Washington follows Oregon with decison to remove Columbia River gillnets

After over a century of life, non-treaty gillneters will now have to find a new way forward as Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission upheld a recent decision by Oregon’s Commission to remove gillnets from the lower Columbia River.

I have to admit, as monumental as the moment is for fishermen most everywhere, it’s strange to think that the gillnet fleet of the lower Columbia River is now on life support and but for a few off channel areas, a shadow of it’s former self.  They knew it was coming someday, but for it to have come as rapidly as it did, I don’t think anyone imagined it happening the way it did.

It seems like just a few weeks ago when Oregon voters defeated Ballot Measure 81.  Gillnetters went from victory in November to banishment from the main stem Columbia River by January 12.  I know a lot of netters have got to be wondering, “what just happened?”

I feel for the gillnetters and the real people and families that wonder what their future looks like.  I also have misgivings about business killing regulation and a heritage and history that is old and comfortable.  I don’t believe that gillnetting is right, but as a lifelong Oregonian, commercial fishing is a part of the culture of the Northwest and I know that this is the latest, but certainly not the last natural resource industry to bite the dust.

Who’s next?  Is it the very sport fishermen that helped see this through?  I know it’s hard to fathom, but the Columbia River is very complicated and has stakeholders as far away as Washington D.C. that imagine the river best as a petting zoo.  The bottom line is, nothings certain, just ask gillnetters.

Lance Fisher is a Columbia River Fishing Guide and host of the NW Outdoor Show in Oregon and SW Washington.


Allen Thomas of the Columbia has a great piece on this subject, check out Washington adopts Columbia River salmon fishing overhaul


Here’s the WDFW release below:
Commission approves policy to revamp Columbia River fisheries

OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today unanimously adopted a policy that establishes a new management framework for salmon fisheries on the lower Columbia River.

The commission, a nine-member citizen panel that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), took action after completing a series of public meetings that began in October 2012. In all, the commission received about 1,000 public comments on the broad-based proposal.

Key provisions of the new policy will allocate more of the catch to sport fisheries, gradually shift non-tribal commercial gillnets to off-channel areas stocked with more hatchery salmon, and spur development and use of new selective gear for commercial fisheries on the mainstem Columbia River.

The new policy also requires anglers to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River. The commission directed the department to adopt rules to make permanent a temporary barbless hook rule that took effect Jan. 1.

Miranda Wecker, commission chair, said the new policy is designed to support conservation of wild salmon and expand the economic benefits the state derives from sport and commercial fisheries.

“This policy realigns Columbia River fisheries to achieve a number of longstanding goals,” she said. “It also includes annual reviews, giving the commission an opportunity to make changes if the new policy falls short of those goals.”

The changes are based on recommendations made by representatives from the Washington commission and its Oregon counterpart and comments received during the extensive public review. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a similar management framework for Columbia River fisheries last month.

“For nearly 100 years, our two states have managed Columbia River fisheries under a reciprocal agreement,” Wecker said. “Without a common framework, effective management of those fisheries would be impossible.”

The policies adopted by both states include plans to phase out the use of gillnets by 2017 in non-tribal fisheries on the Columbia below Bonneville Dam. They also include commitments to increase the number of fish stocked in off-channel areas to off-set reductions in commercial fishing opportunities on the mainstem of the Columbia.

The anticipated move of gillnets to off-channel areas depends on the success of developing and using alternative selective gear, said WDFW Director Phil Anderson.

“A key goal of this policy is to maintain or increase the economic viability of both recreational and commercial fisheries,” he said. “The timetable established in the policy depends on achieving that goal.”

Anderson said the changes outlined in the policy will allocate more salmon and steelhead to recreational fisheries, but will not necessarily reduce the incidental catch of wild salmon and steelhead protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“Impacts on ESA-listed salmon are tightly regulated in both fisheries,” he said. “But the successful development of selective commercial gear would allow the harvest of more hatchery salmon, reducing interactions between hatchery fish and wild salmon in natural spawning areas.”

In other business, the commission approved the sale of the state’s Colville Fish Hatchery to Stevens County, which plans to use it as an educational and vocational learning center. WDFW closed the 95-year-old facility last June in response to state budget cuts, and plans to sell it to the county for its appraised value of $150,000.

“This is really a win-win for the department and Stevens County,” said Commission Vice Chair Gary Douvia, who lives in Colville and helped to champion the sale. “While the hatchery may be past its prime, it’s still a real asset for the community.”