The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last Saturday deferred action on allocating the catch of Columbia River spring chinook salmon between sport and commercial fisheries pending further discussions with Oregon's commission.
The delay followed approval of a plan by the Oregon commission the previous day to provide more fishing opportunities for commercial fisheries than recommended by a bi-state panel created to develop a joint approach to the controversial catch-sharing issue.
Surprised by that action, Washington commissioners voted at their Dec. 13 meeting to delay action on both spring and summer chinook allocation plans until their next public meeting, scheduled Jan. 9-10 in Olympia.
According to a recent projection, nearly 300,000 spring chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River in 2009, which would make the run the third-highest on record.
The spring chinook fishery presents special challenges to fishery managers, both because the catch is highly prized by both sport and commercial fishers and because the run includes wild salmon listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), which tightly limits mortality rates for listed fish.
In the spring chinook fishery, harvest opportunities for hatchery-reared fish are based on keeping impact rates on ESA-listed fish within federal conservation limits.
To help develop consistent allocation policies, the fish and wildlife commissions of Washington and Oregon created the Columbia River Fish Working Group, a joint panel established by the commissions that includes three commission members, two fishery managers and citizen advisors from each state.
Under the base allocation recommended by the Working Group, the sport fishery would be allowed 65 percent of the impacts on wild fish and the commercial fishery 35 percent. Those shares would vary depending on the run size for the upper Columbia and Willamette rivers.
In a departure from that plan, the Oregon commission voted to allocate 55 percent to the sport fishery and 45 percent to the commercial fishery.
Other aspects of the plan recommended by the Working Group would provide:
A 35 percent conservation buffer to minimize the risk of exceeding ESA limits on wild stocks.
A sport fishery of at least 45 days in March and April on the lower Columbia, with additional days through May consistent with federal conservation limits
Stable fisheries above Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River and lower Snake River with 25 percent of the sport fishery's allowable impacts on wild fish.
A stable commercial fishery in off-channel "select areas" such as Deep River in Washington and Youngs Bay in Oregon.
Some commercial fishing opportunities in the mainstem Columbia River in March and April if the run size permits. If impacts remain, harvest opportunities will be maximized in May.
The commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), did take action at its December meeting to:
Extend the appointment of Phil Anderson as WDFW's interim director at least through June 30, 2009. Anderson, who previously served as deputy director, was named interim director earlier this month after former director Jeff Koenings resigned after 10 years with the department.
Extend the current sturgeon-management policy for the Columbia River through 2009, providing fishery managers with a framework for setting next year's fishing seasons.
Update facility requirements for oiled-bird rehabilitation activities to reflect new technologies and best available practices.
Allow the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to acquire two properties for wildlife conservation in Okanogan County and a right-of-way for bridge improvements in Yakima County.