OLYMPIA - After two deadlocked votes Saturday, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has scheduled a conference call Friday to take action on new allocation guidelines for the Columbia River spring Chinook fishery.
Also on Friday, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meets in Salem to take public testimony and a vote on the divisive issue, which pits sport and commercial fishers against each other.
The allocation determines how many wild spring Chinook sport and commercial gillnet fishers will be allowed to impact as they're targeting hatchery spring Chinook on the Columbia.
The Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions decide how to split 2 percent of the wild run between the two fishing industries. Each group's allocation determines how long they will be able to fish for the highly prized spring Chinook.
With one commissioner absent Saturday, the Washington board couldn't decide whether to keep the current guidelines as they are or to change them to benefit recreational fishers.
Two proposals each received a split 4-4 vote.
"This is a tough issue," said Jerry Gutzwiler, who chairs the commission. "On one hand, we're seeing more and more anglers fishing for spring Chinook every year. At the same time, those fish fetch top dollar for the commercial fishery. It's a real balancing act."
Commissioner Chuck Perry was absent from that meeting, but all nine members of the commission are expected to participate in the conference call Friday. As the Washington commission leans toward an allocation favoring sport fishers, commercial gillnetters are relying on the Oregon commission to fight for the status quo.
On Saturday, Commissioner Conrad Mahnken proposed changing the spring Chinook allocation in favor of recreational fisheries.
Because a portion of the spring Chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, both recreational and commercial fishers must release any wild spring Chinook salmon they incidentally catch. Regulations limit mortality for wild spring Chinook intercepted and released in state fisheries to 2 percent of the total run.
Within that 2 percent limit, Mahnken's proposal would allocate 65 percent of those incidental mortalities to the recreational fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery.
That formula would provide more fishing opportunities for sport fishers and fewer for commercial fishers than under the 2005-07 guidelines, which allocated 57 percent of the incidental impacts on wild fish to the sport fishery and 43 percent to the commercial fishery.
Commissioner Will Roehl proposed keeping the allocation as it is until a stakeholder group of recreational and commercial fishers agree on an allocation that both parties can accept. The stakeholder group was convened late last year and will have until the end of this year to negotiate agreeable terms for managing the Columbia River salmon fishery.
While Washington commissioners deadlocked on the issue of spring Chinook allocations, they did approve catch guidelines for the Columbia River summer Chinook fishery along with more than 70 new sportfishing rules for waters around the state at a public meeting Feb. 1 and 2 in Olympia.
By a unanimous vote, commissioners extended previous catch guidelines for healthy summer Chinook stocks by one year. Members of the public interested in hearing the Washington commission's discussion Friday can do so via speaker phone at 5 p.m. at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offices in Olympia, Montesano, Mill Creek and Vancouver. Addresses for those offices are available on WDFW's Web site (www.wdfw.wa.gov/reg/regions.htm).