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Lower Columbia River Fisheries Management Reform

Working to remove non-treaty commercial gillnets from the lower Columbia River

As anglers, we are limited to selectively harvesting hatchery fish in the lower Columbia River to minimize impacts to endangered wild salmon, while the commercial industry is able to indiscriminately harvest any fish in the river with non-selective gillnets. Because of this double standard, much of the angling and conservation communities have spent decades fighting to remove non-selective, non-treaty commercial gill nets from the lower mainstem Columbia River. In 2013, we thought we had finally won this battle. In the bi-state Columbia River Salmon Fisheries Management Policy, both Oregon and Washington agreed to move commercial gillnet fisheries to off-channel “Select Area Fisheries Enhancement” locations.

The original 2013 reform policies were developed to resolve persistent conflicts and provide certainty for lower mainstem Columbia fisheries. Northwest Steelheaders supported the adoption of these policy reforms and we continue to support their full implementation, including the commitments to:

1. Improve the selectivity and conservation value of lower mainstem non-treaty commercial salmon fisheries through the replacement of gillnet fisheries with alternative mark-selective, live-release fisheries using alternative gear.
2. Optimize the economic and social benefits to our region through the prioritization of recreational fisheries on the mainstem.

Washington Abandoned the Commerical Gillnet Ban

Unfortunately, both states began to revisit these commitments in 2020. In October, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission decided to not only reintroduce commercial gillnets on their side of the lower mainstem Columbia, but to supplement this commercial fishery with a portion of our recreational harvest allocation despite overwhelming opposition from more than 40 Washington state legislators, 120 environmental and conservation organizations, and many businesses in the sportfishing industry.

A great many of our members, including those of the Columbia River Chapter in Vancouver, Washington, fish for salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River and are deeply concerned about the Washington Commission’s new Columbia River Fisheries Management Policy. Recreational anglers and sportfishing industry organizations have traditionally been some of the most vocal supporters of the Fish and Wildlife agencies and Commissions before the legislatures. That support is being undermined, however, by ill-advised decisions to revive and extend non-selective gill netting on the lower Columbia River, and to reduce the public recreational fishery’s share of the catch in favor of commercial exploitation by private interests.

Next Steps

We will continue to track how Washington’s new salmon fisheries policy is implemented over the coming year. In the meantime, we are transitioning our focus to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in an effort to hold them to the commitments they made in the 2013 agreement: prioritizing recreational harvest and eliminating commercial non-treaty gill nets from the lower mainstem Columbia River. To receive news and action alerts about this ongoing campaign, please sign up to be a Columbia River Defender.