Sunday, May 16, 2021
May 16, 2021

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Sportsmen, commercial fishermen disagree over Columbia River reforms

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter

Three years ago, Washington and Oregon adopted the most sweeping reforms of lower Columbia River sport and commercial fishing policies since the 1930s.

Saturday, in Vancouver, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission was told:

• By sportsmen, that the reforms are working and eventually the Columbia can be a world-class fishery rivaling Alaska.

• By gillnetters, that the reforms have serious flaws, promises made to the commercial fishing industry are not being met, and revisions are needed.

Jumpstarted by then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, the changes allocate more chinook salmon to sportsmen in the main Columbia and restrict gillnetting to off-channel sites like Youngs Bay near Astoria.

Those off-channel spots are being stocked with more chinook and coho and additional off-channel locations are being researched.

Commercial fishing that remains in the main Columbia is to be done with live-capture methods — such as purse seines and beach seines — designed to harvest hatchery stocks and release wild fish.

State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, urged the commission to stick with the reforms.

Pike said she introduced House Bill 1550 in the 2015 Legislature to prioritize sports fishing, but that the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee has blocked it.

So, the fish and wildlife commission is the best hope, she said.

“Imagine if all of those folks who fly right over Washington state to Alaska to spend all their money — vacation money, tackle money, hotel money, fishing license money — imagine if we could capture more of those in the state of Washington,’’ Pike said.

Irene Martin of Wahkiakum County said economic pledges made to the commercials three years ago are not being met.

Releases of salmon in some off-channel areas are going down, not up, she said. A new off-channel gillnet fishery in Cathlamet Channel will get its first adult fish back this spring, and there’s no guarantee it will be successful, she added.

Commercial fisherman Greg Johnson of Vancouver noted that 2016 is the final year of a four-year transition to the reforms and there are many uncertainties if the changes will work.

“Fishermen and their families are in no man’s land,’’ he said. “That’s not a good place to be.’’

Bob Rees, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, said sportsmen catch one-third the number of salmon as the commercials, yet bring five times the economic value to the local community.

“Claims of economic hardship by the gillnet industry is not supported by the facts,’’ Rees said.

Thomas Dulcich of Portland said the fall chinook runs to the upper Columbia in the past three years have been the largest since 1938, so apparently gillnetting is not a death knell.

But Gary Loomis of Woodland told about how Columbia-origin salmon planted in Chile in the 1950s now return as mostly 40- to 50-pound fish.

“For 150 years, we’ve run fish through gillnets here,’’ Loomis said. “The result is 12- to 15-pound fish. We kill the big ones, we use the little ones for brood stock year after year after year.’’

Larry Cassidy Jr. of Vancouver, former chairman of the state Game Commission and former chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, said escapement of wild salmon and steelhead to the spawning grounds is the key.

While peoples’ lives are important, ultimately the job of protecting the resource matters most, he said.

“It’s about fish and wildlife, it’s not about people always.’’