The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed here Saturday to implement in 2017 the most sweeping lower Columbia River salmon fishing reforms in decades, including the elimination of gillnets in the main stem of the river during spring and summer.
By a 7-2 vote, the commission decided to go ahead with implementation this year of reforms first adopted in early 2013 and phased in during a four-year transition period.
Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission will address the issue Friday, and there are indications it might not agree with Washington’s position.
“Sometimes, you have to provide leadership,’’ said Larry Cassidy Jr. of Vancouver, former chairman of the commission and former chairman of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, in urging the commission to implement the reforms.
“There’s nothing, that I know of, that swims into a gillnet that doesn’t die,’’ Cassidy said.
The commission’s new policy does allow for gillnetting during the fall chinook run in the main Columbia between Woodland and Beacon Rock during 2017 and 2018.
In a nutshell, the reforms allocate more chinook salmon to sportsmen in the main Columbia and restrict gillnetting to off-channel sites like Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough near Astoria.
The reforms also call for any commercial fishing that remains in the main lower Columbia to be done with live-capture methods — such as purse seines and beach seines — designed to harvest hatchery stocks and release wild fish.
Specifically, the reforms do the following:
• Change the allocation of spring chinook salmon from 70 percent sport-30 percent commercial to 80 percent sport-20 percent commercial. Washington’s policy does not include an Oregon proposal to allow the commercials potentially to fish in mid-May with tangle nets depending on the size of the upper Columbia run.
• Change the allocation of summer chinook from 70-30 favoring sportsmen to 80-20 favoring sportsmen. Although the commercials have a 20 percent allocation, there is no gear available currently that would qualify to allow a fishery, although eventually a method might be developed.
Summer chinook are intermingled with protected summer steelhead and sockeye, making commercial fisheries difficult. Unused commercial allocation can be transferred to sports fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam or go uncaught to increase spawning escapement.
• Change the allocation of fall chinook from 70-30 favoring sportsmen to 75-25 favoring sportsmen. Gillnets would be allowed in 2017 and 2018 between Woodland and Beacon Rock to allow the commercials to catch fall chinook from the abundant population headed to Eastern Washington, yet avoid weak populations destined for lower Columbia tributaries.
The Woodland-to-Beacon Rock fall fishery is critical to the economic viability of the commercial fleet.
Washington’s commission also called for aggressive pursuit of a program to buy out commercial license holders and a big push in cooperation with Oregon to develop alternative fishing methods to permit elimination of gillnets in the fall by 2019.
In 2019, the fall chinook allocation shifts to 80 percent to sportsmen.
About three dozen sport and commercial fishermen made their cases before the commission.
Darren Crookshanks, president of the Columbia River Fisheries Protective Union, said he spent 242 days test fishing seine gear for the states.
Seines are four times as expensive to operate as gillnets, only about 30 percent of the salmon are marked and can be kept, there is a high handle of steelhead and they conflict with sports fishermen, Crookshanks said.
“Consumers deserve access to these fish,’’ said Lori Steele, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, both supported adopting the reforms.
“I want you all to be bold,’’ Pike testified. “I want you to have a spine. I want you to do the right thing.’’
Cassidy called the decision by commission difficult, but labeled it a “watershed moment’’ on the Columbia River.
“How about we give the fish a break?” he said. “If you do that, the people will follow.’’