Al Thomas: Anglers accused of not reporting wild handle

Commentary: Al Thomas

By Al Thomas, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Are sport fishermen liars?

Uh, perhaps I should rephrase the question.

Do spring chinook anglers in the lower Columbia River lie to fish checkers by not reporting it when they release wild fish, thus extending the season?

The plethora of Endangered Species Act limitations, tribal/non-Indian catch sharing agreements, sport-commercial allocation policies and overharvest buffers result in a catch guideline for upper Columbia-origin spring chinook.

This year, that number is 10,157. That's the sum of hatchery-origin upper Columbia spring chinook that can be kept, plus the wild fish that die in being caught and released, in the lower Columbia.

Jerry Lowe, a commercial fisherman from Westport, Wash., told the Columbia River Compact that sportsmen boast online about lying to state fish checks and encourage other anglers also to do so.

"As far as I know, Washington hasn't recognized it,'' Lowe said in Vancouver.

Guy Norman, regional manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in recent years the states have compared the estimates of wild-fish encounters in the recreational fishery with those in the commercial fishery and counts at Bonneville Dam.

"They are very close,'' Norman said. "Those are pretty accurate estimates.''

John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said a study was done comparing release rates determined by remote observation with what was reported at the boat ramp.

"For the most part, there were very similar,'' North said.

Bruce Crookshanks, a longtime Columbia River gillnetter, said he'd like to see sport fishermen subject to observer programs, as are commercial fishermen.

"Especially these guide boats,'' Crookshanks said. "I fish right beside those guide boats and when they turn them loose they float belly up the same as when I turn them loose. Very few of them swim off.''

What's fair for the commercials is fair for sportsmen, he said.

"Why can't we have some observers on the sport program and figure out what's going on out there?'' Crookshanks asked. "We have been scrutinized. We have no secrets. There are no secrets. You guys know them. You know everything there is to know about our fishery.''

He wanted more than the observation program mentioned by North.

"Watching a few boats, that doesn't, to me, compute to anything to what you've done on us. You've been on our boats for ever and ever and ever.''