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Sport Fishermen get More Wiggle Room

by Mark Yuasa
Seattle Times, January 22, 2004

Washington sport anglers received some positive news on the upcoming Columbia River spring chinook fisheries.

In a meeting with sport-fishing stakeholders last Saturday, the state Fish and Wildlife commission decided that sport fishermen will be allowed 60 percent of the limit of protected wild fish that die after being caught inadvertently.

Federal law limits the allowable impact to wild spring chinook populations from unintended mortalities in non-tribal fisheries to 2 percent of the run.

"The decision was to go 60 percent of wild fish impacts to sport and 40 percent to commercial, with a 5 percent adjustment allowable in season," said Terry Turner, president for The Washington Council of Trout Unlimited. "The decision was pretty unanimous amongst the stakeholders on the recreational side."

Earlier last week, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife commission supported splitting the allowable impacts of wild spring chinook fisheries, with 50 percent to 60 percent to sport and 40 percent to 50 percent to commercial gill-netters.

The Oregon decision shocked the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association's constituents, who claim the recreational spring chinook fishery draws a lot of income into Portland and outlying communities, as well as to Oregon Fish and Wildlife license dollars.

Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife directors talked last week and plan to meet on Jan. 29 to resolve the issue, said Bill Tweit, a state Fish and Wildlife intergovernmental resource manager.

"There is some conflict, but the commissions (for both states) recognize there is a need for some wiggle room," Tweit said. "But how that will be applied is left up to the two directors."

The commercial fishery in the Columbia River is the last gill-net fishery to occur in the lower 48 states. Wild fish are released in both fisheries, but many claim that more die after being released from commercial gill-nets.

Biologists estimate that about 50,000 spring chinook could be caught between sport and commercial fishers this season. This year about 360,700 upriver-origin spring chinook including hatchery and wild fish are predicted to enter the Columbia River. This year's run is expected to be the second largest since the construction of Bonneville Dam in 1938. About 26,900 are expected back to the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers, and 109,400 to the Willamette River in Oregon.

"We're looking forward to a good recreational fishery that will be a continuation of the past two years, and it's a lot better than where we were five and 20 years ago," Tweit said.

Early this month, Washington Fish and Wildlife sent a letter, jointly agreed upon by Oregon Fish and Wildlife, in an attempt to raise the allowable impacts to steelhead in the spring chinook fisheries.

The Lower Columbia River steelhead are listed as either endangered or threatened stocks.

"Raising (it) could be devastating to steelhead," Turner said.

Decisions on this year's Columbia spring chinook season will occur Feb. 5.

Mark Yuasa
Sport Fishermen get More Wiggle Room
Seattle Times, January 22, 2004

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