Oregon to decide on sport-fishing closure zone

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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A nasty flare-up in the decades-long feud between Columbia River sport and commercial fishermen is expected Friday when the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission decides the future of a small but popular section of the Buoy 10 sport-fishing area.

Legislation adopted in Oregon this year requires establishment of a zone at the mouth of Youngs Bay in Astoria that is closed to recreational fishing. Senate Bill 830 says the zone is “to reduce interception of hatchery fish returning to the off-channel fishery in Youngs Bay.’’

“It’s just going to create more hate and more animosity,’’ said Robert Moxley of Dundee, Ore., a member of the bistate Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group. “It’s going to be a very bad situation.’’

The closure zone emerged during the Columbia River sport-commercial fishing reform discussions initiated by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2012.

According to the reform plan, by 2017 gillnets will be limited to off-channel sites such as Youngs Bay with seine fisheries in the main Columbia. Those off-channel sites are to be enhanced with more hatchery fish.

Sport-commercial allocations of spring and summer chinook are being shifted to the benefit of sportsmen.

The commercials asked for the Youngs Bay sport-closure zone to keep the angling fleet from catching bright fall chinook and coho at the mouth of Youngs Bay. Many of those fish are released in Youngs Bay to fuel the commercial fishery inside the Highway 101 bridge.

Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the agency will recommend to its commission that the zone closed to sport fishing include from Youngs Bay bridge on Highway 101 out to the green buoy line from Warrenton Fiber upstream to the Astoria Bridge from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15.

“Select area brights’’ are a fall chinook of Rogue River-origin released in Youngs Bay. They tend, some years, to return a bit earlier than most other fall chinook.

The first significant catches in the Buoy 10 sport fishery often are select area brights near the green buoy line between the Astoria Bridge and Warrenton Fiber.

“In the first 10 days of August, that’s where everybody fishes,’’ said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association said a fight could be avoided if the closed zone started Aug. 10 instead of Aug. 1.

“Post-Aug. 10, the fleet spreads out riverwide,’’ Rees said.

Youngs Bay is by far the powerhouse in select area (off-channel) production,’’ said Robert Sudar, a commercial fish buyer in Longview.

While spring chinook provide quite a bit of high-value harvest in the off-channel areas, a larger portion comes from the fall select area brights and coho, he said.

“More than 60 percent of the fall select area bright harvest occurs outside of Youngs Bay, the majority in the estuary, and a lot of those by sport fishermen in front of Youngs Bay,’’ Sudar said. “The bubble will help ensure that more of those fish get aback to the select areas for harvest by commercial fishermen, which is what the Kitzhaber plan clearly said should happen. That’s one of the major assumptions upon which the economic model for the plan is based.’’

As part of the Columbia reforms, Oregon is looking to enhance the off-channel fisheries for the commercials.

Nigro said that includes examining if the geographic scope of the sites at Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough can be enlarged. The state did commercial test fishing in 2013 north of the Youngs Bay bridge.

Hamilton said gillnetting in the area between Youngs Bay bridge and green buoy line amounts to putting gillnets back into the main stem of the Columbia River.

“This has really got people pretty wound up and is creating a lot of ill will,’’ she said. “There’s a lot of heartburn.’’

The commission meeting begins at 8 a.m. at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 4034 Fairview Industrial Drive S.E.