States, tribes differ on Columbia fish recovery

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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It’s no secret the treaty tribes and the states of Washington and Oregon don’t see eye-to-eye on the reforms coming to the lower Columbia River, including making sport fishing the priority and moving gillnets into off-channel areas.

We know this because, when Oregon adopted the changes in early December, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission released a statement blasting Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Paul Lumley, executive director of the commission, said the changes were adopted “without a complete and thoughtful analysis of the effects on the entire main stem and ocean fisheries management.’’

The reforms “essentially reallocates a scarce resource with no demonstrated benefits for rebuilding natural spawning runs,’’ Lumley said. “Cooperation and partnership will rebuild salmon populations, not fighting over allocation.’’

On Saturday, Miranda Wecker of Naselle, chair of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, voiced a different view.

“I hope to see the day when our co-managers come to agreement with us,’’ Wecker said. “We should all be moving toward more and more selective fisheries, reducing release mortality of all of our fisheries, leaving wild fish to survive and removing excess hatchery fish.’’

Wecker said Monday her comments were not directed at any of the tribes in particular and that she was unaware of Lumley’s statement.

“It was not any kind of a signal,’’ she said. “It was an expression of my own personal hope.’’

Wecker said she strongly agrees with the practice of selective fisheries, where only hatchery fish are kept and wild fish are released.

Research shows fewer hatchery fish on the spawning grounds results in more spawning by wild fish, which are more productive and leads to recovery of the wild stocks sooner, she said.

“It doesn’t make sense in every case, but it’s the path to the future in many circumstances,’’ Wecker said.

The states and tribes have agreed not to agree on some topics, she added.

But the new Columbia River policy meets the non-Indian obligations of the U.S. v. Oregon court arrangement, Wecker said,

The Columbia River treaty tribes have repeatedly expressed concern that the mass fin-clipping of salmon and steelhead and mark-selective fisheries are not an effective means of restoring wild fish.

They point to the failure of mark-selective fisheries for steelhead, which have been implemented for more than 25 years, to recover Endangered Species Act-listed steelhead populations.  

The tribes argue that selective fisheries distract attention from the causes of salmon and steelhead declines such as habitat damage and divert valuable resources away from restoration efforts

Allen Thomas covers fishing, hunting, hiking, natural resources and other outdoor topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555 or al.thomas@columbian.com, or at P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, 98666.