Columbia River adversaries found common ground this week in their mutual distaste for fisheries proposals from the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
On a conference call that lasted more than two hours, sport and commercial anglers on the Columbia River agreed neither group should be allowed any more time to catch scarce spring chinook and swayed fisheries managers to spike the proposals.
The Columbia River spring chinook run forecast was downgraded Monday to 72,000, on pace to be the worst run since 1999, including last year’s awful return of about 73,000 chinook.
In addition, Idaho Fish and Game officials said state, tribal and federal hatcheries on the Clearwater River are projected to be 1,300 fish short of meeting spawning goals, also known as broodstock. Idaho shut down its fishery on the Clearwater River last week after anglers harvested just 20 adult chinook.
Anglers on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers are expected to be able to harvest only about 600 fish in a season that remains open just two days a week.
Even so, Oregon and Washington proposed opening a five-day sport fishing season on the Columbia River and allowing an 11-hour commercial tangle net fishery on the river for the first time in three years.
Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the proposals would harm Idaho’s chances of meeting broodstock and would violate catch-share agreements between the states. Columbia River anglers have already caught about 1,300 upriver chinook — those bound for tributaries above Bonneville Dam. That number was projected to rise to 2,700 after the proposed five-day extension. Commercial anglers were projected to catch about 350 upriver chinook.
“Idaho’s position is that the status of this run, along with broodstock concerns, suggest it is prudent to close mainstem sport fisheries and focus harvest in tributaries where weak stocks can be avoided,” Hebdon said.
State and tribal fisheries officials also reported projected hatchery shortfalls on the upper Columbia, Yakima and Warm Springs rivers. Anglers participating in the Columbia River Compact, a decision-making process for Oregon and Washington sport and commercial fishers, picked up on the projections of Idaho and others not meeting spawning goals and argued against additional fisheries and their own short-term self interests. Dozens of commercial and sport anglers made similar comments. The groups often battle each other over fisheries allocation, and although they agreed Wednesday they still found moments to take shots at one another during the public comment period. Sport anglers were particularly upset about the proposed tangle net season on the Columbia.
But the collective comments convinced Oregon and Washington fisheries officials to nix the proposals.
“I think I was already at a place where I was thinking probably the best course of action was to error on the side of the fish on this one,” said Tucker Jones of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That has been fully reinforced during the course of public testimony for me.”
Jones was joined by Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in killing the proposals. Tweit defended staff of both agencies who wrote the proposals, saying their job is to plan fisheries within established management guidelines.
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