After much ado over the bi-state votes to allocate Columbia River spring chinook to sport and commercial fisheries, the Oregon and Washington commissions could not agree on a catch-share plan last week.

On Friday, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission surprised Washington commissioners by voting to increase fishing opportunities for commercial fisheries from the recommendation of the Columbia River Working Group, a committee created by the two state commissions specifically to tackle the divisive spring chinook catch-share decision.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission deferred action on the issue Saturday, delaying the vote until its Jan. 9-10 meeting 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 Oregon and Washington commissions decide how much of that run gets allocated to sport and commercial fisheries through its decision on splitting the wild fish impacts between the two groups. The total number of "impacts" allowed in both sport and commercial fisheries ranges from .05 to 2.7 percent of the total run.

The working group recommended a base allocation of 65 percent of the impacts for the sport fishery and 35 percent for the commercial fishery. The base allocation would vary depending on the run size forecasts for the upper Columbia and Willamette rivers. But several Oregon commissioners pushed for a higher base allocation to the commercial fishery.

The Oregon board agreed on a 55-45 split and gave the department director authority to negotiate with the Washington director within 5 percent of that allocation.

Oregon commissioners also agreed on several key priorities outlined in the original working group plan, including a 45-day sport fishery in the lower Columbia in March and April; stability for the commercial fishery in the off-channel fisheries in places like Youngs Bay and Blind Slough, where most of the fish are from hatcheries fish and potential impacts on wild, threatened spring chinook are minimal; if the run size permits, allow some commercial fishing in the mainstem of the lower Columbia during March and April; provide a predictable sport fishery above Bonneville Dam allocating it 25 percent of available impacts; and a 35 percent conservation buffer, or holdback, that will minimize the risk of exceeding federal Endangered Species Act limits on the harvest of wild chinook.

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