Oregon Commission to Review Columbia River
As it reviews preliminary results of the 2016 commercial gillnetting and recreational angling season on the Columbia River at its meeting next week, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will also begin considering statutory changes to Columbia River fishery harvest reform that could extend gillnetting on the mainstem river in 2017, beyond the reform deadline.
The controversial harvest reform of 2013, also known as the Kitzhaber Plan, would effectively remove commercial gillnetters from the mainstem Columbia River by next year, but it would allow gillnetting in designated select areas located in the lower river.
The three-year transition to the full reform program was to have been complete by next year, but some of the promises made to commercial fishers have yet to materialize and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff has suggested continued fall season gillnetting on the mainstem river in zones 4 and 5, areas upstream of St. Helens, Oregon to Bonneville Dam.
“The review is required after the 2016 season,” said Rick Hargrave, ODFW spokesperson. “The Commission mandated a transition period until 2016 for phasing in reform actions and allowing feedback on the effectiveness and economic outcome of actions prior to long term implementation.”
At the Commission meeting, he said, staff will present to the Commission results from the three-year transition period and recommend adjustments needed to “best meet the overall objectives of the Columbia River Fisheries Reform.” The Commission could begin taking testimony on rulemaking at its December meeting.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will also review the three-year results at its meeting in Olympia Saturday, November 5, in Olympia. While the review will include the same results offered to the Oregon Commission, the Washington Commission will not consider new statutes at this meeting.
Due to the complex issues and information that ODFW staff will provide at the meeting Wednesday, Nov. 9 in Salem, the entire Commission meeting will be given over to the one topic, including taking public comment.
Even the thought of such a change has sports anglers up in arms. The Commission already has received over 100 letters opposing the changes, while just two letters from commercial gillnetters are in support.
“I stand in strong opposition to any effort by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to walk away from the bi-state agreement to reform management of Columbia River salmon fisheries,” wrote Cliff Robinett of LaPine, Oregon. Robinett’s letter was reproduced by 85 other sports anglers.
“The use of non-tribal gillnets in the lower Columbia River has been controversial for decades,” he continued. “Oregon walking away from this compromise plan will reignite conflict over the management of the Columbia River fisheries and is a slap in the face to the 175,000 Oregon anglers who purchase fishing licenses and the endorsement to fish the Columbia River each year – generating over $13 million a year to implement this plan.”
Joe Quashnick, commercial gillnetter in the lower river, said that fishing success for the gillnetters in Youngs Bay – a select area fishery – last year was a “complete bust” with few coho returning to the bay. It was mainstem fishing that allowed the gillnetters to make up the income difference from losses in Youngs Bay. He complained that the “Kitzhaber Plan takes a lot of our allocation and shifts it over to the sport fishery.”
As a result of its review, ODFW staff has suggested changes to the Oregon Administrative Rules that include:
Among the issues associated with the harvest reform that will be addressed by ODFW staff next week are:
Oregon releases of juveniles in 2016 approaches targets, with the exceptions of select area bright fall chinook production. Through the transition period – 2013-2016 – average releases have been 93 percent of the target for spring chinook (110 percent in 2016), 97 percent for coho (110 percent in 2016) and 82 percent for the brights, but just 32 percent in 2016 alone, and the release is expected to continue to be poor in 2017.
Disease is preventing a healthy release of spring chinook into the Cathlamet Channel, an off-channel site being developed by WDFW. The target release is 250,000 juveniles, but releases instead reached 200,000 in 2014, 141,900 in 2015 and just 107,900 this year. 2017 releases are expected to be less than 75 percent of the target. The first adult return was expected this spring, but was so dismal that no fish were reported harvested.
On the other hand, harvest (both select and main channel) generally exceeded targets with the exception of spring chinook (coho – 114 percent, all fall chinook – 118 percent, select area brights – 236 percent). However, spring chinook harvest was 86 percent of the harvest target and the value of all harvests is far below projections.
ODFW and WDFW evaluated 13 combinations of alternative gear for gillnetters, such as purse and beach seines, and coho tangle nets. No single type of gear was satisfactory in all cases.
Chinook mortality of fish released is 33 percent for beach seines and 21 percent for purse seines. Coho is 38 percent and 29 percent and steelhead is 5 percent and 2 percent. One and one-half times more unmarked fish were released for every one marked fish kept.
The overall evaluation by ODFW of the seine fisheries is that, after costs were factored in, they were not profitable for the participants.
“Although the 2014-15 seine fisheries were limited entry and quota-based, only about 1/3 of the permit holders came within 90 percent of achieving their Chinook quotas,” the summary said. “Even if the seine fishery were expanded, smaller fish and higher harvest costs will still affect the profitability for participants.”
Post-release mortality for coho tangle nets is 22.3 percent. Some 76 percent of coho caught were marked hatchery fish. The tangle net fishery averaged $2,406 per vessel compared to $3,222 per vessel for the normal 6-inch nets.
To strengthen conservation of natural fish runs, the fourth issue, ODFW says that more lower river hatchery fish must be harvested to keep them off spawning grounds in tributaries. That’s why it is recommending a conservation set-aside that sequesters 1 percent of the total ESA tule fall Chinook impacts from non-tribal fisheries in U.S. waters and using these impacts in a conservation fishery to selectively harvest hatchery fall tule chinook and coho in the lower river.
The fifth issue that ODFW staff will cover next week is economic benefits to Oregon and to both recreational and commercial fishers.
There was no gain in angler trips for summer chinook due to allocation changes in any of the transition years. In fact, the level of angler effort has not been able to fully exploit catch allocations of more than 50 percent with the recent larger than average run sizes. However, based on past fishery performance, and with smaller run sizes and lower catch guidelines, the sport allocation could again become constraining even at levels exceeding 50 percent, the summary said.
For gillnetters, the measurement is ex-vessel value or how much each gillnetter makes from his/her catch.
Overall, the commercial harvest and ex-vessel value was higher during the three-year transition period than the prior baseline period. Commercial harvest of chinook and coho salmon in the mainstem lower Columbia River during the transition period averaged 125,900 fish per year compared to 61,800 per year during 2010-12 pre-reform period. Increased harvest during the transition period was primarily due to large fall chinook returns in 2013-15 and a large coho return in 2014.
The bottom line is mainstem commercial fisheries generally lost value while off-channel select area fisheries gained value, something that is consistent with the policy objectives and allocations of fisheries reform. The loss for mainstem spring chinook fisheries was 30 percent, 24 percent for mainstem summer chinook and 20 percent for mainstem fall chinook (commercial zones 4 and 5). Mainstem coho fisheries using a 6-inch net averaged a 13 percent loss. The average gain for select areas was: spring chinook fisheries 12 percent, fall chinook 1 percent and coho averaged a 10 percent gain.
Although there were some positive gains in select areas and alternative gear fisheries, there was an overall average loss in total commercial ex-vessel value of $631,200 during the transition period, the summary concludes.
While implementing all the reforms on schedule in 2017 would meet the policy objective to phase out gillnets in mainstem fisheries and give recreational fisheries in the mainstem priority, it would fail to meet the policy objective to enhance viability of commercial fisheries, primarily because effective alternative gears for mainstem fisheries are not currently available, the ODFW staff concluded.
Staff essentially recommended an adaptive management approach, a “strategic rebalance to optimize competing objectives,” as they call it.
It would continue allocation shifts in spring and summer (80:20), but not in fall (70:30), the most economically important for commercial fisheries, staff said. Mainstem gillnetting would be limited to zones 4 and 5, targeting upriver bright fall chinook. That, staff said, is the most efficient area to harvest the most economically important fish for commercial fisheries within ESA impact limitations.
The staff recommendation would incorporate the conservation set-aside in the lower Columbia River to remove hatchery chinook and coho.
The recommendation would provide further production enhancements to off-channel fisheries, has less risk of non-concurrent management with Washington, meets the policy objective to remove gillnets from the mainstem for significant portions of the year (spring and summer seasons) and continues to pursue the policy objective to develop better alternative gears and techniques for commercial use in the lower mainstem Columbia, the staff said.
The Columbia River Fish Management and Reform was a joint Oregon and Washington Policy initially adopted in 2012 and readopted in 2013. The Oregon Commission 2016 summary is at 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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