The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission ripped a hole Friday in the 99-year-old fabric of concurrent fish management on the Columbia River.
With a split 4-3 vote, commission members defied the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s attempt to negotiate the long-contested Columbia River Management Plan. The plan required a switch from gill-netting to selective commercial fishing on the mainstem below Bonneville Dam. It also gave priority allocation of mainstem salmon harvest to sport anglers.
Friday’s vote, however, indefinitely extends gill-netting for fall chinook salmon from Sauvie Island to Bonneville Dam and for summer chinook in the entire lower river.
The plan was intended to take effect in 2017, but Oregon commissioners balked in December, extending the 2016 regulations through 2017, anticipating a January decision.
a) Spring and summer Chinook Endangered Species Act (ESA) impacts will be allocated 80 percent for recreational fisheries; 20 percent for commercial fisheries. Only tangle nets will be allowed on the mainstem river in the spring, but large-mesh gill-nets will be allowed in the summer.
b) Fall Chinook allocations will be 66 percent for recreational fisheries and 34 percent for commercial fisheries. Washington asked for a 75-25 split and the plan had called for 80-20.
c)Gill-nets will be allowed from Sauvie to Bonneville and coho tangle nets will be allowed from Sauvie to the river’s mouth.
The disparity means almost-certain separate commercial fishing regulations this year on both sides of the river – a first since the Columbia River Compact was created in 1918 to avoid just such a split. It’s unclear whether sport regulations will also be affected.
Commission members, led by Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria and Laura Anderson of Newport, instead increased gill-net allocations.
They acknowledged the vote’s implication, but Washington’s plan, Buckmaster said, “is tantamount to a death sentence for that industry.”
Anderson and Buckmaster were joined by Commissioners Holly Akenson of Enterprise and Greg Wolley of Portland. Commissioners Michael Finley of Medford, Bob Webber of Port Orford and Jim Bittle of Central Point voted no.
Sportfishing leaders who testified against gill-nets as unnecessary killers of endangered salmon were stunned.
“The majority of the commission is out of touch with its largest constituency,” said Bob Rees, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.
The commission also voted to end an unpopular barbless hook angling rule on the lower Willamette River, but left in place an angling closure of an area of Buoy 10 off the mouth of Youngs Bay after gill-netters testified it was an important buffer to keep anglers from catching too many salmon heading into the heavily netted bay.