OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife commission today approved a new management policy for Columbia River spring chinook salmon designed to promote conservation of wild fish while providing stability for sport and commercial fisheries.
The new five-year policy is consistent with catch-sharing provisions recommended by a joint subcommittee of the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions, while also providing some additional early-season commercial fishing opportunities sought by the Oregon commission.
But with differences remaining between the policies adopted by the two states, the commissions must still find common ground on several issues before they can develop new regulations for the jointly managed fishery.
Both states’ commissions based their new management policies on objectives recommended by the Columbia River Fish Working Group, a bi-state panel that includes three commission members, two fishery managers and several citizen advisors from each state. Those objectives call for providing:
- A conservation "buffer" to maintain a low risk of exceeding impact limits on wild salmon listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
- A high probability of an uninterrupted 45-day sport-fishing season on the lower Columbia River in March and April.
- 25 percent of the sport fishery’s allowable impacts to fisheries above Bonneville Dam.
- A stable commercial fishery in off-channel "select areas" such as Deep River in Washington and Youngs Bay in Oregon.
- Commercial fishing opportunities in the mainstem Columbia River in March and April.
- Sport and commercial fishing opportunities in May if the run is large enough.
Because the upriver spring chinook run includes wild fish listed for protection under the federal ESA, the fishery is managed under rules that limit mortality rates for wild fish from .05 percent to 2.7 percent of the run.
Under the catch-sharing policy recommended by the bi-state Working Group and adopted by the Washington commission, 65 percent of those limited "impacts" would be allocated to the sport fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery.
But in a departure from the Working Group’s recommendations, the policy approved by the Oregon commission in December approved a base rate of 55 percent for the sport fishery and 45 percent for the commercial fishery to boost the commercial share of the catch.
As a compromise measure, the Washington commission reconsidered the size of the early-season "buffer" - the portion of the mainstem commercial fishery that will be delayed until the size of the run can be verified by an in-season assessment. By reducing the buffer from 50 percent to 40 percent, Washington’s policy would increase the early-season commercial catch in the mainstem Columbia River by an estimated 1,400 fish.
According to a recent projection, nearly 300,000 spring chinook are expected to return to the river this year, which would make the run the third-highest on record.
Under Washington’s new policy, anglers are expected to catch 22,300 of those fish from Bonneville Dam downstream and 7,400 above the dam. For commercial fisheries, 7,800 spring chinook would be available on the mainstem Columbia River and 6,300 in off-channel select areas.
Meeting via conference call, the Washington commission also:
- Extended the previous management plan for summer chinook salmon by one year. Consistent with Oregon’s policy, that plan includes a 50-50 allocation formula for sport and commercial fisheries below Priest Rapids Dam.
- Elected Commissioner Miranda Wecker chair and Commissioner Gary Douvia vice-chair of the commission through Dec. 2010. Wecker, who has served on the commission since March 2005 and as vice-chair since January 2007, succeeds Commissioner Jerry Gutzwiler, who was elected chair in January 2007. Douvia has served on the commission since January 2007.