Big changes coming to the Columbia River and its tributaries

There has been a lot of jostling between the government entities and sports and commercial fisheries this last year.  A major attempt is being made to move commercial gill netting out of the river.  The following article from the Oregonian newspaper highlights the changes that are coming.  For me, most of the changes will make no difference in how and when I fish.  One change, no retention of sturgeon, has me fairly upset.  The sportsmen is paying for the lack of federal government policy concerning Stellar Sea Lions and their impact on the lower Columbia fish stocks.  Because these pinnipeds are listed as federally protected, they are off limits to hazing or removal even though it has been scientifically shown that they are the major player in reduction of fish stocks, including ESA listed endangered salmon runs.  My belief is that without a change in this policy, there will be a continued decline in sturgeon and protected salmon returns no matter what other actions are taken.  Below is the article, notice how no mention of Stellar Sea lions is made…….

Moving gill-nets off the mainstem Columbia River carries a price for sport anglers. 
Or, rather, price(s). 
An array of packaged decisions — some not quite finalized — await fish and wildlife commissions in Oregon and Washington when they meet Dec. 6 and 7 in Portland and Dec. 14 in Olympia. 
A joint-state committee of members from each commission, assisted by their respective departments and an array of sport and commercial representatives, has written off on the basics of a proposal far more wide-reaching than the failed attempts of the past to move commercial salmon fishing into off-channel zones. 
Even as a participant in 2009, I would never have imagined the scope of looming changes — or the speed with which they’re approaching. 
While plenty of angst is fertilizing sportfishing websites, none of the proposals is particularly daunting. Commercial netters will bear the brunt of the trauma, despite Gov. John Kitzhaber’s pledge to minimize their losses. Hopefully, sport anglers understand the critical importance of a strong commercial fishery in the lower Columbia River. 
The proposal calls for an end to mainstem non-tribal gill-netting by 2017, with a phased approach, putting more and more of the mainstem catch into the nets of anglers. It also increases hatchery plants in off-channel Select Area Fishery Enhancement (SAFE) zones such as those in Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough on the Oregon side of the river and Deep River on the Washington shore. 
Commercial fishing in the mainstem will not end, just the use of gill-nets. More selective commercial methods, already under development, will be used to mop up runs of hatchery salmon after sport seasons are done. Incidental commercial mortalities of protected wild salmon will be reduced to near-zero. 
Highlights of the proposal: 
SAFE zones: Sportfishing in SAFE zones, allowed now, will end. Gill-nets will be allowed. 
Buffers will be established outside the entrances of the SAFE areas. The gill-net community originally asked for a closure of the popular Buoy 10 fishery west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge to protect early returning chinook headed for Youngs Bay. 
Ed Bowles, fisheries chief for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said a no-fishing zone immediately outside the bay is more likely, although not from the bridge to the Hammond boat harbor entrance or all the way across the shipping channel to Desdemona Sands. “It’s got to be geographically identifiable,” he said. 
New off-channel areas are most likely to be researched on the Washington side of the river. The Cathlamet Channel has received much of the initial attention, although Bowles said enough protected upriver salmon use the passage that smaller tangle-nets might have to be used instead of gill-nets. 

Barbless hooks:
 Washington has wanted to shift to barbless hooks for several years on the Columbia River and its tributaries and Bowles said it’s now probable. 

“But it’s going to be barbless, not a single-hook rule,” he said. In other words, treble hooks will still be allowed as long as they’re barbless. 
The rule will allow fish to be more easily released, with less potentially harmful handling. Idaho anglers have been using barbless hooks for salmon for several years without problems. 
How far the rule will extend into Oregon tributaries remains a question. They include the Willamette, Clackamas and Sandy rivers, all of which might potentially shift to barbless-hook fishing. 
Bowles said his staff is still reviewing Oregon’s proposals and hopes to publish a draft — including barbless hook requirements — by Tuesday afternoon. 
Columbia River surcharge: 
Washington anglers already pay an $8.75 fee in addition to their license and tags to fish on the Columbia River and its tributaries (there’s that word again). 

Oregon will follow suit, Bowles said. The amount of the fee and where it may apply (read: tributaries) remain to be settled by Tuesday afternoon, but Bowles said his staff is leaning toward Washington’s model. 
This, incidentally, will not be a commission decision. Only the Oregon Legislature can establish fees. 
Hatchery production shifts:
 Hatcheries will send more of their salmon smolts to SAFE areas and release fewer in tributaries. 

Remember, though, while that may seem a severe reduction in the number of returning fish for sport anglers in tributaries, the absence of a mainstem commercial gill-net fishery also allows more returning fish to get upriver. 
In the case of the Willamette River, for example, 1 million, or 20 percent of the hatchery production of about 5 million smolts , will be sent to SAFE zones beginning in 2013. 
But without gill-nets in the mainstem, more of the returning adults from the remaining 4 million will return past the Portland skyline. 
“It’s about a wash,” Bowles said. 
Sturgeon: All retention fishing for sturgeon in the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers –sport and commercial — is destined to end in 2013. 
Bowles said that includes the SAFE zones. 
Sturgeon are in decline and a retention ban was probably in the stars regardless of the gill-net issue. 
Summer chinook:
 Commercial fishing for summer chinook will be phased out by 2017 and they’ll become an all-sport fishery in the lower Columbia. 

Public testimony will be taken by both commissions in their December meetings, Bowles said. 
Any differences on minor points will be ironed out by the time the Columbia River Compact meets in January and February to set new rules for the Columbia. 

Do your part, go to these meetings and make your voice heard.  You can bet that I will be there…….


Tight Lines…


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