OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in a meeting here today directed state fishery managers to negotiate rules for next year's Columbia River spring chinook commercial fishery that set a maximum size for tangle nets at four-and-a-half inches.
Specifically, the commission directed the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife to set commercial tangle net mesh size limits within the three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half-inch range when negotiating 2003 rules with Oregon in the Columbia River Compact. The compact, which sets commercial fishing regulations for the river, is comprised of Oregon and Washington fishery managers.
The mesh size issue was added to today's commission meeting agenda to allow the commission to recommend net sizes before Sept.1, in time for commercial fishers to order gear for the 2003 fishing season.
The new mesh size limits were sought to reduce unexpectedly high steelhead mortality that occurred in this year's experimental spring chinook fishery.
Tangle nets allow commercial spring chinook fishing to continue while reducing mortality on non-targeted species. Tangle nets consist of fine-mesh nets hung loose in the water that entangle fish rather than trapping them by the gills, allowing non-targeted species and stocks to be released safely. Tangle net mesh sizes up to 5.5 inches were allowed in the spring 2002 fishery; the largest mesh nets gilled or body-clamped up to 80 percent of the fish caught, while 3.5 to 4.5-inch mesh nets gilled or clamped only 1 percent to 10 percent. Mortality rates are higher among fish that are released after being compressed in net mesh.
In other action, the commission heard a briefing from WDFW staff on the status of chronic wasting disease testing and prevention efforts. The fatal brain disease in deer and elk has not been found in Washington, however it has been detected in wild or captive herds in nine other states and Canada.
The commission also was briefed on progress in drafting and gathering public comment on a six-year game management plan. When final, the plan will guide the state's management of Washington game species, including deer, elk, moose, black bear, cougar, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, furbearing animals, migratory and upland birds and unclassified game animals from 2003 to 2009. The comment period for the initial draft plan has been extended to Sept. 10 to allow the public additional opportunity to review and comment on the long-term plan.