Published August 2013, THE REEL NEWS Columbia River Region Column Big C Salmon Plan
Nails Political Support
Gillnetters Vow Continued Opposition
Super Fall Chinook Fishery Starts, Upriver King Hatchery Online,
Cowlitz Salmon Boost, Sockeye Fishery Hits High Gear,
Shad Run Explodes, Couple More Billion For Salmon Recovery
and a Sea Lion Named Ray
By Terry W. Sheely
Another setback for gillnetters, another victory for sport fishermen and salmon/steelhead recovery, and another vow by industrial netters to continue fighting the über popular selective-harvest salmon management being phased in on the lower Columbia.
An Oregon senate bill approving seines and fish traps and considered key to implementing the Kitzhaber salmon plan was pushed to passage in the closing hours of the Oregon Legislature. State senate and house legislators approved the bill by substantial margins now enabling the state to ban mainstem gill net use by non-tribal industrial netters.
Oregon Senate Bill 830 was approved by an 18-12 vote. It earlier passed the House with a substantial 41-18 vote. The bill is certain to be signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, who last year initiated the changes in commercial fishing policy on the lower Big C.
The unprecedented shift in salmon management is intended to boost sport fishing business, survival of non-targeted industrial bycatch, restrict commercials to using selective gear the mainstem and gillnetting only in off-channel enhanced areas thereby protecting non-targeted wild and imperiled fish, and maintain a profitable commercial fishery that exclusively targets hatchery salmon.
The policy created by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, shifts gill-nets away from the mainstem Big C and into off-channel select areas where they will exclusively target hatchery produced fish. Once the policy takes affect, only state-approved set nets and seines, not gillnets, will be allowed in the main migration channel.The bill also increases the share of salmon allocated to sport fishing and will reduce incidental bycatch gillkills of wild, endangered and non-targeted fish. Restrictions and changes will be phased in over three years with the long-term goal of eliminating non-selective gillnets in favor of selective seines.
Commercial seines have a 95+ percent survival rate for released wild and federally protected salmon and steelhead. By contrast, gillnet bycatch mortality ranges from 30 to 50 percent.
The Oregon fishery reform, supported also by Washington fish managers, calls for enhancing off-channel gillnet sites with super-stockings of imprinted hatchery salmon for gillnetters to snag as compensation for losing the non-selective mainstem gill-net fisheries.
Sport fishers, who have been fishing selectively for years, are also given a much larger share of the lower mainstem harvest than in recent years.
A shift to commercial and sport selective harvesting is expected to greatly increase survival of non-targeted wild, endangered and imperiled fish that previously wound up as wounded or dead bycatch.
State officials and anglers see the redirected salmon harvest plan as a win-win-win proposition that will ultimately boost fishing opportunities, deliver positive economic impacts to river communities and both states, and reduce bycatch mortality on protected fish.
Gillnetters, however, are fighting the policy, arguing that the new plan will reduce supermarket salmon, financially hurt their industry and undermine local economies.
Those arguments were refuted in legislative testimony and the plan was twice approved by the ODFW Commission.
A challenge by gillnetters in the Oregon Court of Appeals claiming seines and set nets on the Columbia are outlawed making the planned gear shift illegal became irrelevant with the passage of SEB 830. The bill repeals the anti-seine/trap provisions and lets ODFW determine what gear can be used where.
The legislature bill also directs ODFW to establish a transition program and fund to subsidize commercial gear switches and create a fund to help pay for improvements and development of off-channel gillnet sites.
The money will be appropriated from legislative coffers and from a new Oregon salmon fishing permit fee of $9.75 per angler per year. Washington has imposed a Columbia enhancement fee for several years.
The bill’s Senate passage stirred quick response from gillnetters and pro-sports groups. One of those groups is Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association (NSIA).
“For years, the (ODFW) Commission and Legislature failed to act to implement harvest reform on the lower Columbia River,” pointed out executive director Liz Hamilton, adding “Kudos to Gov. Kitzhaber. He realized that there is a way to maximize the economic and social benefits of our salmon runs, and worked with both sides of the aisle, his commission and the state of Washington to make it happen.”
Oregon Trout Unlimited’s Tom Wolf says, “We want to reduce mortality on wild fish, and this is a big win for our wild salmon and steelhead stocks. Both groups endorsed subsidizing the commercials with enhancement and gear money.
“We often hear from the opposition to these changes that it will harm rural coastal communities, but that’s clearly not the case,” said Russell Bassett, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders. “The commercial industry as a whole and the consumers that purchase Columbia River salmon will actually get more fish out of it.”
Salmon reform will be implemented overtransition period, and fully implemented by 2017.
“We’re really excited about what this means for stabilizing seasons and bringing tourists to the area,” said Bob Rees, president of Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. “The more people that take up the great sport of angling, the more money being pumped into the rural Oregon economy.”
Commercial gillnetters don’t agree. They argue that the economic scenario portrayed by the state is filled with uncertainties, and fails to take a comprehensive look at the potential consequences for local communities that depend on the industry.
“If I thought it was going to work, I’d say let’s give it a shot,” said Steve Fick, owner of the fish processing business Fishhawk Fisheries, Inc.Fick and gillnetter Jim Wells earlier petitioned to state appeals court to declare the new rules illegal.
“We’re going to continue to fight it. It’s wrong,” said Fick, who described the process as “a bunch of bullies running an agenda through” without properly weighing the consequences.
Sports are quick to spot the irony in that bully accusation since until this setback industrials have enjoyed a long and entrenched dominance over legislative and ODFW management plans. Even more ironic it was gillnetters who decades ago bullied lawmakers into outlawing competing seines and traps thereby giving gillnetters exclusive commercial fishing rights on the Big C.
The tide is finally turning on the Big C.
Hot Fall King
Predictions are still holding solid for one of the best fall chinook fisheries in years.
Fall chinook fishing opened Aug. 1 and a booming run of 678,600 adults is expected to return to the Columbia-Snake rivers, and potentially an outstanding Big C fishery..
Chinook have been off limits on the mainstem Columbia since July 1 to allow so-called “summer” chinook to reach hatcheries and spawning grounds upstream of the mid-Columbia’s Priest Rapids Dam.
Beginning August 1 chinook in the river are considered fall fish, a species with different life-cycle timing and, for the most part, destinations, than the summer stock.
The preseason forecast is for a return of 678,600 adult fall chinook to the mouth of the Columbia, which would be 29 percent higher than last year’s return of525,200 and 22 percent higher than the average return 557,600.
Upriver Brights represent 82 percent of the run including 434,600 “upriver bright” fall chinook, which would be 64 percent of the projected total return.
Included in the forecast is a “Snake River wild” forecast of 31,600 fish to the mouth of the Columbia, which would be 172 percent more than last year and the highest return on record since construction of four lower Snake River dams was completed in 1975.
URBs are bound for spawning areas, hatcheries and popular sport fisheries in the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach and the Snake River, as well as Columbia tributaries like the Klickitat, Deschutes in Oregon and Yakima rivers.
Also headed up the Columbia this month are Bonneville pool hatchery “tule” fall chinook but the news is a bit grim for tules. The forecast is for only 36,300 adults, which is less than half of the 10-year average. The low count reflects reductions in production at the federal Spring Creek Hatchery.
Just Call Me
Have you heard about Ray?
That’s the name locals have given a 1200-pound sea lion that appears to have made himself a permanent home at The Dalles Marine, well above Bonneville Dam.
Ray has been dodging ODFW staffers and trappers for more than two years and shows no interest in going back downriver. And why should he? Prime salmon food comes upstream every hour. Newspapers report multiple salmon showing up with a single bite out of each one.
Ray is fat. He’s happy. He’s not moving. Hope he doesn’t call home for the rest of the family.
Upper River King
Hatchery On Line
It’s running, the Chief Joseph Hatchery is on the first page of an epic production expected to release 3 million spring, summer and fall chinook a year into the Upper Columbia.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation will operate the $50 million facility. It is designed to boost summer/fall chinook salmon for the tribe and Big C sport fishermen plus reintroduce spring chinook to the Okanogan River. Annual production estimates are for 2 million summer/fall kings and 1 million Okanogan River springers.
The project was a collaborative effort between the Colville Tribes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Grant County Public Utility District.
Shad Rack Up
Shad must not mind dams; more than 3 million gave crissed Bonneville, and moved into the Upper Columbia, Snake rivers
Theshad count of 3,414,907 has surpassed last year’s count for the entire season (which was 2.3 million) and almost double the 2012 count through June 20. Daily counts June 11-15 this year each totaled more than 200,000, though the peak of the 2013 run may have passed.
Since the late 1970s shad returns have exceeded one million fish per year, with a peak of more than six million in 2005. The shad run is from mid-May through early August at Bonneville Dam, with peak daily counts occurring in June.
This year’s count through June 20 is the fifth highest annual total at Bonneville on a record posted by the Fish Passage Center that dates back to 1947.
Dam Going Down
The East Channel dam on the Sandy River is going down.
The dam is about 750 feet long, 45 feet wide and 8 feet high and is being eliminated to improve salmon/steelhead migration, spawning and survival..
The U.S. Corps of Engineers is set to reestablish the long-clogged main channel of the Sandy near its confluence with the Columbia River, to restore historic conditions and provide more habitat benefits for protected salmon and steelhead as well as other fish and wildlife species.
Dam removal is planned to start Aug. 15 and be wrapped up by Oct. 15.
For The Cowlitz
Despite political woe-is-me debates and poor-me contentions, both legislative sides got behind sport fishermen and ponied up $650,000 in state money that will put millions of fall chinook in the mega-popular Cowlitz River.
Gotta give the sport-fishing lobbyists credit for this one. CCA, NSIA, PSA, FISHNW, ANWS, Southwest Washington Sport Fishing Guides and the Hatchery Scientific Review Group, all had a hand in convincing legislators to put aside politics and cut a check for salmon.And while we’re back-slapping, give a thank you to Senator John Braun (District 20 - Centralia), Senator Ann Rivers (District 18 – La Center) and Representative Ed Orcutt (District 20 - Kalama) who pushed this appropriation through adifficult economic environment. And one more attaboy—to all those sport fishermen who banged away at their local legislators. It made a difference. Good job all!
What the money will mean is 2 million more fall chinook in the Cowlitz River system bringing the total production to 3.5 million. That’s still less than the 5 million fall kings we fished in the good ol’ days, but twice as many as we’ve grown used to in recent years.
The $650,000 appropriation by the Washington legislature will be combined with grant money from the Columbia River recreational fishing endorsement fee.
CCA Executive Director Nello Picinich adds, “Not only will this increase in production improve fishing on the Cowlitz River, many of these fish will be harvested by recreational anglers on the lower Columbia River and offshore in places like Westport.”
The fall chinook salmon sport fishery on Cowlitz River is major economic driver for the area and one of the most popular fisheries in the state.
Good to see Dems-and GOPs stand together and stand up for our state’s billion dollar sport-fishing industry.
And A Hatchery
For WA Deschutes
And more good news a little bit north where House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan and Hans Dunshee, Chair of House Capitol Budget Committee nailed down $7.5 million in state money to begin construction of a new salmon hatchery on the Deschutes River at the foot of Puget Sound in Olympia.
This state of the art hatchery in Tumwater’s Pioneer Park is the first salmon hatchery built by WDFW in decades. It will be modeled after the Issaquah Hatchery that is a huge tourists raw and educational facility. inal cost will be in the range of $30 million. Supporters see an even bigger victory--getting this much money appropriated in tough economic times sends a message that recreational fishing is big business and sport fishermen need to be taken seriously.
When the hatchery goes on line, a date still in question, it has the potential to blow fresh life back into south Sound king fishing from Vashon Island to Olympia. Chinook fishing in this area for decades now, to be generous I’ll describe as lackluster/. Target releases are for four million fall chinook smolts to be released annually.
That’s two big wins for sport fishermen this session. Keep it going
It’s a long-way short of the lights-out sockeye fishery we enjoyed for the last two years, but the return is enough by a slim margin to prompt WDFW to open a sport-sockeye season from Priest Rapids to Chief Joseph Dam, including parts of the lower Okanogan River.
Season opened in July but won’t hit its stride until this month.
WDFW expects between 3,000 and 4,000 sockeye to be caught. Daily limit is 6 but only two can be adult sockeye over 12 inches. Barbless hooks, two pole stamp okay, CRSSE stamp and the kicker—once your daily limit is filled you have to quit fishing. No post-limit catch-and-release.
In the last month there have been two reports of striped bass in the Columbia. The carcass of a 15-pound striper was spotted by a WDFW sampler on Lyons Park Beach near Woodland.
A second striper was reported in the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam although that report has not been verified and WDFW says it’s possible the fish was a chum. Hmmm. Lot of stripes on the chum.
Stripers, an invasive alien, are fished in the Sacramento River area off San Francisco Bay and were once common in the Umpqua River and reported in other coastal rivers over the years. There have been infrequent reports of Columbia stripers but no indication that a population is residualizing. As the river warms anything is possible.
ODFW has released 25,000 tiger muskie into east-central Oregon’s Phillips Reservoir in hope they’ll munch nonnative yellow perch that are outcompeting the local trout population.
The tigers, non-breeding hybrids, are intended to help restore the once-thriving rainbow trout fishery in the reservoir near Baker City. ODFW says perch are now dominating the popular trout lake estimating the lake’s trout numbers at between 10,000 to 20,000 and perch at 1.5 million. Phillips trout average 14-16 inches.
With upward of 18,000 fall chinook expected to return to the Deschutes River, ODFW has opened sport fishing from August 1 to October 31 between I-84 and Sherars Falls. Explains ODFW’s Rod French, “the Deschutes boasts one of the healthiest wild fall chinook populations in the Columbia Basin.” Last year more than 18,000 fall kings surged upriver for the second largest return in history. This year may rival that count.
Two adult kings and five jacks (15-24 inches) a day. Bait allowed only from the upper railroad trestle to Sherars Falls.
$2.1 Billion For
And finally,a hold onto your wallets warning.NOAA Fisheries has just announced that 25 more years of salmon recovery planning will set taxpayers back a whopping $2.1 BILLION!
The 25-year NOAA Fisheries recovery plan is intended to elevate threatened coho, chinook and chum salmon and steelhead in the Lower Columbia River to sustainable levels and removal from the Endangered Species Act list.
NOAA says the plan provides a road map to recover four salmon and steelhead species that spawn and rear in the lower Columbia River or its tributaries in Oregon and Washington, according to the document’s executive summary.
Not to re-state the obvious but with $2.1 billion coming into their agency’s budget because of salmon problems does anything believe that agency is going to be in a hurry to solve that problem. Not a question.
Roughly 60 percent of the wild chinookin a remote section of the Middle Fork of the John Day River were killed by low water and a sudden spike in water temperatures.
According to Jeff Neal, ODFW fish biologist in John Day, water temperatures in the river rose from 62 degrees on June 26 to a high of 74 degrees the next day. By the first of July the water temperature on the Middle Fork had climbed to over 78 degrees. The toll was 183 kings.
“Wild adult chinook can survive temperatures as high at 80 degrees if temperatures rise slowly, but a sudden increase of 12 to 15 degrees is just too much for them,” Neal explained.
The solution: less grass, more trees and deeper pools.