The Cathlamet Town Council last Friday voted 3-1 to approve an agreement with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up net pens at the Broadway Street dock for nurturing juvenile spring chinook this winter.
Council members had reconvened a meeting recessed from September 15 on Friday. They had discussed the issue earlier but delayed action to have a clean, formal agreement to consider.
At that Monday meeting, Aaron Roberts, WDFW regional hatchery manager, explained that the department wanted to test the feasibility of having net pens in the Cathlamet channel with a goal of supporting commercial fisheries.
Council Member Wally Wright had opposed the location and wanted the pens moved. Wright, however, was unable to attend the Friday meeting.
Mayor George Wehrfritz noted that the project was a one-time pilot project, and the council would have to approve it again next year for it to continue.
"We'll have a full sense of how this has gone before we start negotiations for next year," he said.
Two commercial fishing industry representatives supported the project.
With governors of Oregon and Washington and each state's fish and wildlife commissions pushing gillnetters off the mainstem of the Columbia into side channels, "There are not a lot of options," said Skamokawa resident Kent Martin.
"I think this is the best chance to maintain some sort of spring chinook fishery here," he said. "My fishing days are pretty much over, but I want to save something for our community."
Martin added that the spring chinook fishery is very lucrative--in an 18-hour period last spring, one fish buyer purchased over $40,000 in salmon. Martin said he sold to high-end consumers at a good price.
"It boggles my mind that I can get $15 per pound for these fish," he said.
Irene Martin supported her husband's comments.
"This is a creative opportunity for the town to support the fishing community," she said. "Even if it doesn't work out, at least, we have tried it."
Council Member Dick Swart said he didn't like the location at the town dock.
"I respect the Martins, but I resent the colonialist attitude that comes out of Salem and Olympia," he said. "I think there are better locations."
"There might be, but they're not yet identified," replied Council Member Bob Rendler. "This is a trial. It's important to support the local fishing industry. "
"This is better than nothing," said Council Member Hannah Booth-Collier. "We need to go forward with something."
Rendler, Booth-Collier and Ruth Doumit voted for the agreement; Swart voted against, and it was passed.
The department plans to start moving the pens into the area in October and raise the juvenile chinook salmon over the winter. The pens will be removed next April.