by Bill Rudolph
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sent a letter to the commissioners of the state's fish and wildlife agency and to its acting director Curt Melcher on Sept. 26, asking them to see if the economic assumptions of the state's harvest reform plan are holding up.
He made the request a few weeks after hearing a litany of complaints from lower Columbia gillnetters over how it was shaping up.
The plan calls for transitioning the commercial gillnet fleet by 2017 to conduct more fishing in selective areas outside the mainstem, where fish are raised in net pens and salmon production would be boosted to increase off-channel harvest for commercials.
The recreational sector would also benefit from a larger allocation of impacts to ESA-listed upriver Chinook, and hence a larger share of the non-Indian catch.
The overall share of non-Indian impacts would not change, though the reform effort was touted as a way to reduce impacts on ESA-listed fish.
The plan expects the netters to use beach or purse seines in the mainstem to catch more hatchery fish with less impact to ESA-listed fish, and to stay financially whole if they give up gillnetting Chinook and coho on mainstem waters. However, research with the seines over the past several years suggests that far fewer released Chinook are surviving than managers originally thought.
Experimental purse seining in the lower Columbia. Courtesy WDFW.
Kitzhaber's letter asks for annual comparisons to see how sport and commercial industries are doing, "relative to the expectations and assumptions established for the transition period; additionally, estimate how they would have fared if the management regime prior to the rule had been in place."
He also asked the commission to consider "creating a suite of options that can be used during an upcoming season to help ensure economic objectives will be met during that season, while minimizing unanticipated adjustments after the fact."
The letter calls for consideration of using a stakeholder group to discuss management issues and options and to work with commercial and sportfishing leaders to determine the best way to use transition fund dollars and endorsement fee funds to optimize economic opportunities for each industry.
Kitzhaber also wants an updated ESA mortality overview for alternative gear types, "and consider the need for re-evaluation of mortality findings for existing gear types and techniques, both recreational and commercial." He said the analysis of alternative gear types, harvest performance in existing and potential new off-channel areas, location of exclusion zones, and effects of tributary-based barbless hook and hatchery transfers should continue to be prioritized, and the information gathered used to help make annual decisions.
Better collaboration between the commercials and the governor may be a while in coming, since Salmon For All--a group representing the gillnet fleet--has challenged Oregon's harvest reform in the state's court of appeals, and is waiting for a judge's decision. Meanwhile, the group still says the state will be hard pressed to come up with the funding to enhance the off-channel fishing.
Salmon For All spokesman Hobe Kytr said "the supposed money to provide enhancement funding is to come from Columbia River Basin sport license surcharges, which will sunset in 2022. It won't even cover the loss of BPA funding, which is set to expire in 2017, the same time as the fleet is supposed to be off the mainstem. It's smoke and mirrors at best."
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