OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today voted to continue its previous allocation policy for spring chinook salmon fisheries on the Columbia River through the 2007 season, while tightening the limit on incidental interceptions of wild winter steelhead.
The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), also approved a new type of big-game permit and issued hunting permits to a private landowner under the state’s new hunter-access program.
Selective fishing rules have been in effect for spring chinook fisheries on the lower Columbia River since 2001, requiring anglers and commercial fishers to release any wild salmon or steelhead they intercept.
Mortality rates for released wild chinook salmon cannot exceed 2 percent of the annual run, under fish protection rules established by NOAA-Fisheries under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The spring chinook policy approved today, like that in effect for the past two years, would allocate 60 percent of the allowable mortality rate to the sport fishery and 40 percent to the commercial fishery.
The commission also delegated WDFW Director Jeff Koenings to meet with his counterpart in Oregon and reconcile that policy with one approved earlier this month by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The Oregon commission, which jointly manages the fishery with Washington, voted earlier this month to allocate 55 percent of incidental wild chinook mortalities to the sport fishery and 45 percent to the commercial fleet. However, it also authorized its director to approve a 5 percent shift in either direction.
Fisheries managers from both states are scheduled to meet Jan. 26 as part of the Columbia River Compact process to set spring chinook fishing seasons for 2006.
Before voting on the chinook-allocation policy, the nine-member Washington commission heard testimony from more than 60 recreational and commercial fishers, many of whom spoke about the importance of the fishery to their lives and their communities.
“It’s tough to apportion fishing opportunities by fractions of a percent, but that’s the reality of modern fisheries,” said Ron Ozment, commission chair. “On the plus side, we are able to provide access to thousands of hatchery-reared spring chinook salmon while maintaining ESA protection for wild runs.”
As part of the new spring chinook policy, the commission also approved a 2 percent cap on mortality rates for wild winter steelhead inadvertently caught in commercial and recreational spring chinook fisheries on the lower Columbia River.
Last year, after five years of steady improvement in steelhead runs, the commission recommended a 2 percent limit with flexibility for fishery managers to allow incidental mortalities of up to 4 percent. However, that flexibility was never used, because steelhead returns took a downturn during the 2005 season and are not projected to show significant improvement this year.
In other action at its Jan. 13-14 meeting, the commission:
- Approved permits for a limited number of deer and elk hunters to participate in archery, muzzleloader and modern-firearm general hunting seasons in the same year. Hunters, however, are still limited to one deer and elk each year. Interested hunters need to apply for the special permits. Once selected, the permit will cost the hunter $150, in addition to the regular license fee.
- Approved hunting permits for a special hunt opportunity in Grant County. Under the adopted rule, the landowner will open his lands to hunters. A portion of those permits are reserved for licensed hunters who will be drawn at random by WDFW. The landowner also can sell hunters the opportunity to use a portion of the special permits on his lands
- Adopted a rule that requires a state license to commercially harvest shellfish from tidelands not owned by the state. The rule, which requires commercial harvesters to record their catch, closes a gap in catch accounting that may provide an avenue for poached shellfish to enter the marketplace.
- Designated the streaked horn lark and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly as endangered species, and the Mazama pocket gopher as threatened on the state list of threatened and endangered species. The commission also removed from the list the Aleutian Canada goose, which has steadily recovered.
- Approved the acquisition of 5,144 acres of land in Kittitas County to connect other wildlife areas providing habitat for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, chukar and quail. Skookumchuck Creek, which runs through the property, also supports Columbia River steelhead.