Wahkiakum group urges commercial fishing in Cathlamet Channel

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A Wahkiakum County group has a new proposal to restructure Columbia River commercial fisheries.

The Wahkiakum Marine Resources Committee is calling for an experimental fishery in the Cathlamet Channel, the 7-mile-long waterway separating Puget Island with the Washington shore near Cathlamet.

The proposal is an alternative to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan to move gillnetters off the mainstem of the lower Columbia. Kitzhaber’s plan wouldn’t allow commercial fishing in the Cathlamet Channel, which is considered part of the river’s mainstem. The Kitzhaber plan would limit commercial fishing to smaller off-channel areas, such as the lower part of Deep River.

Kitzhaber’s move was a reaction to Measure 81 on Oregon’s November ballot. The measure would prohibit gillnets and tangle nets in Oregon inland waters.

The governor says his plan, which would be phased in more gradually, is a better alternative, but commercial fishermen say it would be a death sentence for their industry.

The Wahkiakum Marine Resources Committee was created in 2010 to restoring and protecting marine resources. Its 14 members include state and local and federal officials and three commerical fishermen.

Cathlamet Mayor George Weyrfritz, a member of the Wahkiakum committee, said the Cathlamet Channel proposal has already been submitted to the bi-state group.

The Cathlamet Channel could be used to test tangle nets, recovery boxes, reef nets and seines, according the Wahkiakum committee. Those techniques are alternatives to gillnets that minimize harm to wild fish, which must be released.

Deep River has been a good place for coho for existing commercial off-channel fisheries, but spring chinook haven’t done well there.