Decisions coming soon on Columbia salmon reforms

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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The Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions will decide in the next two months whether to implement fully in 2017 the biggest overhaul of Columbia River salmon policies in seven decades.

Reforms adopted by both states in early 2013 allocated more chinook salmon to sportsmen in the main Columbia and restricted gillnetting to off-channel sites like Youngs Bay near Astoria. The reforms also called for commercial fishing that remained in the main Columbia to be done with live-capture methods — such as purse seines and beach seines — designed to harvest hatchery stocks and release wild fish.

The reforms had a four-year transition period, which ends Dec. 31. Full implementation was to begin on Jan. 1.

But, there have been issues during the 2013-2016 transition period. The effort to stock more chinook and coho in off-channel spots, and development of new off-channel places, has met with some success, but failures, too.

Testing of beach and purse seines in the main Columbia have found much higher mortality rates of released fish than anticipated four years ago.

Washington’s commission will meet by conference call at 4 p.m. today to discuss the next steps in the policy review, said Tami Lininger, commission executive assistant.

Oregon’s commission will meet Friday in Salem to extend the transition period for a month. Oregon plans to consider rulemaking on the reforms on Jan. 20, but the delay allows time for more staff analysis and review by commission members.

Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meets Dec. 9 and 10 in Olympia.

The commission agenda calls for a staff report and public hearing at 10:15 a.m. Dec. 10 in Room No. 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E.

Washington’s tentative timetable calls for a final decision to be made Jan. 13 and 14 when the commission meets in Vancouver.

The Washington commission was briefed in early November about the four-year transition period.

In that briefing, the commission was told about the higher-than-expected mortality rates on released salmon from seines, complicating intentions to use them to replace gillnets.

Washington commission members also were told the effort to develop a new off-channel fishing location in Cathlamet Channel in Wahkiakum County has not started well.

Although the reforms adopted in 2013 are supposed to apply through 2023, commission member Jay Kehne of Okanogan County said in November a complete review is needed before going to full implementation in 2017.

“I think it’s all back on the table if the presumptions we made are not panning out,’’ Kehne said.