The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Report: Kitzhaber plan fails economic goals

Program falls short in benefits for both gillnetters and anglers


November 8, 2018

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff completed a draft evaluation of the Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy that was enacted to assure recreational anglers would receive a larger portion of the non-tribal harvest allocation of salmon and steelhead and that removed commercial gillnetters from the mainstem of the river.

The evaluation determined that the large economic benefits expected from the policy, also known as Columbia River harvest reform and orginally inspired by former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber, have not been realized. It says that alternative gear and select areas for commercial fishermen have not materialized to the extent planned and that there have been only marginal benefits from changes to the catch allocation for anglers.

In its evaluation, WDFW staff concludes that the expectations the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission had when it adopted the policy in 2013 have not been met, according to the evaluation summary.

Bill Tweit, WDFW special assistant, and Ryan Lothrop, WDFW Columbia River Fishery Manager, laid out the findings of the agency's evaluation at a commission meeting in Vancouver on Nov. 1. The one-day meeting brought together both the host Washington commission and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife commissioners.

Joining Tweit and Lothrop to talk about how the two states' policies differ (concurrency) were Tucker Jones, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Ocean Salmon/Columbia River Program Manager, and Chris Kern, Fish Division Deputy Administrator at ODFW.

Initially the two state policies were identical, but that changed in 2017 when Oregon realized the economic benefits of the policy and some of the policy promises to expand off-channel gillnetting and move to alternative fishing gear had not come to pass. Oregon continued to allow some fall fishing for gillnetters in the mainstem of the river below Bonneville Dam.

While the two state policies are very similar, here is how they differ:

Spring: The two states have more in common for spring fishing targeting spring chinook than not, Jones said. Both allocate fish 80 percent to recreational anglers and 20 percent to commercial fishermen. Where they differ is that Oregon allows the use of tangle nets in the mainstem river, but only after a run size update that would forecast a higher run than the preseason forecast. Washington does not allow mainstem gillnetting. An unused allocation from commercial fishers goes to escapement, whereas Washington doesn't speak to it.

Summer: Fishing for summer chinook, both states allocate 80/20. They differ in that Oregon allows any unused commercial allocation to go to escapement, whereas Washington transfers unused commercial catch to upriver (above Bonneville Dam) anglers.

Fall: Fishing for fall chinook, which is generally a larger run, Oregon splits the allocation 70 percent for anglers and 30 percent for gillnetters, and gillnets are allowed upstream of the Lewis River on the mainstem. The Washington allocation was 75/30 in 2018, but that changes to 80/20 next year. In 2018, gillnets were allowed upstream of the Lewis River in Washington, but they will not be allowed next year.

Coho: The two states are concurrent when it comes to coho salmon regulations under the policies.

According to Lothrop, the three most important objectives of the policy are orderly fisheries, conservation and recovery, and the economic well-being and stability of sport and commercial fisheries.

So what's working and what's not? Lothrop said the policy has a built-in conservation component as it operates within the guidelines already in place through US v Oregon. However, it still did not meet its conservation objectives largely because the targeted mark-selective commercial fisheries designed to protect tule and fall chinook salmon operated at a low level, leaving more hatchery fish on spawning grounds than had been planned.

During the evaluation period, the proportion of hatchery chinook on spawning grounds declined, but that was mostly due to the use of weirs near hatcheries that sorted and removed hatchery fish, Lothrop said.

Nonconcurrent rules between the two states can also make enforcement difficult. Both states agreed at the joint Commission meeting November 1 that concurrence between state policies is ideal, but they didn't readily commit to achieving it in 2019.

Making recreational fisheries a priority and requiring the use of barbless hooks in the fishery were successful, the evaluation says, but the commission is still working towards getting licensed guides to keep and report their catch in logbooks. Washington could decide to make barbless hooks optional in 2019.

The commercial sector is where most of the failure has been. Oregon has explored expanding select areas in the lower Columbia River, but Washington has identified just one area and then failed to develop it, and a select area at Cathlamet was abandoned due to poor smolt survival. In addition, a commercial license buy-back program was initiated but then abandoned. A new approach for the buy-back has recently begun, the summary says.

In addition, while implementation of alternative gear for commercial fishers was a key component to the policy's success, no alternative gear has been fully adopted. So far issues with alternative gear that have been tried – tangle nets, seines – include high handle of non-target species (steelhead), high release mortality rates, ESA impact limitations and high cost of the gear.

“Some commercial licensees have made notable investments to use alternate gears; to date, there has been no return from those investments,” the summary says.

The economics of the policy endeavored to “enhance the overall economic well-being and stability of Columbia River fisheries,” the summary says. That was supposed to come from the higher re-allocation to anglers, which were expected to have increased trips and days on the water, but the benefits were lower than expected.

For gillnetters, additional hatchery fish production in the off-channel select areas and the development of alternative gear was to boost the commercial catch while keeping gillnetters out of the main river channel.

The report says that the annual number of angler trips downstream of Bonneville Dam dropped, while there were lower than expected commercial landings of spring and summer chinook (some was offset by high prices for the fish). Most of the commercial value came from mainstem fisheries, while the ex-vessel value from off-channel fisheries had not increased.

While economic analysis is complicated, the evaluation concludes: “it remains apparent that the goal of enhancing the overall economic well-being and stability of Columbia River fisheries was not achieved as expected.


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019