Commissioners, planners discuss concerns for proposed fish trap


October 7, 2021

The debate over the proposed location of a second fish trap in the Columbia near Cathlamet continued this week at the meeting of the county board of commissioners.

In September, the county planning commission voted to deny the application for a shoreline development permit without listing reasons. County commissioners invited planning commissioners to this week's meeting to learn what the objections might be. The county commission will take formal action on the permit application at a subsequent meeting.

Planning commissioners on Tuesday said they were concerned that the trapping program goal is to legalize traps, which were outlawed in the 1930's as a salmon conservation measure. They added that the first trap, also called a pound net, was approved under a temporary program but has become permanent. The trap could also interfere with recreational use of the river and overall will have a detrimental impact on the public interest.

Permit applicants commented that the first trap has produced valuable research on salmonid migration and the structure's impact on survival of fish going through the trap.

Many Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead stocks are endangered species which spawn in their native rivers and which are protected from harvest. They mix with hatchery fish which are raised for harvest by commercial and recreation fishers, and harvests are restricted by potential impact on the endangered fish. Trap operators said they have developed techniques to identify protected fish and release them at a survival rate much higher than netted or hooked fish.

Applicants said that by locating a second trap in the proposed location, they'll be able to learn more about migration patterns of the different salmon stocks.

Kessina Lee, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regional director, said the department director has authorized development of alternative gear for commercial fishing, and the results of the trapping program are promising.

"We're interested in the additional research that could come from the pound net," she said.

Charlene Hurst, WDFW Columbia River Management Lead, said the decision to legalize traps would be made by the state legislature, and the information gathered in the trapping studies would be used for that decision making process.

"We still have a lot of questions," she said.


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