Washington Offers Small Compromises
by Allen Thomas
Washington and Oregon officials will dicker next week to try to resolve their month-old standoff over sport and commercial allocations of Columbia River spring chinook salmon.
On Friday, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission identified two areas of potential compromise to meet Oregon's desired level of gillnet catch in March and April.
Columbia spring chinook are, arguably, the finest salmon in the world. Catch-sharing agreements between sportsmen and commercial fishermen have sparked bitter fights three of the past four years.
A majority of the Washington commissioners appear to favor sport interests, while a majority of the Oregon panel tend to back the commercials.
To quell the feud, a committee of three Washington and three Oregon commissioners met three times this fall and negotiated a recommendation for a five-year allocation plan to take back to their respective commissions.
The four principals for spring chinook allocation, were, in this order:
The sports share can range from 55 percent to 85 percent, depending on the forecasts for the two watersheds. But in most years, the matrix would fall in the 65 percent sport-35 percent commercial category.
In mid-December, the full Oregon commission changed the base to 55 percent sport and 45 percent commercial, and added 10 percent to the commercial share in the other cells of the matrix.
Upon hearing that news, the full Washington commission balked, and still has not adopted an allocation policy.
A huge return of 298,900 spring chinook headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam is forecast to enter the Columbia beginning next month.
Washington's preferred position results in an early commercial catch of 4,400 spring chinook and 13,200 overall, if the forecast is accurate. Oregon's policy would result in a gillnet catch of 6,100 in early spring and 15,500 overall.
Washington commissioners agreed Friday they will negotiate over the allocation given to the off-channel areas (mostly in Oregon) and the buffer placed on commercial fisheries early in the season to assure conservation guidelines are not exceeded.
Phil Anderson, interim director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, suggested shifting the catch guaranteed in the off-channel areas in order to give the netters a bit more early time in the main Columbia.
The other negotiating point would be to lessen the early-season buffer on the commercial catch from 50 percent to 40 percent.
Reducing the commercial buffer could boost the early commercial catch to 5,800 in 2009, said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington agency. It could result in fewer fish for the commercials in May, although spring chinook caught in March and April fetch a much higher price.
Commission member Gary Douvia of Kettle Falls said Oregon has moved from setting spring salmon seasons based on objectives to "arguing over the numbers."
Washington commission chairman Jerry Gutzwiler of Wenatchee, said at each allocation meeting in the fall Oregon came with "a new, unilateral proposal.
"That got kind of old for us," he added.
"I think any time you suggest you want to allow any more time for the commercials out on the Columbia River - even though this will be pretty small - that will not be very appealing to the recreational side," Gutzwiler said.
Washington hopes to have a response by mid-week from Oregon. A teleconference is scheduled on Friday tentatively to adopt a final Washington spring chinook allocation policy.
Specific details of the sport and commercial seasons are scheduled to be set Jan. 29 in Oregon City.
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