Talks may show direction of Columbia sport, commercial fisheries

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Discussions that likely will shape the future of lower Columbia River commercial and sport fisheries for years to come are on tap Thursday in Portland when the Columbia River Fisheries Management Reform Workgroup meets at the Airport Embassy Suites.

The workgroup is three fish and wildlife commission members from each state and they are helped by a panel of sport and commercial fishing advisers.

This is all part of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's plan to move the gillnetters off the main stem lower Columbia into off-channel areas, which is Kitzhaber's compromise plan so Oregon voters do not approve Measure 81 to prohibit gillnets and tangle nets in Oregon inland waters.

By the way, much of the Columbia River downstream of Longview is in Oregon.

The Kitzhaber proposal is premised on the idea that there are additional off-channel locations in the lower Columbia River to rear salmon and catch them with gillnets.

Currently there are three Oregon spots — Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough, all near Astoria — and one in Washington at Deep River.

Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said last week Deep River is a stinker for spring chinook, but works for coho.

Washington wants to move the spring chinook it has been releasing in Deep River elsewhere.

"Deep River is a site where we're getting good coho production and good coho catch in the fishery, but very low spring chinook survival or catch,'' Norman told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. "It has not been a good success for spring chinook.''

Washington plans to add another 200,000 coho to Deep River in 2013 to the 400,000 current program.

Where in Washington might more off-channel salmon rearing and gillnetting be possible?

A study in the mid-1990s examined 25 sites, 12 of which were in Washington, Norman said.

Two other "high-evaluation'' prospects were Steamboat Slough and Cathlamet Channel, both in Wahkiakum County, he said.

Steamboat Slough is between the Washington shore and Price Island. Cathlamet Channel is a large piece of water between the Washington mainland and Puget Island.

The earlier problem with Steamboat Slough was fish straying into the nearby Elochoman River, he said.

Cathlamet Channel, the site of a popular summer steelhead fishery on outgoing tides, could accommodate a lot of gillnet vessels, Norman said.

The issue for Cathlamet Channel is whether too many non-targeted salmon use the area, he added.

For anyone who wants to read more about the research into the off-channel areas done in the mid-1990s, use a search engine on the Internet for "Select Area Fishery Evaluation Project.''

A 169-page document is available for downloading. The meeting at the Airport Embassy Suites, 7900 N.E. 82nd Ave., begins at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.