Published: December 1, 2022
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) recognizes the increased interest from lawmakers and the public to diversify the types of fishing gear used in the lower Columbia River commercial fishery, especially gears with mark-selective capabilities. In response to this interest, and the direction in the Columbia River Salmon Fishery Management Policy to develop alternative commercial fishing gears, the Department has designated an Emerging Commercial Fishery to assess the performance and viability of alternative commercial fishing gears.
The Emerging Commercial Fishery process established by the Legislature provides the best pathway for making progress toward implementation of alternative commercial fishing gears. This process provides the Department with the opportunity to work with commercial fishers, stakeholders, and co-managers within a prescribed framework, over a prescribed length of time (~5-years per RCW 77.70.180), to gather information and address important, outstanding questions about the viability of different gears. At the conclusion of the Emerging Commercial Fishery, the Department must provide the Legislature with a report outlining findings and recommendations to inform the Legislature’s decision on whether to legalize additional commercial fishing gears.
While there has been some work with alternative gears in the past several years, significant questions remain around the potential economic viability of alternative gears and their harvest efficiency and selectivity compared to gillnets and tangle nets. The Emerging Commercial Fishery process will allow the Department to assess these questions and determine if these gears could serve as viable options for transitioning away from gillnets in the mainstem Columbia River. The use of gillnets in the mainstem fall commercial fishery is currently the only option for an economically viable commercial fishery. Should additional gears prove viable, the Emerging Commercial Fishery process will provide the Department with the operational experience needed to identify the necessary regulatory and statutory changes. The Department and commercial fishery advisors have invested a significant amount of time establishing rules to designate this Emerging Commercial Fishery (see Appendix 1) and outlining a path forward.
The Department appreciates the Legislature’s support of alternative gear development and requests additional program funding to support the Emerging Commercial Fishery process. For the 2023-2025 Fiscal Year, the Department is seeking funds to 1) implement and monitor the Emerging Commercial Fishery, and 2) create a fund source for the purchase/optimization of gear.