Columbia River research and monitoring

Adaptively managing our fisheries requires us to continually improve our tools, techniques and methodologies for how we collect and analyze fisheries' data. Below is a basic overview of the types of monitoring we use in managing both our commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as highlights of some key fisheries research projects. 

Monitoring tools and techniques

 Commercial fisheries

  • Observers: Some fisheries require observers to be present during the commercial fishery either on a fisher's boat or on an agency boat close by to monitor fish handled during the fishery. The specifics of how to observe a fishery can differ in terms of frequency (e.g, annually or once in a handful of years) and coverage (e.g., all or a subset of fishers). The specifics depend on many factors such as available funding, staff, staff safety and utility.
  • Fish tickets: Fish buyers are required to submit tickets of fish bought from commercial fishers within 24 hours of fish being landed. Information includes, but is not limited to: fish species, number, poundage, fishery, season, and fisher license number.
  • Logbooks: Logbooks are not a requirement for Columbia River commercial fisheries, but can be used voluntarily by fishers. This provides managers with quick access to catch data allowing for more informed in-season management of the fishery.

Recreational fisheries

  • Creel surveys: Creel allows samplers to capture a snapshot of a fishery in terms of effort/catch by collecting information from recreational anglers on area fished, kept and released, fish as well as when anglers started and stopped fishing. Creel surveys can be conducted at random over the geographic scale of the fishery or can target high-use areas and the specific method used depends on funding, staff, staff safety and utility.
  • Aerial surveys: For large-scale fisheries, such as the Columbia River mainstem, aerial surveys allow staff to cover more ground in the same amount of time as having staff creel.
  • Catch record cards: Anglers must record all salmon, steelhead and sturgeon catch on their card and submit to WDFW at the end of the fishing year. This information helps estimate catch and bycatch in specific areas during specific times, and in combination with creel and aerial surveys provides a more complete picture of the fishery.
  • Phone surveys: In addition to catch record cards, some fisheries can use phone surveys as a faster way of obtaining seasonal catch information for a subset of anglers chosen at random.
  • Guide logbooks: Logbooks are required in the state of Washington to record all fish caught and any bycatch for anglers that go out fishing with guides. This provides managers with quick access to catch data allowing for more informed in-season management of the fishery.

Key research projects

Fall tangle net mortality study

WDFW and ODFW are conducting a study to assess the release mortality rate for coho tangle net fisheries using monofilament tangle nets (3.75-inch mesh) as compared to the standard multifilament tangle net. Commercial fall tangle net fisheries use live-capture release requirements (coho mark-selective, recovery boxes, soak time restrictions, mesh size restrictions, etc.) which will be incorporated into this study.  The study is occurring using contracted fishers with fishing occurring weekly in Zones 1-2 from mid-September through October. WDFW staff are collecting biological (i.e., species, mark and size status) and other pertinent data. Because most coho return to tributaries downstream of Bonneville Dam where there are relatively few PIT tag arrays; PIT tags could not be used to assess survival/mortality. Therefore, fish are transported to the Tongue Point net pens owned/operated by ODFW to assess short- and long-term mortality in holding pens.

Financial costs and resources used for this study are shared between the states of Oregon and Washington. This study was intended to occur in fall 2021 but supply issues regarding net materials delayed this project. Research began in 2022 and is considered on-going as additional year(s) of data are expected to be collected.  

Fall 2022 small boat electronic monitoring feasibility

This is a pilot project to test whether electronic monitoring (EM) using cameras can be used effectively to improve and automate monitoring and in-season reporting of small-style boat operations to determine impacts to non-target fish species. Along with the EM system, on-board observers will record catch on each vessel equipped with an EM system for comparison of recorded information. This project is intended for salmon fisheries using charter, guide and/or commercial boats.  Though this project could occur in any salt and anadromous waters open to salmon fishing, it is anticipated much of the research will occur in salt and freshwaters from Puget Sound south to the Columbia River (including Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay). Participation by charter, guide, and commercial fishers is voluntary and are set up with contracts. 

Funding for this project has been provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF; Project ID 0303.20.070318) through their Fisheries Innovation Fund with matching funds provided by WDFW. WDFW is conducting this project in partnership with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) and Saltwater Inc. Participation by commercial, guide, and charter fishers is voluntary. 

Cowlitz hooking mortality

This study examines the impacts of barbed versus barbless fishing hooks, and how different hooks affect survival of salmon and steelhead caught in catch-and-release fisheries. Many fisheries in Washington require barbless hooks as a conservation measure for salmonids listed under the Endangered Species Act, or species that may be inadvertently caught in a fishery targeting a different species. This study was conducted from 2017 to 2020 to:

  • Address limitations of past studies through a more all-encompassing effort with larger sample sizes;
  • Quantify the effect of environmental factors, angling methods, and gear types on salmon and steelhead hooking mortality rates (and landing rates); and
  • Develop a model that can be used to predict hooking mortality rates for fishery-specific conditions (species, gear, environment).

WDFW is currently analyzing the results of the study and recently presented progress to date to our Commission. 

Angler opinion survey

From December 2022 to January 2023, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) conducted an online survey intended to gather perspectives from anglers who participate in Columbia River recreational fall Chinook fisheries. The survey asked about potential management strategies and priorities to inform Columbia River fishery managers as they work to develop future fall recreational Chinook seasons. The survey will inform pre-season planning for future fall Chinook fishing seasons and provides valuable insight into those things anglers value in fall fisheries. See survey results.

Test fishing

Test fishing is a tool WDFW can use in conjunction with ODFW to collect information to help better manage fisheries since 2004. Typically, WDFW contracts with a small number of commercial fishers to fish their gear to assess the run in-season in the lower river (e.g., spring tangle net test fishery). Test fisheries can also be used as a first step to assessing the commercial potential of a new or modified commercial fishing gear (e.g., pound net). Hatchery salmon that are caught and kept are the property of the state of Washington and are sold to a commercial fish buyer. The money is then used to reimburse WDFW for the costs associated with test fishing.

For more information, and data from past Columbia River test fisheries, visit the test fishing webpage.