OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has scheduled a conference call Friday (Feb. 8) to take action on new allocation guidelines for the Columbia River spring chinook fishery.
Members of the public interested in hearing their discussion can do so via speaker phone at 5 p.m. at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) offices in Olympia, Montesano, Mill Creek and Vancouver, Wash.
Addresses for those offices are available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/reg/regions.htm on WDFW’s website. No public comments will be taken at Friday’s meeting.
The conference call was scheduled after commissioners split 4-4 on a proposal made by Commissioner Conrad Mahnken at a public meeting Saturday (Feb. 2) that would change allocation guidelines for this year’s spring chinook fishery on the lower Columbia River in favor of recreational fisheries.
Commissioner Chuck Perry was absent from that meeting, but all nine members of the commission are expected to participate in the conference call. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is also scheduled to take up the same issue Feb. 8 in Salem.
“This is a tough issue,” said Jerry Gutzwiler, who chairs the commission. “On one hand, we’re seeing more and more anglers fishing for spring chinook every year. At the same time, those fish fetch top dollar for the commercial fishery. It’s a real balancing act.”
Because a portion of the spring chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), both recreational and commercial fishers must release any wild spring chinook salmon they incidentally intercept. Standing rules limit mortality for wild spring chinook intercepted and released in state fisheries to 2 percent of the total run.
Within that 2 percent limit, Mahnken’s proposal would allocate 65 percent of those incidental mortalities to the recreational fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery.
That formula would provide more fishing opportunities for sport fishers and fewer for commercial fishers than under the 2005-07 guidelines, which allocated 57 percent of the incidental impacts on wild fish to the sport fishery and 43 percent to the commercial fishery.
While Washington commissioners deadlocked on the issue of spring chinook allocations, they did approve catch guidelines for the Columbia River summer chinook fishery along with more than 70 new sportfishing rules for waters around the state at a public meeting Feb. 1-2 in Olympia.
By a unanimous vote, commissioners extended previous catch guidelines for healthy summer chinook stocks by one year. As in the past two years, the portion of the summer chinook run available for harvest below Priest Rapids Dam will be divided equally between anglers and commercial fishers.
In addition, the commission adopted a variety of new sportfishing rules for waters around the state. Rule changes approved for the 2008-09 season include:
- Separating limits for largemouth and smallmouth bass statewide.
- Allowing anglers to purchase additional catch record cards for hatchery steelhead.
- Closing clam and oyster beaches that are designated as polluted and pose a risk to human health.
- Making season and area adjustments to protect listed bull trout and steelhead stocks.
- Adding wild steelhead to the list of species prohibited from being part of a fishing tournament.
The commission also approved another fishing rule – contingent on similar action by Oregon fishery managers – to change the size measurement for sturgeon from total length to fork length effective Jan. 1, 2009.
Summaries of the rule changes, as adopted, will be available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/rule_proposals/index.htm by mid-February.
The commission also held a public hearing on the steelhead management plan, proposed by WDFW fish managers as a framework for statewide restoration efforts. Issues addressed in the plan include natural and artificial production of steelhead, fisheries management, habitat restoration, enforcement, monitoring and education.
Several members of the public who testified on the steelhead plan called for specific changes in the 217-page document before a scheduled vote by the commission at its March 7-8 meeting in Olympia.
“We’ve asked WDFW staff to look into their recommendations before we consider adoption of the plan next month,” Gutzwiler said.
For more information about the proposed statewide steelhead plan, see WDFW’s website http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/steelhead/index.htm.
On other issues, the commission assumed authority for approving a conservation and management plan for gray wolves now being developed by a citizen working group, and received a briefing on proposed changes in state mineral prospecting rules.