The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last week released a determination of non-significance under the State Environmental Policy Act that says development of a new commercial fishing area along the lower Columbia River's north shore at Cathlamet will likely not have a significant adverse impact on the environment.
The WDFW's main purpose, the document says, is to find an area to raise and release juvenile hatchery spring chinook salmon so that, upon their return from the ocean, commercial fishing seasons can be set to collect those adult hatchery fish without negatively impacting wild salmon runs.
The proposed addition to an existing set of select areas is part of plans adopted by the states of Oregon and Washington to ultimately eliminate most gillnet commercial fishing on the Columbia downstream of Bonneville Dam.
The idea is to concentrate gillnetting efforts in off-channel areas that are seldom used by wild salmon and steelhead, which include some 13 wild stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The incidental catch of such wild stocks limits recovery efforts.
The Washington proposal envisions installing in-river rearing pens at Cathlamet to acclimate 250,000 spring chinook salmon during the late winter and spring before their release. Those fish would then swim to the Pacific Ocean, with a certain share growing to maturity and homing in on that release site upon their return as adults to spawn.
The determination says the WDFW will not act on the proposal for 14 days, giving other agencies, affected tribes, and members of the public time to comment on the proposal. The comment deadline is Sept. 4.
New policy directives adopted last fall by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and in January by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission aim to enhance opportunities for commercial gillnetters in areas off the mainstem.
The new Oregon fishing guidelines for the Columbia River mainstem are being challenged in the state's Appeals Court by commercial fishing interests. The new policy calls for increases in artificial production acclimation at off-channel sites to offset the loss of commercial fishing opportunities in the mainstem Columbia River for Washington and Oregon commercial fishers and through that process reduce impacts on wild, listed fish. Select area commercial fisheries occur in off-channel areas and target coho and chinook returning from net-pen and hatchery releases at these sites.
These fisheries were initiated in 1962 with the adoption of coho salmon seasons in Youngs Bay at Astoria, Ore. Fall select area fisheries have occurred at Deep River in Washington and at Tongue Point/South Channel, Blind Slough/Knappa Slough and Youngs Bay since 1996. All are areas located in the lower Columbia River estuary.
Select area chinook landings were excellent in 2012; the total catch of 23,720 fish was the highest since 1993 and can be attributed to an excellent select area bright return that again exceeded the preseason expectations and the first year of age-3 adult tule fall chinook from releases from Oregon's Klaskanine Hatchery.Total coho harvest of 15,354 was about one half of the preseason expectation and 26 percent of the recent 10-year average.
The environmental checklist for the DNS prepared by the WDFW said that test fishing was conducted in the Cathlamet Channel area in spring and early summer of both 1994 and 1995 to evaluate the presence of ESA-listed fish. The first year showed one in 18 fish passing through the channel was listed; no fish were detected in the second year.
Test fishing was also conducted from March 28-May 20, 2013, and indicated a much lower catch rate in the bottom portion of the Cathlamet Channel where the net pens will be located as opposed to the top part of the channel where it meets the Columbia River. This is a positive indication that harvesting can be conducted in the immediate area of the net pens with reduced interactions with ESA-listed fish.
The environmental checklist also gives a relatively clean bill of health for what would be, to some degree, a fish farm, though of small scale.
" The fish capacity and waste production of net pens are designed and placed in areas that would create minimal impacts on the surrounding environment," the checklist says. "Sites are selected on a variety of conditions, including water depth, flow, velocity, exposure to weather, access and probability of attracting returning adults. Continual movement of water through the net pen area allows waste and other detrital material produced by the fish in the net pens to be flushed and dispersed into the main body of water."
The WDFW has prepared the DNS in accordance with the State Environmental Policy Act regulation. This DNS is being circulated for review by all agencies with jurisdiction. WDFW has determined that this proposal will likely not have a significant adverse impact on the environment. Therefore, state law does not require the development of an environmental impact statement.