The Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy was adopted last January after Oregon Governor Kitzhaber requested a meeting between Oregon and Washington commissions to set up management reform on the Columbia River. A transitional period has been set on the river for the years 2013 to 2016 where alternative gear is being tested in hopes of catching more hatchery fish and ensuring a lower mortality rate for the wild ones while remaining economically viable for gillnetters.
“It is a work in progress,” Norman said repeatedly.
Gillnetters have to consider whether to move forward and purchase seining equipment or hold off and wait and see.
“At a Rainier meeting you guys came up with a $90,000 dollar catch for next year,” said local fisherman Terry Ostling. “If there are only 10 boats that’s $9,000 to the boat average. It will cost $50,000 for a boat, $15,000 for a seine, $2-3,000 for a decent skiff, and a four man crew to pay. Then you can’t just insure the boat, you have to insure it for the year. That’s $12,000, minimum.”
“And then he talks about if you don’t catch you can be removed from this once you’ve bought the gear,” continued Ostling. “This is a new fishery that I’ve never seen before in my life. It might take five years before you learn how to do this, so how would that be fair for someone like me to go spend the money? I’ve never seined in my life. You have a fishery that works and your biggest returns on fall fish are coming back that we’ve had in decades. Now they want to force this seining down our throat.”
The commission has a lot of questions and not many answers for the fisherman. The coming North of Falcon process beginning in March is where forecasts for fishery run sizes will help determine how the commission will move forward for the year.
When asked how many experimental fishery permits that they expected to issue, Norman couldn’t give an answer.
“I’m not sure we want to get into that without knowing how many fish,” he said. “It’s a bit of a conundrum. We can’t do an analysis without all the information.”
With pressure from all sides, Norman and his commission have a difficult task in front of them.
“What a mess,” Wahkiakum County Commissioner Dan Cothren said. “I can see where the frustration is. It’s the unknown. It’s their livelihood. What is going to transpire out of this whole thing?”
“The presumptive path,” said Norman, “assumes that the seine gear can replace the big piece of the commercial economy that gillnets are providing right now. In 2016, there will be an evaluation of this progressive transition. And in my mind that’s one of the main issues that has to be addressed. The seine gear has to be successful and the conservation objectives have to be met. If this happens, the presumptive path says that all gillnets may be in the off channel in 2017.”
At least for this year, most fish designated for commercial harvest will go to gillnetting, but the commission will continue to commit to more seine fishing to ascertain its viability in coming years.