Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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State eyes Cathlamet Channel as gillnet site

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter

State officials are hopeful they can open a second lower Columbia River off-channel commercial fishing location in 2016, this one in Cathlamet Channel of Wahkiakum County.

Establishing additional off-channel commercial fishing areas, where gillnets can be used, is a key component of the Columbia River fishing reforms adopted by the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commission in 2013.

Oregon has off-channel sites in Youngs Bay, Blind Slough-Knappa Slough and Tongue Point-South Channel, while Washington’s only site is in Deep River, a location which works for coho, but not well for chinook.

Washington discontinued spring chinook releases in Deep River and shifted them to Cathlamet Channel, the portion of the Columbia River between the Washington shore and Puget Island.

Between 750 and 1,500 age 4 spring chinook are anticipated to return to Cathlamet Channel this year and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would like to open a commercial season, if feasible, said Guy Norman, regional director for the agency.

Robin Ehlke, assistant Columbia River policy coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Columbia River Compact that two boats will be test fishing in Cathlamet Channel a couple of days per week from February to mid-May.

The test fishing is to determine if the spring chinook caught in Cathlamet Channel are the local, net-pen-reared salmon, or fish destined for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. Test fishing also measures the handle of steelhead.

Upper Columbia-Snake spring chinook caught in the test fishing count against an allocation set aside for research, not the commercial share.

“Washington will be interested in a (commercial) fishery in there if the test results show it is warranted,’’ Norman said.

John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife noted the states have 198 upper Columbia-Snake spring chinook set aside as bycatch to allowed for fishing in all the off-channel areas.

Harvest in the four existing off-channel areas has averaged 9,500 spring chinook in the past five years.