Washington’s move to allow barbed hooks in much of the Columbia River Basin will not include the Snake River or its tributaries.
Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Olympia, said a rule change effective today that allows anglers to use barbed hooks for salmon and steelhead fishing, skips over the Snake River Basin because of language in the state’s federal permits that require barbless hooks and a desire to keep fishing rules concurrent between Idaho and Washington.
Months ago, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission directed agency officials to make barbless hook rules for salmon, steelhead and other species, with the exception of sturgeon, voluntary throughout the Columbia River Basin. The edict made fisheries managers scramble to make sure the rule change would not put in jeopardy fisheries for which federal permits are required. They also had to communicate with their counterparts in both Idaho and Oregon. By policy, the three states attempt to have fishing rules concurrent on rivers such as parts of the Snake and Columbia that form borders between the states.
Lothrop said the barbless rule becomes voluntary today on the Columbia River from Chief Joseph Dam downstream to its mouth, and on several Columbia River tributaries that are solely within Washington.
On the Snake River and its tributaries, the use of barbless hooks has been required for decades as a means to reduce harm to wild fish protected under the Endangered Species Act. Wild fish must be released by anglers, and barbless hooks make it easier to do that.
Barbless rules for salmon and steelhead fishing on the lower Columbia River below Bonneville Dam have been in place since just 2013. The relatively recent adoption of barbless rules there is unpopular with anglers, especially those fishing for chinook that are especially adept at wiggling off of hooks.
Some studies have shown that the use of barbless hooks does not significantly improve survival of wild fish after they are caught and released. Bill Tweit, a special assistant for the Washington Fish and Wildlife program at Olympia, told the Tribune in April that where fish are hooked is more determinative if a fish will live or die than is the presence or absence of barbs. For example, Tweit said when a fish is hooked in the gills or tongue, there is a high chance it will die, regardless of hook type. The agency gave that information to commissioners prior to their decision to make barbless hooks voluntary wherever possible.
“All the studies available at the time, and some additional studies, indicated hook placement was such a dominant variable (and) that it accounted for most of the overall difference in mortality,” he said. “It was really hard to detect if barbless hooks provided any additional protection for fish that were going to be released.”
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