Commisions Mulling Harvest Allocations
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has scheduled a conference call today (Feb. 8) to take action on new allocation guidelines for the Columbia River spring chinook sport and commercial fisheries after failing to settle on a plan last week.
The conference call was scheduled after commissioners split 4-4 on a proposal made by Commissioner Conrad Mahnken at a public meeting Saturday (Feb. 2) that would change in favor of recreational fisheries the allocation guidelines for this year's spring chinook harvest.
Commissioner Chuck Perry was absent from that meeting, but all nine members of the commission are expected to participate in this week's conference call.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to take up the same issue today in Salem.
"This is a tough issue," said Jerry Gutzwiler, who chairs the Washington commission. "On one hand, we're seeing more and more anglers fishing for spring chinook every year. At the same time, those fish fetch top dollar for the commercial fishery. It's a real balancing act."
Because a portion of the spring chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, recreational and commercial fishers must release any unmarked, presumably wild spring chinook salmon they catch. Standing rules limit mortality for wild spring chinook intercepted and released in state fisheries to 2 percent of the total run.
Within that 2 percent limit, Mahnken's proposal would allocate 65 percent of those incidental mortalities to the recreational fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery.
That formula would provide more fishing opportunities for sport fishers and fewer for commercial fishers than under the 2005-07 guidelines, which allocated 57 percent of the incidental impacts on wild fish to the sport fishery and 43 percent to the commercial fishery. That agreement expired Dec. 31.
Members of the public interested in hearing the WFWC discussion can do so via speaker phone at 5 p.m. at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offices in Olympia, Montesano, Mill Creek and Vancouver, Wash. Addresses for those offices are available at wdfw.wa.gov/reg/regions.htm on WDFW's website.
No public comments will be taken during the conference call. The commission listened to public testimony at meetings last month.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has dedicated most of this morning for a briefing on the spring and summer chinook fisheries below Priest Rapids Dam and to hear public testimony. It is expected to provide guidance on recreational and commercial seasons to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff for negotiations on a fishery management plan with Washington.
An option recommended by ODFW staff would focus on achieving management objectives rather than establishing hard and fast percentage shares of the catch and ESA impacts. If all of those objectives are met and assumptions about run size and other variables prove true, the split would be about 57-43 in favor of the recreational fishery, according to the ODFW's John North. That percentage could shift within a range depending on how the salmon return and fisheries play out.
"The objectives have equal priority but more of the risk" is placed on commercial fisheries under the ODFW staff recommendation, North said. It calls for management to assure that mainstem commercial harvests are limited to no more than 75 percent of its allocation by May 1. That holds in reserve what amounts to about 10 percent of the overall sport/commercial allowable impacts.
"... this buffer is necessary to address run forecast and fishery modeling uncertainties," according to a memo prepared for the OFWC. "The buffer is placed within the commercial component of the fishery in 2008 because the commercial fishery is better equipped to meets its fishery objectives after the pre-season assumptions are confirmed, the Willamette escapement constraint restricts commercial fisheries from occurring at traditional times or in traditional downriver areas, and the approach allows additional flexibility to meet all fishery objectives."
Commercial fisheries in recent years have been focused in the lower river to target earlier arriving Willamette River stock and avoid the catch of wild Snake River and Upper Columbia spring chinook that are ESA listed. Because only 4,000-6,000 Willamette fish are expected to be available this year for harvest -- out of a forecast return of 34,000 adults to the mouth of the Columbia -- the ODFW proposal suggests all mainstem commercial fishing this year be above the Interstate 5 Bridge stretching to near Bonneville Dam to avoid catching Willamette chinook. The Willamette courses into the Columbia at Portland a few miles below the bridge.
One ODFW Option 1 objective would be for mainstem recreational fisheries six days per week through April 30, also above the I-5 bridge.
The Willamette sport fishery is open seven days per week year round. The ODFW estimates that all 300 of the available Willamette spring chinook would be harvest by the anglers. That 300-fish commercial allocation would likely be taken up by commercial fisheries via incidental catch of Willamette fish during off-channel "select area" chinook and sturgeon fisheries.
Once the two state agency staffs receive commission guidance, they would try develop a unified plan for allocating available the spring chinook in 2008. That likely would be done, provided the states' proposals are not too disparate, by the Columbia River Compact, which sets mainstem commercial seasons. The compact is made up of representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors.
The predicted Willamette spring chinook return would be the lowest on the 1985-2007 record, though runs in `1996 and 1997 were of similar size.
A return of 269,300 "upriver" spring chinook, as forecast, would be the third largest on record.
While Washington commissioners deadlocked on the issue of spring chinook allocations, they did approve catch guidelines for the Columbia River summer chinook fishery along with more than 70 new sportfishing rules for waters around the state at a public meeting Feb. 1-2 in Olympia.
By a unanimous vote, commissioners extended previous catch guidelines for healthy summer chinook stocks by one year. As in the past two years, the portion of the summer chinook run available for harvest below Priest Rapids Dam will be divided equally between anglers and commercial fishers.
In addition, the commission adopted a variety of new sportfishing rules for waters around the state. Rule changes approved for the 2008-09 season include:
Summaries of the rule changes, as adopted, will be available on WDFW's website at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/rule_proposals/index.htm by mid-February.
The commission also held a public hearing on the steelhead management plan, proposed by WDFW fish managers as a framework for statewide restoration efforts. Issues addressed in the plan include natural and artificial production of steelhead, fisheries management, habitat restoration, enforcement, monitoring and education.
Several members of the public who testified on the steelhead plan called for specific changes in the 217-page document before a scheduled vote by the commission at its March 7-8 meeting in Olympia.
"We've asked WDFW staff to look into their recommendations before we consider adoption of the plan next month," Gutzwiler said.
For more information about the proposed statewide steelhead plan, see WDFW's website wdfw.wa.gov/fish/steelhead/index.htm.
On other issues, the commission assumed authority for approving a conservation and management plan for gray wolves now being developed by a citizen working group, and received a briefing on proposed changes in state mineral prospecting rules.
After both states' Commissions set management objectives, final season dates and allocations will be decided at the Columbia River Compact hearing in Vancouver, Wash., Feb. 15. A decision on management objectives for summer chinook fisheries will be made in the future.
The ODFW staff proposal would also allow recreational salmon fishing from Bonneville to McNary Dam seven-days-per-week from March 16-May 10 and open commercial Select Area fisheries from mid-February through mid-June;
ODFW web page for details.
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