ODFW Delays Salmon Plan Until Gillnetter Suit Settled
Gillnetters file court challenge to new change in the state's gillnet fishing rules.
Commercial gillnetters have won a temporary court delay in stopping the launch of Oregon’s historic salmon management plan on the Big C but lost a round in the Oregon Senate.
Last month ODFW commissioners had planned to revisit the Columbia River salmon harvest plan to phase out commercial use of gill nets on the mainstem and provide a bigger share of fish to recreational fishers.
Now they’ve pushed that evaluation back to allow additional time for public input—primarily testimony from industrial netters.
The discussion will center on Columbia River fish management and the reform rules Oregon and Washington adopted and the fiscal impact predictions created by those rules. The new rules are being challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals by the commercial industry.
ODFW asked for the extra time “in order to address petitioners’ claims that the agency failed to comply with certain rulemaking procedures.” The court “stayed” implementation of the new salmon rules pending the outcome of the latest commercial legal arguments.
On the legislative front, SB 830 a bill that when passed will allow selective seines in the Columbia River, inched closer to passage in May when the Senate Environment and Natural Resources committee referred it out of that committee for consideration by the Joint Ways and Means committee. If passed by Ways and Means the bill will go to the governor’s desk and be signed into law.
Repealing Oregon’s old prohibition on commercial seining and allowing seines in the river as an alternative to gillnets is a critical step to implementing the new selective salmon plan banning gillnets from the mainstem. Governor John Kitzhaber testified for passage. Pro-gillnet forces unsuccessfully argued against passage. The bill is gathering bipartisan support.
Defeated in the Oregon legislature commercial gillnetters are turning to the Oregon Court of Appeals to challenge the revoutionary change in the Oregon gillnet fishing rules that would move non-selective gillnets off the mainstem to selective side channel areas with hatchery salmon in order to protect ESA listed wild salmon and steelhead and other non-targeted bycatch and that will, by 2017, allocate 80% of the allocated harvest to the recreational fishing industry.
In addition an attorney for the gillnetters has asked the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, to postpone a companion gillnet rule change decision .
On Dec. 7, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to ban the use of gillnets to catch fish on the main stem of the Columbia River, relegating the primary commercial-fishing tool to side channels and tributaries. Washington's fish and wildlife commissioners followed suit on Jan. 12 adopting similar Columbia salmon management rules, that will eliminate nonselective gillnetting on both sides of the river. Under the plan gillnets would be restricted to select side-stream areas where they could excluisvely target hatchery salmon without the high mortality bycatch inherent in mainstem gillnetting. Mainstem commercial fishing would be allowed with seines, which have a high survival rate for released salmon and steelhead. The Oregon plan is intended to protect the 13 runs of ESA listed anadromous fish which are being killed by the mainstem gillnet fishery.
The gillnet shuffle was pushed by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, to end a longstanding conflict between commercial and recreational fishermen while moving to new methods of commercial fishing. Recreational fishermen say gillnets are harmful to the recovery of endangered salmon.
The plan has infuriated commercial fishermen, who say it'll be impossible for them to earn a living by fishing only in the limited areas where they'll be allowed to use gillnets. Their petition against the new salmon plan was filed on behalf of Steve Fick and his company, Fishhawk Fisheries, as well as Jim Wells, a commercial gillnet fisherman and president of Salmon For All.
Historic Columbia Salmon Reforms Shift
Protesting Gillnetters To Selective Hatchery Zones,
The reform plan adopted by Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions has a transition period from 2013 to 2017 with a progressivly greater salmon allocations going to sport fishing, corresponding decreases in commercial allocations and huge increases in the number of hatchery salmon smolts imprinted and released in the lower river select net zones.
Also on the table is a five-fish season limit on springers in the Columbia, required barbless hooks, rubber-mesh landing nets that avoid scale damage, a sport-fishing closure zone in part of the Buoy 10 fishery, and a requirement that Oregon anglers will need to buy Columbia River endorsement stamps similar to Washington. It’s not yet clear if these options, except for the barbless hooks, will be enacted, however. The barbless requirement is in effect in both the Big C and most Washingotn-Oregon tributaries.
Key provisions include:
* Prioritizing recreational fisheries in the mainstem Columbia and commercial fisheries in off-channel areas.
* Transitioning mainstem commercial gear away from gillnets to beach and purse seines.
* Phasing out mainstem gillnets by non-tribal fishers by 2017. (Tribal gillnet fisheries are unaffected).
*To offset the commercial loss of mainstem salmon the states say they will increase the number of hatchery fish imprinted to return to off-channel select gillnet areas. An additional one million spring chinook, 920,000 coho, and 500,000 select area bright fall chinook smolts will be released annually during the transition period, and possibly increased after that.
* The sport share of mainstem salmon will be incrementally increased over the next three years. By 2017 sports will get 80 percent of the spring chinook and 100 percent of summer chinook.
* Salmon and steelhead anglers fishing in the mainstem Columbia, Willamette and some Oregon tributaries required to use barbless hooks beginning immediately.
* Impose a Columbia River endorsement stamp/fee on Oregon anglers. The endorsement fee has been required of Washington anglers for several years.
As approved by the Oregon and Washington commissions the plan steadily shifts springer allocations to favor the sport fishery until the 2017 when recreatonal fishing industry will receive 80% of the major runs.
Industrial Opposition Continues
The apparent victory for sport-fishermen and salmon-steelhead recovery is far from a done-deal, however.
The politically influential gillnetters promise to fight the new strategy in the state legislatures and are lining up support from community leaders in lower river towns, and sympathetic state representatives and senators, who bitterly oppose the changes.
It’s also possible the historic salmon plan could be targeted by upriver tribes.
Those tribes are unhappy that the governor did not consult them before publicizing his plan, contending that all fish allocation changes should be determined by regional advisory committees that oversee federal management of the Columbia fishery.
They have not indicated what action, if any, they will take, but have publicly worried that the increased sports allocation will cut into their share of fish. They have lashed out at the Oregon governor claiming that he forced the state commissioners to enact fisheries harvest reform.
“The tribes are disappointed that the Governor of Oregon responded to political pressures and forced the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to hastily approve significant changes to the lower Columbia River fisheries,’’ says Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
The reforms “essentially reallocates a scarce resource with no demonstrated benefits for rebuilding natural spawning runs,’’ Lumley adds. The tribes, he says, are more interested in rebuilding salmon populations, than “fighting over allocations.’’