Applicant: Make trap decision based on facts


September 30, 2021

Following Wahkiakum County Planning Commission's rejection last Thursday of a permit to build a pound net fish trap in the Columbia below Cathlamet, applicant Blair Peterson had a request for the county board of commissioners:

"Please make your decision based on facts and law," Peterson asked the county board on Tuesday.

Cathlamet resident Peterson and Kurt Beardslee of the Wild Fish Conservancy are listed as applicants for a shoreline management permit to construct the trap along Hunting Island downriver from Cathlamet. Peterson has already constructed a trap upstream from Cathlamet, and it has been the focus of research on survival of salmon species caught in the trap.

In a raucous meeting last Thursday (see related story in this issue), the planning commission voted to reject the permit application. The county commission has the final decision at the local level, and the application will go to the board of commissioners for their review and action sometime in October.

Peterson commented that opposing comments at the planning commission meeting were based on personal dislike and animosity.

"Your call," he said to the county board, "is to make a decision based on facts, not your personal point of view.

"Ask them why they said no; they have to show you what is wrong."

County commissioners agreed that they wanted to have facts before making their decision and that they wanted the issue placed on coming meeting agendas.

"I have no information on why that board did what they did," said Commissioner Dan Cothren. "That's the knowledge we need to vote on this thing."

"If you have followed all the rules, that's kind of what we have to go by," Cothren commented later.

Fishery managers from the US and Canada strongly support the proposal because Peterson's first trap, in permanent location, since 2013, has provided a wealth of information.

Through trial and error, Peterson has learned the best way to hang the netting that guides fish into the trap; they've learned how to identify and safely separate the hatchery and naturally spawning fish. They've learned much about the migration patterns of different varieties of salmonids. They learned that location is important: The present location is ideal for steelhead trapping; the proposed site is thought to be ideal for trapping Chinook salmon.

And they've learned that they can release the wild fish protected under the Endangered Species Act with nearly no mortality.

The knowledge gained from the trap can help fishery managers set harvest openings for both commercial and recreational fishers that will have the least impact on endangered runs, Peterson said.

In May, the director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced approval of the "Emerging Commercial Fishery" which would legalize the commercial use of traps on the Columbia and begin a rule making process for the future fishery and develop a plan to support commercial fishers interested in transitioning to it.

According to a WDFW website report on the 2020 trap fishery, "steelhead, non-adipose clipped Chinook and non-adipose clipped coho are released alive immediately after biological data have been collected. Adipose-clipped Chinook and adipose-clipped coho are retained and sold by WDFW to offset costs of conducting test fisheries. If a mortality occurs of a non-retainable fish, it is donated to a local food bank."

Peterson leases the trap to WDFW. He earns no money from fish that are sold.

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