OLYMPIA - The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last Friday approved new allocation guidelines for this year's spring Chinook salmon season on the lower Columbia River that favor recreational fisheries.

In a late-afternoon conference call, commissioners voted 5-3 with one abstention to modify the formula used to allocate the incidental catch of wild spring Chinook salmon between non-tribal sport and commercial fisheries during the past two seasons.

"This was a tough decision, because the spring Chinook fishery is important to both sport and commercial fishers," said Jerry Gutzwiler, who chairs the nine-member commission that sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Because a portion of the wild spring Chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), recreational and commercial fishers may only retain marked, hatchery-reared fish.  Standing rules limit mortality for wild spring Chinook incidentally intercepted and released in those fisheries to 2 percent of the total run.

Within that 2 percent limit, the new one-year allocation policy adopted by the commission allocates 65 percent of the incidental mortality rate to the recreational fishery and 35 percent to the commercial fishery. 

That formula is expected to increase fishing opportunities for sport fishers and reduce those for commercial fishers compared to the previous guidelines, which allocated 57 percent of the incidental impacts on wild fish to the sport fishery and 43 percent to the commercial fishery.

In a previous vote held last week, commissioners split 4-4 on a proposal by Commissioner Conrad Mahnken that included the new allocation formula. Commissioner Chuck Perry, who was absent for that meeting, voted with the majority today and Commissioner Miranda Wecker of Naselle abstained.

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