Three weeks after meeting with commercial fishing leaders, Gov. John Kitzhaber has directed the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to take more factors into account as it continues implementing his August 2012 order that gillnetting be phased out on the Columbia River’s mainstem.
While the letter is largely in the vague and noncommittal language of the bureaucracy, in Kitzhaber’s five new directives there appears to be some recognition that the outcome on the lower Columbia has not been what he forecast two years ago.
If local commercial fishermen hoped the governor would abandon his plans, they were disappointed. Much of Kitzhaber’s three-page letter to the commission praises its work and defends how the gillnet ban is subject to “adaptive management [which] does not mean abandoning the rules or their core elements...”
Instead, Kitzhaber offers guidance to the commission in how to gather information and react to it, including:
• Perform an annual assessment of the economic success of commercial and sport fisheries, and estimate how they would have done before the gillnet ban.
• Identify a range of fishing season options in advance that take Endangered Species Act impacts into account. Catching the upper limit of these ESA-protected fish can bring seasons to a premature close, leaving many hatchery-raised fish uncaught.
• Consider forming a group of commercial and sports fishermen to advise the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on how best to adapt ODFW policies and spend transitional funding.
• Provide ongoing updates on how new alternative fishing methods — such as seine nets operated from beaches and fishing vessels — are impacting ESA-protected fish. At the same time, re-evaluate how existing commercial and recreational gear harm ESA fish. This is important because commercial fishermen believe gillnets with on-board fish-recovery tanks are fairly effective in allowing ESA fish to recover before being released, while hooked fish often die after release.
• And finally, a catch-all statement that analysis of gear types, harvest performance in directed fisheries like Youngs Bay and the new Cathlamet Channel, and other factors like use of barbless hooks in Columbia tributary streams all help shape annual season decisions.