OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will have more flexibility in managing the commercial fishery for spring chinook salmon that gets under way later this month or in early March on the Columbia River.
Meeting Feb. 4-5, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission increased the maximum amount of wild winter steelhead that could be caught inadvertently during the commercial salmon fishery from 2 percent to 4 percent of the total run.
WDFW fishery managers, who requested the change, said they hoped to hold the bycatch of wild winter steelhead well below that level.
In other action, the Commission approved new rules pertaining to sport fishers bringing fish caught in Canada back to Washington state and adopted some minor changes to sportfishing rules for the 2005-06 season.
The Commission's action on the incidental catch issue followed a determination by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that a commercial bycatch of up to 6 percent of the wild winter steelhead returning to the Columbia River would not jeopardize recovery of those runs, many of which are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
By law, no wild steelhead can be retained by commercial or recreational fishers on the Columbia River or its tributaries.
Commission Chair Ron Ozment said the 4 percent ceiling on the commercial bycatch will help WDFW avoid an early closure of the commercial salmon fishery while holding the incidental catch of wild steelhead below the ESA threshold approved by NOAA.
"Obviously, the Commission would rather see no wild steelhead taken during the fishery," Ozment said. "But we, like the department, have a responsibility to maintain viable fisheries as well as viable fish populations. This action is designed to strike a balance between those two responsibilities, with a clear intent to take another look at the situation next year."
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to consider the same issue Feb. 11.
In the past two years, the incidental catch of wild winter steelhead by Washington's commercial fleet has been 1 percent or less during the spring chinook fishery, said Jeff Koenings, WDFW director. All vessels are required to have "recovery boxes" on board to revive fish caught unintentionally, he said.
"There are times, however, when the incidental catch starts to rise, and there are still plenty of spring chinook remaining to be caught," Koenings said. "Clearly, we want to hold the incidental catch as low as possible, but the Commission's action gives us the flexibility we need to make the best possible decisions."
With regard to bringing fish caught in Canadian waters into Washington, Ozment said the new rules are designed to accommodate vacationing sport fishers while also protecting wild salmon stocks in northern Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
"On one hand, we want to make sure anglers who vacation in British Columbia can bring home their catch," Ozment said. "On the other hand, we don't want to encourage people to run their boats into Canadian waters - where the rules generally aren't as protective of wild salmon - and then bring those freshly caught fish into Washington."
To address these issues, new rules approved by the Commission will:
- Allow anglers to land salmon that has been caught in Canadian waters in Washington ports that is frozen or heat processed (kippered, smoked, boiled or canned). Anglers are advised to check Canadian regulations to make sure they are in compliance.
- Require anyone possessing food fish or shellfish caught in Canadian waters to have a valid Canadian sport fishing license and catch record card when entering state waters or a Washington port.
- Prohibit anyone boating in state waters or entering Washington ports from possessing or delivering fresh salmon caught in Canada unless those fish meet the state's salmon regulations for that marine area. An exception is made if the vessel operator has a customs clearance number obtained while moored at a Canadian customs dock in one of five Canadian ports: Ucluelet, Victoria, White Rock, Sydney and Bedwell Harbor.
In addition, the Commission approved a variety of minor changes to 2005-06 sport-fishing rules that include:
- Adding Dolly Varden and bull trout to the list of species that may not be totally removed from fresh waters unless it is legal to retain them. An exception was made from the portion of the Columbia River downstream of the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line.
- Making it illegal to take, fish for, or possess Pacific, western brook and river lamprey statewide.
- Closing the area within 500 yards of the Toliva Shoal buoy near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to fishing for food fish or game fish during most of the year. An exception was made for the period from May 1 to June 15, although any rockfish must be released.
- Limiting anglers to one single-pointed barbless hook when fishing for sturgeon.
- Opening all marine areas of Puget Sound to shrimp fishing on the first Saturday in May along with a number of other regulations for specific areas.
These and other new fishing regulations will appear in the 2005-06 Fishing in Washington pamphlet.