The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved in January 2013 new limits in the lower Columbia on non-tribal, gill-net fishing in the mainstem of the river as a way to reduce the impact of commercial fishing on wild salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. Oregon approved the approach in December 2012 and re-adopted the new rules in June 2013.
To make up for the loss of these commercial fisheries, both states are providing off-channel fishing for gill-netters.
The off-channel or select area commercial fisheries are part of a two-state plan to ultimately eliminate most gill-net commercial fishing downstream of Bonneville Dam because it is believed that the incidental catch of such wild stocks limits recovery efforts. Select area commercial fisheries occur in off-channel areas and target coho and chinook returning from net-pen and hatchery releases at these sites.
While the states are setting up fisheries for these areas now, the commercial fishing regulations will not go into full effect until 2017.
Oregon has three off-channel fishing sites in the lower Columbia River at Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough, all locations near Astoria, Ore. Washington has two such fishing sites at Deep River and now at Cathlamet.
In August 2013, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released a “determination of non-significance” under the State Environmental Policy Act that said development of the new commercial fishing area at Cathlamet would likely not have a significant adverse impact on the environment, clearing the way for the new net pens at Cathlamet.
The Cathlamet Channel is a 6.7 mile channel between Puget Island and the Washington mainland about 40 miles upstream from the Columbia River’s mouth.
While the only other Washington net pen fishery at Deep River, nearer to the river’s mouth, is finding some success in adult returns of coho salmon, adult returns of spring chinook had been a dismal 100 fish from a release of 350,000 juveniles.
WDFW has since shut down Deep River’s spring chinook net pens and hopes to find better success with in-river net pens at Cathlamet, according to Lisa Harlan, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s District 10 area biologist.
In January, WDFW filled 10 of the 12 floating net pens at the Cathlamet city docks with 250,000 spring chinook to become acclimated until spring when they will be released. The spring chinook originated at WDFW’s Grays River Hatchery, the same hatchery that provides coho salmon for the Deep River net pens.
Harlan expects the juveniles that will be released sometime this March through May will return as adults in the spring of 2016.
At the moment, Oregon and Washington are testing tangle nets in the mainstem, Harlan said.
Typical gill nets have an eight-inch mesh, but tangle nets have a smaller mesh and allow for better survival of wild fish when they are released from the net. Still, Harlan and WDFW aren’t sure what type of net would be required in the off-channel fishing area in the Cathlamet Channel, nor does she know the exact areas of the channel that would be open to commercial gill netting. Those issues are still being tested.
“We test-fished last year and will do that again this year,” she said. “That will provide the information and guidance about where the fishing would occur.” There are areas in the upper and lower portions of the long channel that have potential, she added, and WDFW should know that in the next couple of years. WDFW is monitoring the channel to see if stocks of salmon other than the net pen fish use the channel and could be caught in the new commercial fishery.