The updated policy builds on a joint strategy by Washington and Oregon to restructure recreational and commercial salmon fisheries on the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam.
Adopted by the commission in 2013, the policy was designed to promote conservation of salmon and steelhead, prioritize recreational salmon fishing in the lower Columbia River, and transition gillnet fisheries into off-channel areas by Dec. 31, 2016. The policy also calls for increasing hatchery releases in these areas, while expanding commercial fishing opportunities through the use of alternative fishing gear.
The policy included a four-year transition period, with full implementation scheduled for 2017, but also allowed for modifications to the plan.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), voted to implement most of the key provisions of the current policy but modified the allocation of fall chinook salmon between the recreational and commercial fisheries.
The modification increases the recreational fishery's share of fall chinook from 70 to 75 percent for the next two years, before increasing to 80 percent in 2019. Originally the policy called for the allocation to increase to 80 percent in 2017. The updated policy also would explicitly allow a mainstem commercial gillnet fishery for upriver bright fall chinook upstream from the confluence of the Lewis River in 2017 and 2018, but requires improved fisheries monitoring.
"While we have made a couple changes to the policy for the next two years, we are committed to full implementation, meeting conservation goals and transitioning gillnets into off-channels areas," said Larry Carpenter, vice-chair of the commission.
The commission approved fully implementing the current policy's planned allocation shift for spring chinook, increasing the recreational fishery's share of the stock from 70 to 80 percent beginning this year. The allocation of summer chinook for the recreational fishery also would increase from 70 to 80 percent this year.
In addition, the commission directed staff to move forward with developing and implementing the use of alternative commercial fishing gear by 2019, and aggressively pursue a buyback program for commercial gillnet licenses.
The updated policy, which will be available in the next week on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/, was approved by a 7 to 2 vote.
Also during its two-day meeting (Jan. 13-14) in Vancouver, the commission voted to keep woodland caribou, western pond turtles and sandhill cranes on Washington's list of endangered species.
The commission also adopted updates – mostly housekeeping changes – to the North of Falcon policy, which provides direction to fishery managers in defining annual salmon fishing seasons in Washington's waters. As part of the discussion, the commission received a briefing on open public meetings law and efforts to provide greater transparency during the season-setting process.
Commissioners also approved several land transactions including the purchase of 1,280 acres of Department of Natural Resources land in the Stemilt Basin in Chelan County for $1.95 million. The purchase allows the department to preserve habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species and provide public access for outdoor recreation.
WDFW staff also presented an overview of last year's efforts by the department to stop a wolf pack from preying on livestock in a federal grazing area in northeast Washington. Following a new protocol developed in conjunction with its Wolf Advisory Group, the department removed seven members of the Profanity Peak pack after non-lethal measures failed to stop the attacks on cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest. A new report on WDFW's management action is posted on the department's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/.
In other news, Gov. Jay Inslee has re-appointed Kim Thorburn to the commission and appointed Barbara Baker, of Thurston County, to succeed Conrad Mahnken, of Bainbridge Island. Mahnken, who served on the commission for 11 years, did not seek re-appointment when his term expired at the beginning of this year.
The commission also re-elected Brad Smith chair and Larry Carpenter vice-chair.