ASTORIA — “All fixed appliance fishing including fish traps, set nets, fish wheels, and haul or horse seines are identified under Washington and Oregon law as illegal, but an experimental fishery was conducted by the Colville Tribe. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has tested fishing with tangle nets for coho in 2009 and 2010, and with trolling gear for fall Chinook last year. It is also illegal to fish commercially with hook and line on the Columbia River,” according to Hobe Kytr, administrator for Salmon for All said.

Purse seines were banned on the Columbia River by both states in 1917. Oregon and Washington banned purse seines in the near-shore reaches of their respective territorial seas. Washington continues to conduct purse seine fisheries in Puget Sound.

Washington banned all “fixed appliances” in 1934, including fish traps (pound nets), set nets, fish wheels, and haul seines (also known as beach seines). The reasoning behind classifying haul seines as a fixed gear form is that during the time it is deployed, the haul seine is attached to the shore at one or both ends. Oregon banned fish wheels in 1927 and the other forms of fixed gear by initiative petition in 1948.

The seiners appealed and won a short reprieve. That case went all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, which reinstated the ban on haul seines. The last year haul seining was done in Oregon waters during this period was 1950. Horses were introduced to the seining grounds around 1895. Thereafter haul seining was done as horse seining on the Columbia River, which is the only place draft horses ever were used in tandem with haul seine gear. Fish wheels require swift moving water to operate and would not be practicable on the lower Columbia.

The test fishery conducted by the Colville Tribe has been done with modified purse seine gear designed by Marty Kuller of Cathlamet. Kuller and John McKinley, of Skamokawa, conducted test fisheries near Cathlamet with a different form of modified purse seine gear in 2009 and 2010. The boat used by the Colville Tribe would not be safe to use on the Lower Columbia with its wind and waves. It would be far safer and more practical to rig a purse seiner to fish with a gillnet than it would be to rig a gillnet boat to fish with a purse seine. Gillnet boats do not have the stability to rig a purse seine with its heavy block held aloft on the end of a boom. The object is to catch fish, not to drown fishermen.


Fish traps haven’t worked at all

Purse seines have proven effective during test fisheries, as have beach seines, but less so. The fish traps tested near Cathlamet have been floating fish traps rather than pound nets. The cost of driving pilings and getting the permits would be prohibitive. The fish traps have not been effective at all. More testing will occur in August and early fall when more runs of Chinook and coho will be entering the Columbia River.

It remains to be seen whether the purse seine and beach seine gear will prove to be economically viable. The issue is whether large gear forms can catch enough fish to pay crew shares. One man can fish effectively with a gillnet. Seines require crews. Instead of supporting one commercial fishing family, purse seines and beach seines will have to catch enough fish to support four or five fishing families. That would be a lot of fish.

A problem is that if seine gear is going to be catching a lot of fish, the number of participating boats is necessarily going to be limited. Guy Norman spoke to the Power Council last month of perhaps implementing a full fleet fishery by 2013. This is going to split the existing commercial fleet into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and the question of how the opportunities get divided equitably comes up. Another issue is the cost of the gear, which would be upwards of $100,000. Then there is the issue of needing new boats. The guys who are doing this now already have the boats and gear. This is starting to sound like the mess created by mandating individual fish quotas in the trawl fleet. Who is going to look out for the guys in the small boat fleet?

The tangle net fishery for coho being tested by ODFW appears promising, but would be extremely grueling. Fishing for spring Chinook is done with sets limited to 45 minutes, which means about a 20-minute soak. But that’s done in cold water. Coho run when the water temperature is 20-25 degrees higher. Released coho tend to have a relatively high mortality rate, which means soak times of 10 minutes or less. As I indicated, it looks promising, but it would be a young man’s fishery.

The test fishery with trolling gear last year was a complete flop, Kytr said.

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