Summer Spill Plays Role in Setting
by Bill Rudolph
Commercial fishermen who ply Washington's offshore waters expressed disappointment last week over new Pacific Fishery Management Council ocean harvest quotas for chinook and coho that give them significantly fewer fish to conk than last year. The fishermen had hoped the council would pick the most generous of three options under review.
However, the council was dealing with a somewhat smaller chinook harvest to divvy up this year than in 2003, said NOAA Fisheries harvest guru Peter Dygert, who also noted that Canadian fishers are back in the ballgame after a few years' hiatus. During that absence, British Columbia fishermen faced heavy restrictions and significantly reduced chinook harvests off Vancouver Island aimed at improving their weak stocks. The Vancouver Island fishery has now been restructured, Dygert said, with more effort targeted during winter and spring months, which means they are catching more U.S.-bound fish.
This year, the council was faced with overall spring chinook predictions higher than 2003's led by a strong return expected for the Columbia River, but a fall chinook prediction below last year's estimate. They decided to pick a middle-range harvest option to manage waters north of Oregon's Cape Falcon.
The trollers had pushed for an option that would have been only a 17-percent reduction from last year's catch of nearly 70,000 chinook, but instead they got a nearly 35-percent cut, to 45,000 chinook. Tribal ocean fishers got a 40,000-chinook quota this year as well.
Recreational fishers in Washington's coastal waters were allocated 45,000 chinook themselves, down from last year's quota of 59,600 fish. For a variety of reasons, the sporties didn't come near to reaching last year's goal, landing only 36,500 fish in 2003.
Regional fishing groups said the cuts would mean a direct loss of half a million dollars to commercial and charter fishermen. In an April 9 press release, they blamed the cuts on NOAA Fisheries planners "who decided the increase wouldn't work with the BPA plan to reduce or eliminate spills on water over Columbia River dams in case of drought conditions this summer."
But a PMFC draft assessment of the option favored by fishermen said that it would not meet conservation concerns of Snake River fall chinook. NOAA's Dygert acknowledged that the stock has improved dramatically over the past few years. But, he added, the summer spill proposal at dams on the Columbia River under review by federal agencies has brought into focus a broader policy context -- should NOAA allow harvesters to catch a few hundred more ESA-listed fall chinook as part a larger quota this year, while still making sure BPA spends $77 million in summer spill costs to benefit only 24 listed salmon?
Dygert also questioned whether the PFMC fisheries should be the first place to acknowledge improvement in the Snake run, even though the stock's status has not yet officially changed from its "threatened" designation. He said the fall run size of wild Snake River chinook has improved from about 1,150 counted in 2000 to 5,200 in 2001 and 2,100 in 2002, with 2003's numbers still under review, though the total wild plus hatchery count at Lower Granite dam last year was nearly 12,000 fish.
And with Canada now fishing again up to its allowable limits, Dygert said that "potentially puts the screws to the council's fisheries."
The draft assessment also said that the option favored by fishermen would not allow enough coho to reach areas above Bonneville Dam, based on the U.S. v. Oregon agreement. The option adopted by the council calls for commercial trollers north of Cape Falcon to catch 67,500 coho and recreational fishers will be allowed to land 202,500 coho.
Coho fishing will also be allowed for the first time in 11 years off southern Oregon, with a 75,000-fish quota for the area. Wild coho stocks are building up and down the West Coast, but fishermen will only be allowed to keep hatchery fish with clipped adipose fins.
Though a harvest regime has not yet been formally announced for Puget Sound, WDFW's Pat Pattillo said in March that state and tribal fisheries would likely bear the brunt of increasing Canadian interception of Puget Sound chinook.
Meanwhile, Southeast Alaskans got an 8,000-fish boost in their chinook quota this year that is set by abundance guidelines developed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Southeast trollers will be allowed to catch nearly 280,000 chinook, with 70,000 fish allotted for sports fishermen and 25,000 for net fishermen. It's the highest quota since 1985 with abundance levels for West Coast stocks reported to be nearly twice those of the early 1980s.
Ocean Harvest Quotas
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