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Salmon Plan Puts Hook in Fishery

by Cassandra Profita
The Daily Astorian, November 21, 2008

Sport and commercial fishers dissatisfied with new proposal

A new proposal for splitting lower Columbia River chinook between sport and commercial boats will leave both sides dissatisfied if it is approved by the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions next month.

This week, the Columbia River Fish Working Group - a committee that includes three fish and wildlife commissioners from Oregon and Washington - agreed on a recommendation for balancing the sport and commercial salmon fisheries, which have to share a two percent allowance of impacts to threatened and endangered species.

The plan, which could last up to five years, edges commercial gillnetters out of any hope of a 50-50 catch share with sportfishers while introducing the possibility of a severe reduction to a 15-85 percent spit when salmon are scarce.

And, depending on the annual salmon run sizes, the recreational fleet could also see reduced fishing opportunity from recent years.

The amount of wild fish impacts allocated to each group determines how much hatchery fish they can access during the season, and the perennial allocation decision never fails to spark heated battles between the two groups.

Under the working group's recommendation, exactly what percentage of the allowable wild fish impacts each fishery gets would be managed by a matrix based on the size of the fish runs in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

"As the Columbia River run size increases and the Willamette run size gets larger or smaller, it falls into different boxes on the matrix and different catch-sharing amounts," said Steve Williams, fish division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The bigger the runs, he said, the closer the catch-share gets to an even split between sport and commercial fisheries. When the runs are smaller, however, the matrix favors the recreational fishery because sport boats are deemed to have lower impacts on wild fish.

The plan sets a top priority of having a 45-day sportfishing season for spring chinook below Bonneville Dam. The next highest priorities are maintaining harvest levels in off-channel select-area commercial fisheries such as the one in Youngs Bay and providing some spring chinook opportunity on the mainstem for gillnetters.

Bruce Buckmaster, a commercial fishing advocate from Astoria, said the plan might violate laws that require an equitable division of the resource between sport and commercial fisheries.

If the proposed matrix were applied to last year's fishery, he said it would have given 70 percent of the impacts to the recreational fishery and just 30 percent to commercial gillnetters.

"It was very disappointing from our perspective," said Hobe Kytr, administrator of the commercial fishing group Salmon for All. "The decision will come at the expense of the core rural economy of the lower river for the benefit of the Portland metro area, if it holds."

But urban sportfishing industry advocates weren't happy with the plan either.

Dan Grogan, a board member for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and president of Fishermen's Marine and Outdoor, said it looks like the matrix will result in sport boats getting less fish while having to pay a 20 percent increase in permit fees to the state.

"It's not good," he said. "If it is less opportunity, the fish and wildlife department is going to have a hard time getting a 20 percent fee increase from sportsmen. It's kind of getting old to pay more for less. "

The plan could result in a stronger effort to eliminate gillnets altogether, though he said that's not what his association wants. The gillnetters face the possibility of an outright ban through a bill to be proposed during the next session of the state Legislature.

"Unfortunately I think it will egg on sportsmen to get rid of gillnetters completely," said Grogan. "As an industry that's not what we're about, but for sportsmen in general I think it burns the fire hotter."

Grogan said he wanted the working group to move toward a proposal made by three former fishery managers allied with the sportfishing industry, who suggested moving gillnetters off the mainstem Columbia River and boosting off-channel net pen fisheries to supply the commercial catch. At the very least, he is hoping the state commissions will shorten the length of the new plan to just one year.

Kytr said efforts to snuff out the gillnet fleet aren't likely to succeed.

"There have been 50 years of attempts to get our fishermen off the river," he said. "The reason they haven't been successful is our fishermen are the surrogates for the general public. ... Without commercial fishermen, the non-fishing public doesn't have access to the resource that we all pay for."

Fish managers have been trying for two years to find a long-term solution to the bitter allocation disputes through moderated stakeholder group meetings. But even those meetings have been contentious. The fish working group replaces a stakeholder committee that crumbled earlier this year when sport-fishing industry representatives backed away from negotiations.

The matrix proposal would excuse managers from the tug of war for at least three years, at which time the plan would be reviewed.

The working group is recommending 35 percent of the wild fish impacts for both sport and commercial fisheries be held back from the initial allocation to guard against overly optimistic run-size estimates, which add to the bitterness on both sides.

Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions will hear the proposal and take public comments at a joint session Dec. 11. The Oregon board meets Dec. 12 to vote on the issue; Washington is scheduled to vote Dec. 1

Cassandra Profita
Salmon Plan Puts Hook in Fishery
The Daily Astorian, November 21, 2008

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