Washington discusses tangle-net chinook fishery

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday deliberated — but took no vote — on whether a commercial tangle-net spring chinook salmon fishery would be acceptable this year in the lower Columbia River.

Washington and Oregon have slightly different polices for managing the Columbia River, the result of the Columbia River reforms process that began in 2013 and go into full implementation this year.

Jim Unsworth, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Curt Melcher, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, have been delegated authority to negotiate the differences, but the talks are not concluded.

Washington’s policy does not allow for a tangle-net fishery for spring chinook in the main stem of the Columbia.

Oregon’s policy allows tangle-net commercial fishing, only after the May update of the upper Columbia-Snake spring chinook forecast and only if the commercials have enough Endangered Species Act allowances remaining on their allocation.

Jim Scott of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the commercials have used 302 of their 610 fish allocation of upper Columbia-Snake chinook in off-channel fisheries.

Tangle nets are small-mesh gillnets that capture the fish by tangling in their teeth, not in the gills. The states contend that more than 80 percent of spring chinook released from tangle nets survive, allowing for seasons that harvest hatchery-origin fish while letting wild salmon survive.

State, federal and tribal biologists are not close to completing a run forecast update. This year’s spring chinook passage at Bonneville Dam is the latest on record.

The lateness could be due to the high and cold streamflows since March in the Columbia River.

The lateness also could be due to the spring chinook run being far short of the 160,400 forecast. However, indications from test net fishing and the sport catch in the lower Columbia prior to the early season closing on April 23 are that there is a good number of spring salmon holding in the river.

Daily counts at Bonneville Dam have lagged all spring, but went from 540 on Tuesday to 4,057 on Thursday.

Bob Kehoe, a Washington commission member from Seattle, said Friday he was not proposing moving forward with a tangle-net season yet, but if the numbers are sufficient Washington commercial fishers should know if a fishery is even on the table for them.

Kehoe said Oregon side commercial fishermen know they will have a tangle-net season if the numbers are right.

Miranda Wecker, a commission member from Naselle, said she in not in favor of a tangle-net season for spring chinook, especially with so much uncertainty over the strength of the spring run.

Washington’s policy is to move nets off the main stem of the Columbia, which has many salmon and steelhead stocks co-mingled, and into off-channel areas enhanced with hatchery salmon, Wecker said.

Commission members agreed that to take a position would hamper Unsworth’s ability to negotiate over the range of issues with Melcher.

Commission member Kim Thorburn of Spokane said she’d still like to have the Washington and Oregon commissions meet face-to-face. Commission member Larry Carpenter of Mount Vernon said lining up the schedules of the two commissions has proven difficult.