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Ecology and salmon related articles

Making a Case for Sport Salmon Fishery

by Bill Monroe
The Oregonian, December 28, 2003

As you might expect, there's little debate among the region's leading tackle and bait industry suppliers about how they'd like to see salmon allocated from yet another banner spring chinook run in 2004.

And it's not quite the vision of commercial gill-netters, who aired their side of the story here last week in a letter asking for more cooperation, more commercial catches and less bickering between gill nets and sports anglers.

"To the Sports Editor:

"Mr. Wells and Bill Monroe were correct (Sports section, Dec. 21) when they advocated that out of a spring chinook run predicted to be over 360,000, the public should expect access to these fish.

"They are wrong, however, in characterizing commercial, non-Native American gill nets as beneficial to the public.

"In fact, restaurants and supermarkets have plenty of access to fresh spring chinook through terminal and tribal commercial fishing.

"The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates as many as 15,000 spring chinook will be harvested in terminal fisheries; they're conducted in bays away from the main stem where nets have a minimal impact on wild upriver Columbia salmon.

"In 2002, tribes harvested 18,000 springers and sold them to the public.

"The controversy at hand revolves around whether the sport fishery should be restricted to provide an additional 10,000 salmon to a few non-Native American commercial gill-netters for mainstem, mixed stock commercial fishing.

"The core issue is horsepower.

"The commercial fleet was so effective last year it caught 80 percent of its allocated endangered fisheries impacts in one 10-hour tide.

"This caused the recreational fishery to be drastically curtailed, losing 25,000 angler trips and more than $2.5 million in economic benefits to communities.

"For three years now, the non-tribal commercial fleet discarded nearly one steelhead and one chinook for every kept fish.

"But it's tough to be selective with nets. The mortality rate is twice as high for salmon and three times for steelhead released from nets than in the sport fishery, where only one in 10 released wild fish subsequently die.

"When there is a large run of hatchery fish, like the coming year, the sport fleet can selectively access twice as many.

"Granted, there was a year when the commercial fleet gave a sliver of impacts to sport anglers. The fact is, when the allowed impacts to endangered salmon are small, the commercial fleet is too efficient to fish for those small numbers.

"The sport fleet has a lighter touch and can be managed for smaller impacts.

"It takes an average of four angler trips to catch one spring chinook. A 1996 survey of anglers in Oregon demonstrated economic benefits of at least $100 a trip.

"Boats, motors, trailers, gas, ice, bait, food, rods, reels and electronics are manufactured and sold along the river and throughout the region.

"A 2001 Idaho study, for example, showed a $90 million boost to the Idaho economy from spring chinook. In Riggins alone, the fish represented 23 percent of the community's annual retail sales!

"It may not make sense to the public to close down or reduce a fishery that returns $100 to $400 per salmon in economic benefits to communities simply to conduct a limited net fishery with bycatch and mortality problems.

"With tens of thousands of visitors to the river of Lewis and Clark, followed by the Vancouver, B.C., Olympics in 2010, this region has an opportunity to expand our tourist economy.

"Stable sport fisheries will ensure repeat visitors. The Columbia River sport fishery for spring chinook went from nearly zero to $20 million with our efforts to catch hatchery fish and let wild fish go.

"Where else can such a return be obtained?

"A better balance is to allow the tribal and terminal net fisheries to provide food to the restaurants and supermarkets while allocating the mainstem, non-Native American portion to sport angling.

"The sport fishery maximizes the economics to Oregon and Washington communities with the least mortalities to listed, wild steelhead and salmon."

DAN GROGAN President, Fisherman's Marine & Outdoors and president, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association

Both camps are debating how to split small percentages of wild and protected Snake River spring chinook that mix with larger numbers of Willamette and Columbia fish.

Biologists in Oregon and Washington set seasons under the direction of fish and wildlife commissions in each state. They factor in numbers of wild fish killed incidentally when released from gill nets or off hook and line.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, in its last meeting, was leaning toward a larger allocation to sport anglers to minimize the impact of commercial gill nets. It will decide on an Oregon policy in Salem on Jan. 9.

Washington commissioners will set that side of the river's allocation wishes Jan. 16 or 17 in Olympia.

Meanwhile, with players on both sides of the issues now weighed in, we're back to the original column notation (Dec. 14) that kicked off the current debate:

"Battle looms."

Bill Monroe
Making a Case for Sport Salmon Fishery
The Oregonian, December 28, 2003

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