WFWC Favors Sportsmen
by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
OLYMPIA -- The monster run of spring chinook salmon coming to the Columbia River in 2004 should be divided clearly in the favor of sportsmen, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Saturday.
The panel told the Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to try to negotiate a sport-commercial catch-sharing agreement with Oregon that would result in about 65 percent of the harvest by sport fishermen.
Washington's position is slightly more pro-sport than the one taken by the Oregon commission eight days ago.
The split selected by Washington would result in a sport catch of about 34,000 spring chinook and a commercial harvest of about 18,000.
Biologists are forecasting a spring chinook run of 360,700 to enter the Columbia headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the second largest since counting at Bonneville Dam began in the 1930s.
Also predicted is a large run of 109,400 spring chinook to Oregon's Willamette River and 26,900 to Washington's Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers.
Spring chinook are the premier fish of the Columbia River.
They earn gillnetters $5 to $6 a pound, compared to the 20 cents to 50 cents a pound paid for fall salmon.
Anglers also prize the fish.
There will be 150,000 to 200,000 sport-fishing trips in March and April just on the lower Columbia, not including the tributaries.
"Just the thought of spring chinook gets my heart pounding,'' Scott Lipp, a Clark County sport fisherman, told the commission.
But spring salmon sharing is complicated.
Wild spring chinook headed for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. An agreement between the states, federal government and treaty Indian tribes limits non-Indians to killing no more than 2 percent of the wild fish.
Sport and commercial seasons in the lower Columbia target on the plentiful hatchery-origin chinook. Both groups release wild fish. Still, some wild fish die despite being released. Those dead fish are called "impacts.''
State biologists calculate and monitor during the season how quickly those impacts are being used to ensure that the 2 percent ceiling is not exceeded.
How those impacts are shared between sport and commercial fishermen drives the overall catch.
Washington's commission on Saturday allocated 60 percent of the impacts to the sport fishery, with a 5 percent margin allowed either direction. That means the sport share could be 55 percent to 65 percent of the impacts.
That is a slightly better deal for sportsmen than Oregon's position, which allocated 50 percent to 60 percent of the impacts to the sportsmen.
About 10 percent of the wild spring chinook released by sport fishermen die, while 18.5 percent released from commercial nets die. That means the actual catch favors sportsmen at a higher percentage than the impact sharing.
"This is about the best we could expect, realistically,'' said Larry Snyder, president of the Vancouver Wildlife League.
"I thought 50-50 would be fair,'' said Steve Fick, an Astoria fish processor.
Wild winter steelhead, also a threatened species, get caught incidentally in the Columbia River gillnets although they rarely bite on sport gear.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has asked the federal government to increase the allowed incidental kill of wild winter steelhead from 2 percent up to 7 percent under the Endangered Species Act.
Increasing the allowed kill of wild steelhead would give the states more flexibility in managing the spring chinook fisheries.
But that request was blasted by sportsmen on Saturday.
Larry Swanson of Southwest Washington Anglers said to increase the allowed kill of wild steelhead makes a mockery of the stream restoration and other volunteer efforts to improve fish habitat.
Clark County alone has spend thousands of dollars replacing culverts to improve fish passage.
"It's a slap in the face to the volunteers in the restoration process,'' Swanson said.
The commission directed the department to not pursue the increase in the wild winter steelhead allowance this year and to bring the panel more information prior going forth with it in 2005.
Washington and Oregon officials will meet at 10 a.m. on Feb. 5 at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City, Ore., to select the specific sport and commercial spring chinook fishing regulations.
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