OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is altering its approach in its two-month stalemate with Oregon over allocating spring chinook salmon between sport and commercial fisheries on the Columbia River.
In a public meeting here Feb. 6-7, the commission voted unanimously to allow the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to work with Oregon to adopt sport and commercial fishing seasons for Columbia River spring chinook in March and April.
But the commission, which sets policy for WDFW, held the May and June portion of those fisheries in abeyance due to the disagreement with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission over catch-sharing policies.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have scheduled a Columbia River Compact hearing for Wednesday, Feb. 11, in Longview to set seasons for spring chinook fisheries in March and April. The public meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at Longview City Hall, 1525 Broadway.
Spring chinook salmon have already started entering the Columbia River, but the bulk of the run does not arrive until March and April.
“Time is running short to get fishing seasons in place for sport and commercial fisheries,” said Washington Commissioner Jerry Gutzwiler. “This approach will allow us to move forward with the season-setting process, without abandoning our principles.”
Those principles were outlined by the Columbia River Fish Working Group, which included commission members, fishery managers and citizen advisors from both Washington and Oregon. A key provision of the group’s recommendations was a catch-sharing model for spring chinook that would allocate 65 percent of the limited impacts on wild fish to the sport fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery.
But the Oregon commission voted to adopt a base allocation of 55 percent sport/45 percent commercial, then modified it to 60 percent sport/40 percent commercial.
“Our disagreement with Oregon isn’t just about an allocation formula for spring chinook fisheries,” Gutzwiler said. “It’s about the integrity of the decision-making process. The two states created the Columbia River Fish Working Group to help us find common ground on these issues, and we’re not going to just turn our backs on that joint, four-month effort.”
In a separate issue, the commission approved 26 new sportfishing rules for waters around the state, including one that changes the annual opening day of fishing on some streams from June 1 to the first Saturday in June.
Other rules adopted by the commission will change the daily limit of salmon and steelhead in the mainstem Columbia River to two salmon or two hatchery steelhead or one of each, replace the non-buoyant lure restriction with a new anti-snagging rule and create a new Marine Protected Area in a portion of Saltwater State Park.
The 26 new sportfishing rules will be incorporated into the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, which will be available statewide in early May. Additional information on those rules in currently available on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/.
The commission also adopted a North of Falcon policy that provides direction to fishery managers in defining annual salmon fishing seasons in Washington’s waters.
In other business, the commission was briefed on:
- A pilot grazing program, which uses managed livestock to maintain and enhance habitat conditions for wildlife.
- Timber salvage and thinning operations in 2008 at the Olympic and Johns River wildlife areas.
- Salmon management, including hatchery production, in the Grays Harbor watershed.
- Eyes in the Woods, a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to fish and wildlife stewardship.
Commissioners also agreed to meet weekly via teleconference to discuss measures pending before the state Legislature. The public may listen to those meetings, tentatively scheduled at 8:30 a.m. each Friday, via speakerphone in the Commission Office at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources Building, 5th floor, 1111 Washington Street SE, Olympia. No action will be taken and no public input will be accepted during those meetings.
Seven people currently serve on the commission. Two positions are vacant, including a seat previously held by Shirley Solomon, whose appointment expired Dec. 31. For more information about future commission meetings, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html.