Compact approves trial seine fisheries
The Columbia River Compact on Aug. 12 gave the green light to the first commercial seine fishing for salmon on the lower Columbia River mainstem since the nets were prohibited under state law by Washington in 1935 and by Oregon in 1950.
The pilot fisheries approved by the bi-state panel will involve 10 permit holders, six approved to use beach seines and four to use purse seines. They are limited to individual fish quotas (IFQ) of 500 chinook kept and 250 coho salmon kept for the beach seiners and 750 chinook and 450 coho for purse seiners.
The seine fisheries approved by the Compact on Aug. 12 are mark-selective, meaning that the seiners can only keep fish marked at a hatchery with a clipped fin. It is estimated that mark rate during the fisheries will be 36 percent for adult chinook and 61 percent for adult coho.
The permit holders must quit fishing if one of their IFQs, for chinook as an example, is met. Again, as an example, if a chinook IFQ is satisfied during a particular set, chinook retention must stop, but retention toward an unfilled coho IFQ is allowed to continue for that particular set.
“You can’t make any more sets beyond that,” the ODFW’s John North told the Compact.
They also must quit fishing when they have “handled” 360 steelhead. Steelhead cannot be kept by commercial fishers, but their capture and release results in a percentage of post-release mortality. The handle limit is intended to hold down mortalities, especially for Upper Columbia and Snake River steelhead that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Compact, which sets mainstem Columbia commercial fisheries along the Oregon-Washington border, approved up to 16 seine fisheries each being either 12.5 or 13.5 hours long starting with one Aug. 19 and ending with one Sept. 29. The first four periods are in fishing zones 1-2, from the mouth up to river mile 53.5. During the later periods fishing is open in zones 1-5, which stretches up to river mile 145.5 just below Bonneville Dam.
Lower Columbia River treaty tribes – the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama – have been critical of mark-selective fisheries such as a three-day sport fishery planned near the Columbia mouth, and the scheduled purse and beach seine fisheries.
“Mark selective fisheries have direct adverse effects on tribal fisheries, and they are detrimental to tribal efforts to appropriately use hatchery fish in our rebuilding efforts,” Bruce Jim, a Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission commissioner and treaty fisherman, told the Compact during its July 29 meeting.
Non-tribal commercial fisheries are confined to the Columbia mainstem downstream of Bonneville, while most tribal fisheries are upstream. So in a season, such as during the upriver fall chinook run when a majority of the fish are unmarked, a larger toll is taken on hatchery fish, and fewer make it upriver.
Jim and CRITFC biologist Stuart Ellis said that high mortality rates have been projected for the seine fishery.
Of the projected chinook catch of 6,000 fish during the pilot seine fisheries, an estimated 1,911 “upriver bright” fall chinook would be kept, and 2,300 unmarked URBs die after their release, according to statistical modeling done by fish managers.
“You’re killing more upriver bright fish than you are keeping,” Ellis told the Compact during its Aug. 12 meeting.
“The seine fishery appears to be a terribly inefficient and wasteful way to try to harvest clipped chinook and coho,” Jim told the Compact. “We do not understand why the states bow to pressure of various special interest groups to needlessly implement this fishery.”
The two state fishery agencies are amidst a multi-year effort to implement new harvest management strategies approved by their fish and wildlife commissions. Those policies call for a move away from the use of gillnets on the mainstem Columbia by non-Indian fishers, and a shift to alternative gears that might reduce impacts on unmarked, fish that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber initiated the effort to change management strategies that would shift more of the allowable non-tribal mainstem catch to anglers, and away from commercial fishers.
Fishery objectives for these alternative selective gear types are to provide area-specific opportunity to target abundant hatchery stocks, reduce the number of hatchery-origin fish on natural spawning areas, limit mortalities of non-target species and stocks, and provide economically viable commercial fishing opportunities.
“It’s our first year out of the blocks,” Guy Norman said at the Compact meeting. “We’ve got a lot to learn” about the use of commercial gear as alternatives to gill-nets.
The pilot fisheries this year are expected to add considerably to that knowledge base. Objectives are to determine steelhead to chinook handle ratios by gear type and zone, collect salmon catch rates by gear type during a large run year, and compare immediate release mortalities observed in this pilot fishery to those observed during previous research.