Are Lower Columbia River Harvest Reforms
Lower Columbia River gillnetters told the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission last week that fishery harvest reforms initiated in 2013 are not working economically, while salmon and steelhead anglers accused the commission of vacating its promise to get gillnetters off the river.
As many as 150 people attended the Salem commission meeting and public forum on mainstem fishery harvest reforms, where comments were heard on a proposal by ODFW that would continue gillnetting in some areas of the mainstem river.
The harvest reform package, also known as the Kitzhaber plan, is in its final year of transition and was to become fully effective at the beginning of 2017 when all Columbia River mainstem fishing would be allocated to recreational anglers and commercial gillnetters would fish in off-channel select areas, mostly in the lower river and mostly for hatchery chinook and coho salmon.
However, the reform also promised to keep gillnetters economically whole, but the actual plan implementation is lagging in hatchery production of smolts, identifying additional off-channel areas and developing alternative gear that would allow commercial fishers to better target hatchery fish, among other issues.
The Columbia River Fish Management and Reform was a joint Oregon and Washington Policy initially adopted in 2012 and readopted in 2013.
The ODFW staff is proposing to “rebalance” the harvest reform rules by continuing to allow some gillnetting on the mainstem river, and by targeting for harvest more adult hatchery salmon in the lower river below Bonneville Dam, a conservation move to rid the river of more hatchery fall chinook. As a concession, recreational anglers would gain access to Youngs Bay, near Astoria, an area that has been considered off-limits to them, and would be allowed to use barbed hooks in the Willamette River.
Anglers, led by the Coastal Conservation Association, were vocal about the proposed changes at the hearing and wore red CCA hats and badges that said “No Broken Promises.”
ODFW is trying to rewrite Senate Bill 830, the legislation that formalized the Kitzhaber plan, Bob Reese of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders told the Commission at its hearing in Salem November 9.
“We’re not getting what we paid for, sacrificed for, nor what we were promised,” Reese said. “This process feels far from respect.”
He reminded the Commission that ODFW is funded through angler and hunter fees and that, at least the anglers, are ready to move on.
“You cannot keep this agency’s valuable programs intact without fees from anglers and we’re ready to test that,” Reese said. “I’m having a tough time defending this agency’s actions.”
He added that his constituents want to see how the full implementation of the Kitzhaber plan unfolds before they would consider the adaptive management measures being proposed by ODFW staff.
Commercial gillnetter Robert Sudar said recreational anglers already had a priority in the ratio of fish caught on the Columbia River, even before this policy, and that when commercial fishers use tangle nets, post release mortality of unmarked fish drops to 14 percent from the 40 percent mortality of full-size gillnets.
“Fisheries are selective through the use of gear,” he said.
Many anglers at the meeting said gillnetting is indiscriminate and not selective.
Even with the changes to the harvest reform policy suggested by ODFW staff, “there will be at least a 9-year period of economic loss” for commercial fishermen, said Greg Johnson, lower Columbia River gillnetter.
Another Astoria-based commercial gillnetter, Jim Wells, said that beach and purse seining, alternative gear changes gillnetters are experimenting with at the urging of both the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions, are uneconomic.
“Seine fishing has a high mortality of chinook and coho and a high bycatch of other species,” he said. With purse seining, 12.5 sockeye must be returned for every one chinook salmon kept and its worse with beach seining where 15 sockeye are returned for every one chinook kept, he said.
“You can’t run a fishery like that. We’re seeing poor participation of seiners because of poor economic returns.” This summer just four boats signed up for seine fishing.
Coho tangle nets so far are the most promising, he said, of all the alternative gear used.
“Also, select area fishing cannot make up the difference for the loss of fishing the mainstem,” Wells said.
Part of the difficulty of providing enough adult fish for commercial off-channel fishing is pending legislation by the Wild Fish Conservancy that challenges NOAA Fisheries funding for 10 Mitchell Act hatcheries. Seven of those hatcheries provide juvenile salmon for lower Columbia River select area fisheries.
NOAA and the Conservancy stipulated in September that the agency will not disburse Mitchell Act funds to the hatcheries until the federal agency has completed its hatchery biological opinion and incidental take statements for the disbursements.
(See CBB, November 18, 2016, NOAA Fisheries Stipulates No Mitchell Act Funds For 10 Hatcheries Until Hatchery BiOp Completed
The outcome of the suit is unknown, said Chris Kern of ODFW. It could mean that more hatchery adult salmon will need to be harvested before they reach spawning grounds or it could mean that fewer juvenile salmon would be released.
“This gives us another uncertainty,” Kern said. “There almost certainly will be some reductions.”
In addition, the states of Oregon and Washington have identified just two new off-channel sites out of 29 potential sites it reviewed.
The guiding principles for harvest reform fisheries adopted by the Commission in 2012 included:
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also reviewed the three-year results at its meeting in Olympia November 5, but did not take action and did not consider new statutes. The issue has not yet been added to its December 9 -- 10 agenda.
Some things are working: ODFW said that for spring chinook a smolt released off-channel is 30 times more likely to be harvested commercially than a smolt released elsewhere and that 10 times more fish are caught commercially for each endangered species act impact than gillnetting in the mainstem (2 times if using mainstem tangle nets).
However, seine post release mortality for unclipped fish is high: 33 percent of the chinook, 38 percent coho and 5 percent steelhead mortality for beach seines and 21 percent chinook, 29 percent coho and 2 percent steelhead for purse seines.
ODFW offered three alternatives to the Commission for consideration.
The impacts on angler trips and ex-vessel value for each of these options are:
For the November 9 ODFW presentation, see www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/16/11_nov/Exhibit_A_PPT_Columbia_River_Fisheries_Reform.pdf
The ODFW staff summary is at (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/16/11_nov/Exhibit_A_Attachment_1_Agenda_Item_Summary.pdf
Oregon Commission To Review Columbia River Harvest Reforms, May Consider Extending Mainstem Gillnets by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 11/4/16
Oregon Commission Hears Review Of Fishing Reforms Banning Lower Columbia Gillnetters From Mainstem by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 11/4/16
Oregon ‘Re-Adopts’ Lower Columbia Commercial Gill-Net Ban; Slew Of Uncertainties Remain by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 11/4/16
Oregon Appeals Court Halts Implementation Of Lower Columbia Gill-Net Ban, Will Hear Legal Arguments by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 11/4/16
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