VANCOUVER, Wash. – Recreational and commercial fishers testified for more than three-and-a-half hours before the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission here Jan. 12 on ways to apportion the annual catch of Columbia River chinook salmon.
Previous allocation guidelines expired Dec. 31, raising the possibility that catch ratios governing sport and commercial chinook fisheries on the Columbia River could change.
Speaking at the packed meeting, recreational interests stressed the value of sport fishing to the state’s economy and quality of life. Commercial fishers emphasized the importance of their industry to waterfront communities and the consumer market.
The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), is scheduled to take action on new allocation guidelines for spring and summer chinook salmon at its Feb. 1-2 meeting in Olympia.
“Today’s testimony really brought home the importance of chinook salmon to these fisheries,” said Jerry Gutzwiler, who chairs the nine-member Washington commission. “It’s tough, because we have to look at future guidelines within the context of the conservation needs of those fish. We have an ever-increasing demand for these resources and only a finite number of salmon.”
During the public testimony, several people expressed hope that a new stakeholders group, including recreational and commercial fishers from Washington and Oregon, could help create an agreement on allocation issues. WDFW fishery managers also have been working to coordinate policy development with their counterparts in Oregon, which is also preparing to adopt new allocation guidelines.
Managing spring chinook fisheries is especially complicated, because some wild runs are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), said Cindy LeFleur, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator. To minimize impacts on listed fish, all wild spring chinook salmon must be released and incidental mortality rates for those fish in state fisheries cannot exceed 2 percent of the wild run per year, she said.
Within that 2 percent limit, 57 percent of the “incidental impacts” to wild fish were allocated to the sport fishing and 43 percent to the commercial fishery under the allocation policy in effect from 2005-07. In terms of the actual catch, the sport fishery took 66 percent of the harvestable salmon and the commercial fishery 34 percent.
“The goal in the spring chinook fishery is to target hatchery salmon and avoid impacts on wild fish,” LeFleur said. “Through conservative management, we’ve held average impacts on wild fish to a average of 1.6 percent for the past six years.”
Managing the summer chinook fishery is more straight-forward, because none of those stocks are listed under the ESA, LeFleur said. Most of the catch goes to sport and tribal fishers above Priest Rapids Dam, with the remainder divided equally between anglers and commercial fishers under the allocation policy previously in effect below the dam.
The public hearing on chinook allocations was held on the second day of a two-day commission meeting, where the panel also:
- Reclassified the bald eagle as “sensitive” – rather than “threatened” – under the state’s list of endangered, threatened and sensitive species. This reflects the bird’s increasing abundance in Washington state, and mirrors a similar action on the federal level.
- Established new eligibility qualifications for the Master Hunter Program, which assists WDFW in wildlife management.
- Received a briefing on the status of wolves in Idaho from representatives of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and a member of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
For additional information on the commission’s schedule and activities, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/com/comintro.htm.