OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved new allocation guidelines for this year's spring chinook salmon season on the lower Columbia River that favor recreational fisheries.
In a late-afternoon conference call, commissioners voted 5-3 with one abstention to modify the formula used to allocate the incidental catch of wild spring chinook salmon between non-tribal sport and commercial fisheries during the past two seasons.
"This was a tough decision, because the spring chinook fishery is important to both sport and commercial fishers," said Jerry Gutzwiler, who chairs the nine-member commission that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Because a portion of the wild spring chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), recreational and commercial fishers may only retain marked, hatchery-reared fish. Standing rules limit mortality for wild spring chinook incidentally intercepted and released in those fisheries to 2 percent of the total run.
Within that 2 percent limit, the new one-year allocation policy adopted by the commission allocates 65 percent of the incidental mortality rate to the recreational fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery.
That formula is expected to increase fishing opportunities for sport fishers and reduce those for commercial fishers compared to the previous guidelines, which allocated 57 percent of the incidental impacts on wild fish to the sport fishery and 43 percent to the commercial fishery.
In a previous vote held last week, commissioners split 4-4 on a proposal by Commissioner Conrad Mahnken that included the new allocation formula. Commissioner Chuck Perry, who was absent for that meeting, voted with the majority today and Commissioner Miranda Wecker abstained.
Provision was made for members of the public to hear today's meeting via speaker phone at WDFW offices in Olympia, Montesano, Mill Creek and Vancouver, Wash.
Also today the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission met in Salem to consider the same issue. Because the Oregon commission took a different approach - defining fishing seasons rather than allocating portions of the incidental catch - the Washington commission gave WDFW Director Jeff Koenings the authority to work with fishery managers in Oregon to ensure that the two states' policies are concurrent.
A final decision on spring chinook fishing seasons is scheduled Feb. 15 during a meeting of the Columbia River Compact, which represents fish and wildlife agencies from both states.
According to pre-season forecasts, 269,300 upriver spring chinook salmon are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, which would be the third-largest run since 1977. However, returns to the Willamette River are expected to be down, which will likely constrain fishing opportunities in the Columbia River downstream from its confluence with the Willamette near the Interstate 5 Bridge.