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Gillnetters Gripe Over
Effort to Reform Harvest

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, December 13, 2012

A Fall Chinook succumbs to a gill net. After spending around $850,000 to defeat an Oregon ballot initiative last month that would have outlawed their fishery, lower Columbia gillnetters say the latest analysis by a two-state working group tackling a proposal to reform harvest initiated by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is deeply flawed.

The plan calls for moving the gillnet fleet out of the lower mainstem to reduce impacts on ESA-listed fish stocks, and boosting fish production in select areas out of the main channel, where the fleet now harvests part of its annual catch. The Select Area Fisheries Enhancement (SAFE) project is mainly funded by BPA ($1.9 million annually), NOAA Fisheries ($797,000) and the states of Oregon ($1.3 million) and Washington ($68,000).

The working group released a draft document on Nov. 9 that fleshed out the proposal, including an economic analysis that suggested the gillnetters would make 20 percent more money by 2018, even after giving up the lucrative spring chinook and summer chinook fisheries in the mainstem.

But the commercial groups don't believe it. "It's not worth the paper it's printed on," said Hobe Kytr, spokesman for the groups, and director of the Astoria-based Salmon for All.

The analysis suggests the commercial fleet could catch at least another million dollars' worth of hatchery fall chinook with more selective gear, possibly purse seines, and more than make up for the spring and summer catches they would give up earlier in each fishing season. The study pegs the current value of the commercial catch at around $3.6 million annually. By 2018, it estimated the value could be $4.4 million.

Salmon for All's Kytr said fishermen raised questions about the economic analysis at a public meeting in Seaside, Ore., on Nov. 15, but were stonewalled by the working group staff, which provided no source for the numbers. Kytr said it isn't clear whether the analysis was even performed by economists, instead of biologists just "playing with numbers."

Kytr also said the gillnetters countered claims that their harvest method was non-selective. Rather, he said, there is evidence that it is at least as selective as recreational fishing. "That report is full of bogus science, voodoo math, and voodoo economics," Kytr said.

The working group's draft said the recreational sector's share in the mainstem spring chinook fishery would go up from 60-65 percent to 80 percent by 2017. For the summer fishery, the 50-50 share would transition to an 80- to 100-percent share for the sport side. The tule fall chinook catch in the lower river would also shift from an even split to nearly 80 percent for the recreational sector. With the upriver bright fishery now split 50-50, it would go up to 70-30, with most for sporties, but new gear like beach or purse seines above the Lewis River would be phased in by 2017, to allow commercials to catch more of the harvestable surplus.

According to the report, "It is anticipated that nearly half of the lower river harvestable surplus of upriver bright fall chinook would be allocated to mainstem commercial fisheries under this scenario."

The potential changes due to shifting allotments in the future has also alarmed the tribes who fish upriver of Bonneville Dam. The lower Columbia tribes, which do not support the harvest reform effort, view it as a battle over fish allocation between the sporties and the gillnetters. According to Kytr, the tribes requested that the working group's analysis be vetted by the technical committee associated with the U.S. v. Oregon process that governs inriver harvests, but their request was denied by representatives of the two states.

Any reform effort would not affect overall harvest rates, because the non-tribal share would not change. For an upriver spring chinook run in the Columbia River of around 200,000 fish, the non-tribal share averages around 2 percent, while tribal fishers above Bonneville are allowed about 10 percent for ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial fishing.

Upriver fall chinook harvest is also on a sliding scale, depending on the run size and the ESA-listed portion that is headed for the Snake River. It can be as high as 45 percent, with treaty fishers taking 30 percent.

There are a lot of other unresolved questions, Kytr added, about just how many fish the recreational sector is really harvesting, since their catch is simply estimated, rather than actually counted, unlike the gillnet harvest. Sporties also have three years to mail in their punch cards, which the agencies use to tally their catches, but Kytr said only 20 percent of the cards are ever turned in.

Kytr said political allies of the commercial sector in the two state legislatures may be called upon to help them fight the new proposal. Back in September, Kytr told NW Fishletter Gov. Kitzhaber's plan was totally unrealistic, and legislators already knew it. He said there is no room on either side of the river to expand the select area fisheries and allow the current fleet to fish, and no funding to pay for it when BPA and NOAA quit spending on it in 2017. BPA has spent about $14 million on the project since 2004.

Kitzhaber later acknowledged some of the gillnetters' concerns, and suggested ways to mitigate them in a letter read to Oregon's F&W Commission at their Dec. 7 meeting, before they approved the harvest reform package.

Related Stories
Oregon Approves Changes to Lower Columbia Fisheries by Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter, 12/13/12

Bill Rudolph
Gillnetters Gripe Over Effort to Reform Harvest
NW Fishletter, December 13, 2012

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