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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Oregon departs from Washington in banning Columbia gillnets

Fishermen attempt to net a fighting spring chinook on the lower Columbia River in early April during the first surge of the 2014 run. (Rich Landers)
Fishermen attempt to net a fighting spring chinook on the lower Columbia River in early April during the first surge of the 2014 run. (Rich Landers)

FISHING – Oregon officials spanked recreational anglers by declining to ban gillnetting outright on Friday. The decision puts the state at odds with neighboring Washington when it comes to managing protected salmon and steelhead.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-3 against banning the commercial fishing technique in the main channel of the Lower Columbia River, reported The Daily Astorian. Commercial and recreational anglers have argued for years over who should be allowed to catch how much of seasonal salmon runs and which fishing methods should be used.

The commission heard more than six hours of testimony and staff reports on the issue. Its decision comes a week after Washington's Fish and Wildlife Commission took a stance more favorable to recreational fishing.

Here's more on Oregon's meeting from two sources, first the Associated Press:

During the hearing, Astoria gillnetters said generations of community businesses and family fortunes that would be at risk if a ban passed. Recreational anglers, however, argued that gillnetting takes fish indiscriminately and can’t differentiate between wild and hatchery fish.

The Friday decision contrasts with Oregon’s 2012 agreement with Washington state to phase out gillnets in the Columbia River’s main channel.

Under the commission’s approved plan, 80 percent of spring and summer wild chinook will be granted to recreational anglers, while the remaining 20 percent can be harvested by commercial fishers. Chinook are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The plan will split the fall chinook harvest, with 66 percent for recreational fishers and 34 percent for commercial ones.

Gillnetters had offered their own plan, which would have given them a larger share of the fish, but Fishhawk Fisheries owner Steve Fick says he wasn’t disappointed with the commission’s decision.

“When everybody’s a little unhappy, it’s probably a reasonable decision,” said Fick, whose fishery is based in Astoria.

Recreational anglers, however, say gillnetting should only be allowed on the river’s side channels and says sports fishers have a larger economic impact.

“We fill the hotels to bursting in Astoria,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportsfishing Industry Association.

The Vancouver Columbian filed this more detail report after the Oregon meeting:


The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday adopted its version of the controversial Columbia River salmon management reforms, opting for a plan more friendly to commercial fishing than its Washington counterpart.

Oregon’s decision raises the potential for the two states having different sport and commercial seasons in the lower Columbia in 2017, possibly ending 99 years of concurrent fishing regulations.

“We don’t have all the answers what non-concurrent regulations would look like,’’ Curt Melcher, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told his seven-member commission.

Reforms adopted by both states in early 2013 allocated more chinook salmon to sportsmen in the main Columbia and restricted gillnetting to off-channel sites like Youngs Bay and Tongue Point near Astoria.

The reforms also called for commercial fishing that remained in the main Columbia to be done with live-capture methods — such as purse seines and beach seines — designed to harvest hatchery stocks and release wild fish.

However, testing of beach and purse seines in the main Columbia found much higher mortality rates of released fish than anticipated four years ago and efforts to develop more off-channel fishing sites for the commercials have had mixed results.

“Washington did a horrible thing,’’ said Bruce Buckmaster, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission member from Astoria. “We have to follow our conscience.’’

Here is a look by the three chinook stocks at the differences between the plans approved by the two commissions:

Spring chinook — Both states allocated Endangered Species Act impacts spring chinook 80 percent for sportsmen and 20 percent for the commercials. However, Washington’s policy does not permit Oregon’s decision to allow the commercials to fish in mid-May with tangle nets, depending on the size of the upper Columbia run and salmon availability factoring in the off-channel fisheries.

Summer chinook — Both states allocated 80 percent to sportsmen and 20 percent to commercials. While Washington gave the commercials a 20 percent share, there is no gear available currently that would qualify to allow a fishery, although eventually a method might be developed.

Oregon wants to allow the commercials to use three-quarters of their share in a summer gillnet fishery.

Fall chinook — Washington allocated 75 percent of the fall chinook to sportsmen and 25 percent to the commercials. Washington allows gillnetting to continue in 2017 and 2018 between Woodland and Beacon Rock. In 2019, gillnets are banned and allocation shifts to 80 percent for sportsmen.

Oregon decided Friday to split fall chinook 66 percent for sportsmen and 34 percent for the commercials, with tangle nets (small-mesh gillnets) allowed downstream of Woodland for coho and large-mesh gillnets allowed between Woodland and Beacon Rock.

Ed Bowles, fish division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said a potential solution to the different fall allocations might be to allow the sportsmen to get 66 percent, the commercials 25 percent, and have 9 percent unallocated and go to spawning escapement.

But the differences in commercial gear allowed is a much thornier issue, Bowles said.

There is no precedent how to allocate salmon between the two states. Seasons could have different dates or durations.

Bowles said in summer there could be a situation where Oregon gillnet permit holders could fish in Oregon waters only.

“There’s no background how to do allocation or enforcement by state,’’ said Chris Kern, a deputy fish division administrator.

Melcher said there is a “high probability’’ of some non-concurrent rules in 2017.

“If you tell me what to do I’ll go down that path,’’ Melcher told his commission. “I will do what you direct.’’

Buckmaster said Washington’s director, Jim Unsworth, does not appear as involved in the Columbia River salmon issue as Melcher and questioned with whom specifically Melcher would negotiate.

Oregon’s vote was 4-3 in favor of the plan adopted. Buckmaster said before any final deal is reached with Washington that Melcher should bring the details back to the Oregon commission.

Spring chinook fishing does not ramp up until March, leaving the states more than a month to attempt to resolve their difference. The Columbia River Compact is scheduled to meet in late February to set spring seasons.

Buckmaster called Washington’s version of the reforms “tantamount to a death sentence’’ for the commercial industry on the Columbia River.


Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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