HOOK AND FUR/By Bob Brown
Are there big changes in the works for the lower Columbia River’s sturgeon, salmon and steelhead fisheries in 2013? The odds are there will be.
The Columbia River sturgeon fishery has been world famous for a number of years, but it is in trouble. Because the fishery has been on the decline for several years, which has resulted in shorter and catch-and-release only seasons and smaller catch limits, fish mangers are deeply concerned about the future of the fishery.
Salmon and steelhead fisheries appear to be holding their own in the lower Columbia, but here, too, there are concerns even though there have been some record catches in recent years. Concerned for the resources and recognizing the need for change, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber requested a group of representatives from Washington and Oregon be assembled to develop a plan to restructure the lower Columbia salmon, steelhead and sturgeon fisheries. Working since last September, the group finalized their recommendations Nov. 15 during a meeting in Seaside, Ore. The recommendations are now being considered by both state’s fish and wildlife commissions.
Some of those provisions of the plan, “Management Strategies for Columbia River Recreational and Commercial Fisheries 2013 and beyond,” include:
• Prioritizing recreational fisheries in the mainstem Columbia and commercial fisheries in off-channel areas.
• Transitioning commercial fisheries remaining in the mainstem to alternative gear, such as beach and purse seines.
• Gradually increasing the catch share of salmon for sport fisheries in the mainstem by 2017, including 80 percent for spring chinook and 100 percent for summer chinook.
• Requiring salmon and steelhead sport anglers to use barbless hooks beginning 2013.
• Considering catch-and-release-only recreational fisheries for white sturgeon in the lower river, Washington’s coast and Puget Sound to protect lower Columbia River origin white sturgeon. Closing non-tribal commercial fisheries for white sturgeon in the lower river and coast also would be considered as part of this effort.
• Phasing out the use of gillnets by non-tribal fishers in the mainstem by 2017, while maintaining the economic viability of the commercial fishery during and after the transition.
• Shifting a greater portion of current hatchery salmon releases to off-channel areas, and exploring options for expanding those areas for commercial fisheries.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (WDFW) is scheduled to accept public comments on the recommendations during its Dec. 14-15 meeting in Olympia The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission also is scheduled to consider the proposal at its Dec. 7 meeting. The proposed plan is available on WDFW’s web site (wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisheries/lower Columbia/).