Toward a solution on the Columbia River salmon harvest conflict

By Steve Packer of Newberg, Oregon. Steve is a political activist and sports fisherman.

HB 2734 (and SB 554) offers a bipartisan solution to the decades-long conflict over the harvest of hatchery salmon in the Columbia River. The bill is the creation of four biologists who have spent many years working on salmon-related issues. This group is unique because of their extensive experience and because they are empathetic with all sides of the conflict. They have proposed a solution that reduces the impact to endangered wild fish while maintaining the needed commercial harvest of hatchery salmon. In addition the proposal increases and stabilizes sports fishing seasons.

I am personally involved in this issue because I fish. I’ve fished for as long as I can remember and have witnessed a decline in fishing opportunity. Seasons have been shortened and occasionally eliminated. More importantly the seasons are unpredictable and one cannot plan a fishing vacation. The result has been a severe decline of fishing-related businesses and with the economic crisis these already weakened businesses may not survive. In fact we have already lost a few.

Background
Salmon issues are confusing to most people because there are seven species and several key river systems, each with their own management issues. In addition some of the species have genetic variants that return to the rivers at different times of the year. This adds additional complexity for fish management in rivers like the Columbia.

Several species of hatchery fish were introduced into the Columbia River to mitigate the economic loss caused by dams to commercial salmon harvest. Extensive efforts to preserve the wild fish and not worked well and some populations of wild fish have declined to where they are now protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Recovery of these ESA fish is an important factor in any proposal for fish management. A problem arises with the harvest of hatchery fish that are comingled with ESA protected fish. Even with abundant hatchery fish, fishing opportunity is controlled by the impact on ESA fish which necessarily has to be very low.

Sports fishermen are restricted by timing, equipment and fishing practices to reduce the ESA impact. Sports fishermen are not particularly efficient and even with thousands of people trying, they could never catch all the available hatchery fish. Commercial fishing is more efficient but they have greater impact on ESA fish. When the allowable ESA impact of 2% has been reached, all fishing in the river must stop, even if there are hundreds of thousands of harvestable hatchery fish left in the river. The excess hatchery fish stray into spawning beds and potentially alter the genetic makeup of wild fish.

The miracle of salmon is their ability to imprint to their place of origin and to find their way back. Juveniles are imprinted at a specific time in their life and imprinting can be done almost anywhere. For the past 20 years, the department of fisheries has operated an experiment, called Select Area Fisheries Enhancement (SAFE), to imprint juveniles in the bays and estuaries of the lower Columbia. These fish are harvested by nets that capture 95% of all the returning hatchery fish with almost no impact to ESA fish.

A better solution for harvest of hatchery fish
HB 2734 would move more hatchery fish to the SAFE areas and restrict netting to these areas. The approximately 80 Oregon commercial fishermen in the Columbia would get as many or more fish as permitted today but with little or no impact to wild fish. The continued use of nets is needed to minimize the numbers of straying fish. The economic impact of the change proposed by HB 2734 to the commercial industry and our ability to buy salmon in a restaurant or a supermarket is neutral or positive.

With the ESA impact from nets minimized, the sports fishing seasons can be longer and more stable. The communities on the coast and river benefit from the enhanced fishing seasons with significantly greater sales to sports fishermen. The economic impact of a sports caught fish to these communities is at nearly 5x greater than of a commercially caught fish.

After years of angry confrontation, the parties in the dispute are unable to resolve the issue. The legislature is unable to spend the time to resolve such complex technical issue and the result has been to maintain the status quo. Basically there is no trust between the various groups and a cooperative solution is unlikely. To further complicate the resolution, native fish advocates and the tribes have concerns that add to the inertia which results in favoring the status quo.

Unfortunately, maintaining the status quo has resulted in a declining sports fishing industry and the loss of jobs throughout the state is frightening. This economic impact is entirely unnecessary and we have a solution with HB 2734.

Comments

  • Jiang (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I would love to debate this, but at the heart are your views about the role of humans in the world, and I have found no language where you can bring that issue up with the party faithful. Any party. Without that, we're left with, "we want to do something nice for nature", which devolves into an endless debate about how much is enough, naturally, as there is no criterion for success. To establish such a criterion means having a common, social vision of man in the world. As I say, not only do we not have that, most Democratic Party faithful find the notion of discussing the issue deeply and personally offensive. The effect is to leave those that care about the issue to create their own framework, give up, go along, or exaggerate the difference. All happen, none serve the cause, only the egos involved, and, still, it is a non-starter to discuss the underlying assumptions.

    As a case in point...

  • (Show?)

    Success would be enough wild fish in our rivers so that hatcheries would be unnecessary and all fish could be taken off the ESA. Any proposed solution that doesn't move us closer to that goal isn't a solution at all.

    Packer's HB 2734 sounds good and I would support it as long as it contributes something towards the recovery of wild fish populations.

    Maintaining a viable sports fishing industry is very important, as is maintaining a commercial fishing industry. But recovery of wild fish populations has to be the main goal.

    Hacheries are only a temporary band aid and shouldn't be considered as something permanent or as ends in themselves. The goal is to recover wild fish to the point that hatcheries are no longer needed.

  • (Show?)

    Jiang As near as I can tell, this is a non-partisan issue. The house bill is sponsored by Bruun and the senate by Bates. Hopefully, we do not have to use partisan words to justify a workable compromise solution. And, with an issue that is decades old with many organizations and hundreds for people involved, it is almost impossible to do justice to the issue with 800 works.

    The term "party faithful" is a vague and I'm not sure to whom you refer. My experience is a great joy in endless debates about the proper use of resources held in the commons.

  • (Show?)

    Adam, I agree that the first priority is recovery of the wild fish. However, the ESA is interested only in a viable population for the survival of species and not to provide sufficiently large populations of fish for harvest. The hatcheries are to mitigate all the other damage we've done to the river.

    Recovering historical runs of salmon in the Columbia would entail changes to dams, to agriculture and to logging. Addressing this broader issue would add a few hundred more angry people to the debate. I have not seen a solution to this larger problem but perhaps when one is offered we can all get behind it.

  • springer (unverified)
    (Show?)

    It's great to see this topic hit Blue Oregon.

    Most of the public - and up until now most politicians - have no idea how much money Columbia River sports fishing pumps into the local economies.

    While we beg for Federal stimulus money, and politicians tout 'shovel ready' projects, Columbia sportfishing is being strangled by illogical, decisions made by the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission. Totally inept decisions that are both contrary to fish conservation & salmon restoration, as well as Oregon's economy.

    The Columbia is our "Reel Ready" stimulus. All that's needed is minor tinkering with where the commercial gillnet fleet fishes in the lower river.

    The status quo is harming both our fish and the region's economy. As the Governor's not been willing to help, it's time for the Legislature to step in and settle this mess

  • BlueSpark (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Mr.Packer, The so-called "SAFE" proposal at the core of the two pieces of legislation you reference does not yield a conservation benefit as claimed by yourself and other SAFE proponents. The same number of ESA listed fish will be killed, the only difference is who gets to kill them.

    A more effective strategy from the sport industry might be to try forthrightness, the kind expressed in paragraph #2. The sportfishing industry wants a front-loaded fishery and uninterrupted fishing in the lower Columbia from Feb thru May.

    The lengths that the industry is going to put lipstick on this pig will probably be its undoing. Why won't the sport industry sit down with the commercials and put together a mutually agreeable strategy? The "compromise" you speak of in the reply to Jiang is simply innacurate.

    Sport fishing is in trouble. We agree on that. And it's not because a small commercial harvest community is killing it. It's dying because its allowing the Industry side to define it and drive it. The sport fishing industry is determining who,when, how, where people can fish and has made it far too complicated for the average Joe (read: the only hope for sport fishing's future) to find a point of entry. It makes snowboarding, mountainbiking, and kiteboarding (all enjoying tremendous growth)just seem a lot easier to access. I see no logic in dooming one valid beneficial-to-the-public industry to give perceived benefit to a struggling industry.

  • (Show?)

    BlueSpark HB2734 is not a conservation proposal. It is, as you correctly point out, a reallocation of the ESA impact to increase the economic value of hatchery fish in the Columbia. Recovery of ESA fish is an entirely different issue and worthy of its own discussion.

    Today we have a proposal from the commission to increase opportunity for the commercial harvest which will decrease the sports fishing opportunity. And, we have bills in the legislative process from sports fishing groups to ban nets altogether. I think it fair to judge HB2734 as a compromise between these two options.

    Sports fishing is very sensitive to perceived opportunity. People plan their vacations around seasons and need a certain amount of predictable time to confidently make their reservations. Opportunity seems much more important than actually catching a fish. The spring salmon fishing in Portland is a good example where many people participate but it takes an average of 5 days to actually catch a fish. The industry has been pretty consistent in seeking predictable seasons.

    The management of fishing seasons is the domain of the biologists. They have a difficult time with the tools available to them and they create some complex rules. However, I respect work of our biologist and believe that fishing would have ended long ago without their dedication to both recovering wild fish and ensuring opportunities to harvest hatchery fish.

  • (Show?)

    Biological restoration legislation authored by actual biologists? What will they think of next! Nice summary, Steve; let's hope this passes.

  • Bob Rees (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Great dialogue here!

    One point needing to come forward is that this concept DOES have a conservation benefit in regards to recovering wild fish.

    With the "reprogramming" of hatchery fish to lower (SAFE) area fisheries, the commercial fleet will have a much better opportunity to mop up well over 90% of the hatchery fish available. This is a far greater harvest rate that is allowed (or conceivable) on the mainstem Columbia minimizing stray rates of hatchery fish to the wild spawning beds.

    We don't want these fish mingling with our relatively "pure" strains of wild fish and compromise their ability to successfully navigate the rigor of nature. To some degree, reprogramming is already happening as federal fish policy changes are beginning to mandate it.

    HB2734 secures both the sport and commercial fishery and actually enhances both while adding further protection to wild spawning adult salmonids. It's a win-win-win for commercials, sports and wild fish altogether!

  • Mick Finn (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Conservation!? You can't put lipstick on this pig and call it conservation; this is just plain old fashioned 'meat' hatchery practices with a new label slapped on it. SAFE? Ha!

    The old meat hatchery practices (just produce more fish and throw 'em in the river so we can catch more) were correctly identified by NOAA as contributing to the decline of the salmon runs. Why? In mixed stock fisheries (fishing on runs originating from many rivers/tributaries), if you fish at the harvest rate the strong (hatchery) run can sustain you can end up over-harvesting the 'weaker' natural runs. In the not-so-old days, the state agencies put all the hatcheries below the dams, created super hatchery runs - and then over-harvested the upriver (above Bonneville) runs.

    Now, some folks, mostly the tribes to begin with, saw the folly in that mgmt approach and called for putting the fish back where the runs were weakest, "supplementing" the natural runs (using fish from that river) with a hatchery boost to mitigate for loses at the dams. That's right, try to make hatcheries more closely mimic the natural runs. Seems like a sensible idea right? I mean, either that or just shut down all the hatcheries. The Upriver Bright fall chinook that return to the Hanford Reach are a great example of how this program can work - and that's old style supplementation. The programs in place now - the ones that brought coho back to the Snake and spring chinook back to the Umatilla - are leaps and bounds ahead of that program.

    But, oh no, first the hoops the tribes had to go through with that 'untested' proposal: too many 'hatchery' fish will stray when they return to spawn, 'polluting' other natural runs (even though salmon stray naturally to some extent); too much 'extra' production will tax the carrying capacity of the estuary and further impact weak runs; even using fish from the same run would weaken the gene pool because those fish started in a hatchery (forget the fact that they managed to migrate and feed in the North Pacific and then successfully returned to spawn - they were still too 'weak').

    But now, a couple of "conservationists" (well, let's be honest - sporties - or 'fish ticklers' to be more accurate) want all of the downriver allocation and boy have they got a deal for the commercial guys! Hooboy, we're gonna make so many fish that you'll have a hard time catching them all in your very own exclusive fishing zones! Funny, seems like now these hatchery fish aren't going to stray, all these extra hatchery fish won't burden the estuary (what, are we going to stop other upriver production now so sporties can play this game downriver?). Yeah, this one smells bad . . . at least one poster is honest about the ultimate goal of the sporties: get rid of the commercial guys and the tribes so that they can have all of the catch . . .

    This is just a trojan horse, an attempt to suck the downriver commercial guys into a program that will be eliminated in a few years time (I'd give it ten at the most) for budgetary reasons - along with the last of the lower river gillnetters.

    Guess we all know who has the lobbying dollars to pass out now - bipartisan my butt.

  • flipper (unverified)
    (Show?)

    in the background house bill 2734 second paragraph says the truth!hatchery fish were introduced to mitigate economic loss to commercial harvest!!the non fishing public 98% of oregon needs commercials to enjoy columbia river salmon!! please dont support these bills they dont make sense.there is way more to it than sport fishing for 2% of oregon.

  • Steve Packer (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Mick Finn, Flipper

    Thanks for adding your comments to this thread. You’ve helped add credibility to my assertion that the difficult management of hatchery fish harvest is even more difficult with participants angry and distrustful. This thread is aging and may non-fishermen need to read opinions from all sides. I wonder why it took so long for you to find it.

    A few sports fishermen, like me, think the nets are absolutely necessary for the continued use of the river for hatchery fish. A majority of sports fishermen want the nets banned altogether and a bill exists in this session to do just that. And at least one sports fishing group has hopes of resolving the issue in the courts. I think we can do better.

    HB 2734 is not “SAFE”. The SAFE program is an experiment conducted by the state to separate some of the hatchery fish from ESA fish so they can be harvested aggressively. This 20 year program is proving to be both successful and non-controversial. While not a conservation effort specifically, it is beneficial to reduce ESA impact for aggressively netting as many hatchery fish as we can. If you want a TLA for HB 2734, SfS would be more accurate.

    HB 2734 proposes to move more fish to the SAFE areas over a 5 year period. This movement would be done with care to observe and correct any unintended consequences of addition fish in SAFE areas. Commercial fishermen would move to the SAFE areas only after the state proves the availability of the fish and demonstrating trustworthiness. Failure of the program would return the nets to the river and return to the status quo. If the lobbyists for the various parties want amendments ensuring such intent, the could offer good faith amendments and support the bill.

    HB 2734 is bipartisan. There are Rs and Ds on both sides and one cannot predict where an individual will vote based solely on conservative/liberal leaning. Sports fishermen resist organization, are tight with their money and conflicted in their views. They certainly do not have lobbyists with bags of money to buy this issue. You need to look to power, timber and agribusiness lobbyists for that kind of power. Their problems would be lessened if salmon were not an issue. I worry that the end result of a failure to find a compromise will be the elimination of hatchery fish from the river altogether. But, I can’t back up that prediction.

  • springer (unverified)
    (Show?)

    SAFEforSalmon is a sensible plan. It's truly an "Oregon Solution". It gives both commercial fisherman and sport fisherman better access to hatchery fish which are there to harvest. And it provides conservation benefits by, among other things, nearly eliminating gillnet bycatch of ESA listed salmon, and other wild stocks. It basically brings Columbia River harvest management into the modern era.

    When you read the opposition to this win-win solution, you have to wonder what is their motivation? Why do they want to sustain the gillnetter-versus-angler feud? How are they profiting from the status quo that keeps our lower Columbia communities economically distressed? And helps to drive iconic Oregon businesses like G.I.Joes and North River boats into bankruptcy?

  • flipper (unverified)
    (Show?)

    springer you must be a sport,ya sport for fun fisherman not a commercial guied for money in the fishing business that wants commercials off the river.the ones that use poles our the ones that use nets ?north river boats in idaho!!!!.lets all go to safe zones if your really concerned.not just one group getting shut down on the river.

  • killem (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Most of the sports and guides are ignorant people and want it all. They don't care about commercial fishing families. There is too many guides and they should be made limited entry, they make more money on the river than any commercial fishermen and they want more and more it wont stop with the river not hard to imagine.

  • springer (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Flipper and killem, thanks for making my point, but I'll say it again --

    "When you read the opposition to this win-win solution, you have to wonder what is their motivation? Why do they want to sustain the gillnetter-versus-angler feud? How are they profiting from the status quo that keeps our lower Columbia communities economically distressed? And helps to drive iconic Oregon businesses like G.I.Joes and North River Boats (Roseburg), into bankruptcy?"

    Killem, You will be glad to know that SAFEforSalmon actually promises greater amounts of hatchery salmon to the commercial gillnet fleet than they are getting now. More fish and greater certainty. That is better for commercial fishing families - and everyone, than the status quo. (Unless, you're a business that profits off of people's poverty).

    We're all in this together, and a win-win solution like SAFEforSalmon offers is exactly what this region needs.

  • flipper (unverified)
    (Show?)

    i agree but takeing one user group off the river dosent fix the problem.it makes it look like the problem is the group being taken off .that is going to make it better!!.not the problem people!!!.to many sport fishermen wanting all the fish to be cauhgt in the metropotitan area!!!. they already over fish the willamett river in teir own town now they want the whole river.if we build up the safe areas they will want that too.!!too many sports not enough fish so lets get rid of the little guys.

  • Gary L Johnson (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Here we go again with another band aid on the problem of overharvest. I'm glad we can also program salmon to stay at the mouth of a river and not stray up river. Can we start thinking about the resource and its future instead who get's what? Salmon extinction is the bottom line and how do we prevent that? Well we haven't yet! More are on the brink and all we can think about is allocation. I'm sorry but gillnetts do not support conservation in any way shape or form. Let's find a better way to harvest the fish and stop the destruction of many species all at once! Another issue I have with a gill net is the common practice of mess size. I guess the other species that are not being targeted know how to swim through these small triangles without getting damaged. These fish are smarter than I thought. Can we be realistic and stop the smoke screens to real issues?

  • flipper (unverified)
    (Show?)

    the biggest problem isnt over harvest like some might think that dont know all that is being done on the commercial side of harvesting fish for consumers.live boxs,short drifts tangle nets,enforcement,schooling on tangle nets,more then most can imagin is happening on commercial boats to ensure the safe release of endangerd wild salmon.on the sport side of the fishery i dont know one thing to ensure safe release of wild stock.do you?

  • Gary L Johnson (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Hmmm... overharvest isn't the problem? Sorry man I disagree. Salmon in there migration are harvested in Alaska, Canada, and when they return to Washington. I wonder why not enough fish made it back to Oregon and California last year? Oh yah, I forgot, tangle nets and gill nets, have you looked any fish that have been through the mess of a gill net or the bycatch rates for a tangle net? Sports fisherman use barbless hook for quick release, they are not allowed to boat a wild fish, charter boats do the same. Please compare recreational fishing regulations to Commercial regulations. Nets don't discriminate unless you think there is a smart net out there. Let's look at better alternatives for commercial harvest!The bottom line is salmon are going extinct and lets look at the facts. Unless we change our ways you can expect more of the same.

  • flipper (unverified)
    (Show?)

    like i said. some people dont know what their taking about.and cant be educated.over harvest is not the problem with spring salmon gary!we can only impact 2% of the wild stock.the fight with sport vs commercials is over that .2%

  • killem (unverified)
    (Show?)

    flipper gary is just one more stupid selfish sport they don't understand.and it would only make sense that they should have to use a live box no question the best way for a wild fish or steelhead release rather than a fight to death then released with the fancy barbless hook all you get is a fish going to the bottom of the river they say they don't but its true if they wont a healthy fish release use a live box but that's brobably to much to deal with

  • flipper (unverified)
    (Show?)

    i think we should introduce a bil to stop sportfishing on the columbia river.sport groups seem to think they have to have it all becase the jobs their loosing!!. the hatcheries on the columbia river were built for the continued harvest of commercial caught salmon for the non sport fihing community to enjoy on thier dinner table.by the way is 98% of oregon residents.as far as jobs being.commercial fishing has lost about 90% of thier fleet because of lost fishing seasons.due to ESA listings,shortnd seasons,dams,seals,sealions,other user groups,the list goes on.as for picking on a user group you should go after the big one that is realy creating it.the sport group.commercial fishermen belive in (salmon for all)

  • killem (unverified)
    (Show?)
    <h2>great comment flipper SALMON FOR ALL (STUPID SPORTS)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!</h2>
guest column

connect with blueoregon