Washington sets process for shifting gillnetters to off-channel areas

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Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission on Wednesday took its initial steps toward shifting the gillnet fishery in the lower Columbia River to off-channel areas.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, briefed the panel on Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposal, which includes boosting salmon production in side bays to benefit the commercials.

Kitzhaber’s plan is a reaction to Measure 81 on Oregon’s November ballot, which would ban gillnets and tangle nets in Oregon inland waters. It would allow commercial fishing with seine nets.

Kitzhaber’s plan shifts the gillnets to off-channel areas such as Youngs Bay in Oregon and Deep River in Washington between 2013 and 2016.

Selective (hatchery-fish only) sport fisheries would be the primary way of harvesting salmon and sturgeon in the main lower Columbia, Norman said.

Currently, there are four off-channel sites. Norman said work needs to be done to expand the boundaries of the areas and find new locations in Washington.

Washington’s commission agreed Wednesday on a process for working with Oregon on the details of the off-channel plan.

A sub-committee of three commission members — Conrad Mahnken of Bainbridge Island, Rollie Schmitten of Lake Wenatchee and Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon — will meet with three Oregon commission members on the topic.

Washington and Oregon each will appoint four citizen members to join with the commissioners in attempting to develop a consensus for the switch.

The working group will meet Sept. 21 in Olympia and, probably, Oct. 18 in Portland or Salem. The public will be allowed to attend the meetings.

Washington’s commission plans to allow public comment on the change at its Oct. 5-6 and Nov. 2-3 meetings and could make a decision at its Dec. 14-15 meeting. All are in Olympia.

The full nine-member Fish and Wildlife Commission, not the subcommittee, will make the final decision, said Miranda Wecker of Naselle, commission chair.