Commercial gillnetters Thursday, Sept. 10, called for the two-state Columbia River Compact to cease the experimental seine fishery on the Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam, saying that participation is low and will get lower as catch rates lag behind goals.
They also demanded more fishing time.
Still, Compact staff stuck with their recommendation to add six more days to the seine fishery for the next two weeks, although they did reduce the area where both the purse and beach seiners can fish to just two of the four fishing zones below Bonneville Dam during the extended periods.
The Compact agenda for Thursday had earlier included consideration of a non-Indian commercial gillnet fishing opportunity for later this weekend. However, staff removed the agenda item because it wanted information from this weekend dam tallies in order to make a decision about what the harvest might be, according to Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“An update on the lower river wild tules is always a factor and this will give us a few more days to get this information,” she said. She added that the commercial gillnetters would likely begin fishing again Tuesday night.
Upriver tule Chinook are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. As part of the North of Falcon negotiations, commercial fisheries receive a total of 2.6 percent of the impacts for ESA-listed wild tule fall Chinook. The 2015 commercial seine fishery is allocated 10 percent of that amount.
As of September 9, 384,161 fall Chinook had passed Bonneville Dam, which includes 334,102 upriver brights (URB) and 50,059 tules.
URBs are tracking at higher than expected levels given the pre-season forecasts, according to information provided by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, while tule Chinook are tracking behind expectations.
Steelhead counts since July 1 and through September 9 total 213,753 fish and have been tracking behind expectations. TAC downgraded the A-Index steelhead run size at Bonneville to 206,200 including 76,300 wild fish, according to CRITFC, which added that it is still too early to update the B-run steelhead size.
Through Sept. 9, 14,425 adult coho had passed Bonneville Dam. Coho have been tracking behind expectations.
Compact fall fact sheets 8a and 8b are available at: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/fact_sheets.asp
With so many fish passing Bonneville Dam and the expectation that more will be passing soon, non-Indian commercial gillnetters in the lower Columbia River are demanding more fishing time as well as the closure of the experimental purse and beach seine fisheries.
“The seine fishery obviously does not work,” said commercial gillnetter Bill Huntsinger. “You had ten applications available, but only eight bought in. That’s about to drop to six. It doesn’t work and that’s why they aren’t doing it.”
They also complained that they are highly regulated, but that the sport fishery is not monitored at the docks as sport fishers bring in their fish.
“It all circles back to the Kitzhaber plan,” according to Jim Wells, a lower Columbia River fishing advisor. “19,000 fish have been set aside for us for September. Last year we caught that in one opening. We just don’t have the impacts (allowable catches) anymore to function and you can blame Governor Kitzhaber for that. It’s really frustrating being the only group on the river not able to fish.”
Guy Norman of WDFW said there will be a comprehensive review of what the gillnetters are calling the (former Oregon Governor) Kitzhaber plan in 2016. “That’s the time period to make sure all the objectives are being met,” he said.
Part of the plan toward phasing out non-tribal commercial gill-nets on the lower Columbia River is purse and beach seining. Last year and this year, the two states offered 10 permits for beach and purse seines, equipment that had been outlawed on the river for more than 60 years.
The late fall salmon fisheries stem from fishery management policies adopted in 2013 by the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions. The plan is intended to lead to the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead by focusing on the harvest of hatchery fish.
The policies adopted by the states include a transition period from 2013-2016 to investigate and promote the development of “alternative selective gear” and to expand select area gill-net opportunities in off-channel areas where hatchery fish receive final rearing. Prior to this plan, non-selective gill-nets were the primary commercial gear used on the lower Columbia River.
(For background, see CBB, Oct. 3, 2014, “Commercial Fishermen Want Reconsideration Of States’ New Gill-Net Policy” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432304.aspx)
The beach seine fishery this year caught just 388 Chinook salmon and 38 coho salmon in its first eleven days of fishing. Purse seiners have caught 431 Chinook and 32 coho salmon. The peak of abundance is expected to occur during the first two weeks of September.
Each beach seine is allowed 400 hatchery Chinook salmon and 150 coho salmon. Handling of 180 steelhead is allowed. Purse seiners are allowed 650 Chinook, 200 coho and are allowed to handle up to 150 steelhead. Once a seiner reaches these limits, they must stop fishing.
This year, the second pilot research seine fishery is limited to 10 seine permits, four purse seines (fished from boats) and six beach seines. The quota is 5,000 Chinook and 1,700 coho, all hatchery fish. Not all permits have been purchased.
In 2014, forty some fishers applied for the ten permits available.
According to the Compact’s Joint Staff Report – Fall Fact Sheet No. 2, the objectives of this fishery are to “determine steelhead-to-Chinook handle ratios by gear and zone, collect salmon catch rates by gear type, compare immediate release mortalities observed to those observed in prior research, and collect information to estimate the stock composition of fall Chinook.”
Also Thursday, the Compact extended Indian Treaty gillnetting upstream of Bonneville Dam by 10 days over the next two weeks.
For both the seine and Treaty fishing decisions, see the September 10, 2015 Compact Action Notice at: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/action_notes.asp
Tribal fishers, including dipnet and gillnetters, have taken 116,197 Chinook, of which 74,385 are upriver bright Chinook, and 9,774 steelhead, of which 1,340 are B-run steelhead.
The Compact approved a 5-1/2 day gillnet fishery next week and a 4-1/2 day fishery the following week for the Indian Treaty gillnetters. Harvest is expected to be big over the two weeks. Total catch is expected to increase to 199,397 Chinook, of which 127,985 are URB, and 17,374 steelhead, of which 3,180 are B-run steelhead.
Most of the tribal fishing is upstream of Bonneville Dam and up through the John Day reservoir.
At the current forecast run size, the tribal fishery is permitted a 30 percent harvest rate on URB fall Chinook. By the end of the next two weeks, CRITFC expects fishing to reach the 25 percent level for Chinook.
The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee pre-season forecast for the 2015 fall Chinook adult return to the Columbia River totals 925,300 fish.
TAC will meet next week to update the fall Chinook run size.
If harvest this week is greater than anticipated, or if TAC changes run size estimates next week, the tribes have agreed to meet to modify ongoing fisheries as needed to ensure total impacts remain within agreed limits.
At the forecast run size, the tribal fishery has a 20 percent harvest rate on B steelhead. If the B steelhead run were to drop below 35,000, the harvest rate would drop to 15 percent. If it drops below 20,000 fish, the harvest rate drops to 13 percent.