and McNary dams, the sport season would be open daily from March 16 through May 10.
There also would be some sport fishing in the Snake River.
The commercials would fish between I-5 and Bonneville with a harvest objective of 6,000 spring chinook, although that could vary from 3,600 to 7,750 depending on the mix of small-mesh tangle nets and large-mesh gear used. The commercials also would fish February through mid-June in off-channel areas such as Youngs Bay at Astoria.
The Oregon proposal results in a 57 percent sport/ 43 percent commercial allocation, if all goes according to computer models.
Oregon has an optional proposal that allows some fishing downstream of I-5 in March, with upstream of I-5 open through April 26.
Oregon's staff proposal is a slight favoring of sport interests by essentially guaranteeing their fishing does not close before late April. If the sports fleet needs more than 57 percent of the allocation to reach late April, it would be taken from the May portion of the commercial share.
Research: Which Salmon Hit Hardest by Sea Lions and Seals by Columbia Basin Bulletin, Chinook Observer, 1/3/8
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