State has eye on Columbia's Cathlamet Channel

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to take a hard look at Cathlamet Channel in Wahkiakum County for a new Columbia River commercial fishing site.

The seven-mile channel is the portion of the Columbia between the Washington mainland and Puget Island.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide Jan. 12 on a proposed massive overhaul of lower Columbia River sport and commercial fishing regulations.

Already adopted by Oregon, the proposal moves the gillnet fishery off the main stem of the lower Columbia into off-channel locations and makes sport fishing the priority in the main river by 2017.

Currently, there are four off-channel sites — Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough in Oregon and Deep River in Washington.

Norman said the Deep River site works adequately for coho, but gets almost no spring chinook back. The state has been releasing 350,000 spring chinook smolts a year at Deep River and is lucky to get a commercial catch of 100 adults.

Federal funding for Deep River spring chinook has been lost, but the money has been reprogrammed into coho, he said.

Cathlamet Channel is a site the state has its eye on to attempt a release of 250,000 young spring chinook.

“We want to move those to a place where they do produce adults for harvest,’’ Norman told the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in Tumwater two weeks ago.

There are several factors that need investigating, he said.

A site needs to be secured and tested to see if it will rear healthy smolts and it must meet Department of Ecology water quality standards, he said.

Cathlamet Channel also would need to be monitored to see how many outside stocks wander in and could be caught in a gillnet fishery.

Cathlamet Channel might have a higher level of upper Columbia salmon stocks passing through than Youngs Bay or Deep River, but tangle nets (which allow live release) could be used to compensate, he said.

Additional spring chinook eggs from the Cowlitz River hatchery spring chinook stock would be taken for a Cathlamet Channel program. Norman said the releases in the Cowlitz would not be shorted to accommodate Cathlamet Channel.

Years ago, there was a promising salmon enhancement program in Cathlamet Channel, gillnetter Chris Doumit of Cathlamet told the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The program was dropped following the Endangered Species Act listings, he said.

There were three commercial fishing drifts which accommodated 12 gillnet boats in the channel, Doumit added.

In October, the Wahkiakum County Marine Resources Committee proposed establishment of an experimental fishery in Cathlamet Channel.

Nearby Steamboat Slough, a side channel between Price Island and the Washington shore just east of Skamakowa, received coho releases for five years between 1999 to 2004.

A decision was made to discontinue rearing at the site because although survival rates were good to Elochoman Hatchery, the coho did not hold in Steamboat Slough where they could be harvested.