Netters Warned to Allow Observersby Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, March 11, 2004
Commercial fishermen were warned Wednesday to stop refusing to allow state observers to board their boats and monitor gillnetting of spring chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River.
Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said there were "a lot of turnaways'' during Tuesday's fishing. Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said she "heard the same report,'' although it appeared limited to a specific area of the river.
She did not specify which area.
Williams said the refusals of observers from Oregon were scattered across a number of locations on the lower Columbia.
Commercial fishing in March in the lower Columbia is intended to allow the fleet a chance to catch hatchery-origin spring chinook destined for the Willamette River, yet minimize the handle of upper Columbia spring chinook and wild winter steelhead.
Wild spring chinook and all steelhead must be released. There are guidelines to keep the commercials from killing no more than 2 percent of the wild winter steelhead run and 0.8 percent of the wild upper Columbia spring salmon run.
Both runs are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Commercial fishing in March gets close scrutiny, particularly after the commercial fleet killed between 6 percent and 15 percent of the wild winter steelhead run in 2002.
Washington and Oregon provide a combined 16 observers each fishing period to collect on-the-water data from the commercial fleet.
Williams encouraged the commercials to cooperate, even if having an observer on board makes fishing more difficult.
"This remains a key to allowing these fisheries,'' he said. "We've got a lot of people watching us so all the information is critical.''
Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said if there are too many refusals to board and monitor the data collected becomes inaccurate. If one area is excluded from monitoring, the information may be biased, he added.
Specific areas of the river might have to be closed and fewer netting periods allowed overall if the refusals become chronic, Tweit said.
Spring chinook are extremely valuable to commercial fishermen. A spring salmon brings $5.50 a pound, compared to 20 cents to 50 cents a pound for fall salmon.
State officials did authorize 24 hours of gillnetting from 10 a.m. today until 10 a.m. Friday from the mouth of the Willamette River at Kelley Point downstream to the ocean.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the commercials landed 611 spring chinook, bringing their total to 1,177. The fleet has used 4 percent of its upper Columbia guideline and 7 percent of its wild winter steelhead limit.
Les Clark of the Northwest Gillnetters Association said predation of spring chinook in the nets by seals and sea lions has been very high.
Spring chinook entry into the Columbia appears a bit delayed this year. The river is about three degrees colder than the 10-year average.
Officials will meet by telephone at 8 a.m. Monday to consider additional commercial fishing next week
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