Photo by Mark Gibson
A pair of steelhead spawn in Mill Creek south of The Dalles.
As of Saturday, January 27, 2018
ASTORIA (AP) — Gillnet fishermen on the Columbia River may be killing less steelhead while trying to catch other fish, according to preliminary data gathered by Oregon and Washington state observers.
The state observations of the fishermen last year indicated that steelhead mortality may be much lower than the historic rate of about 49 percent, The Daily Astorian reported.
The steelhead mortality rate fell between 8 and 24 percent in 2009, 2012 and 2017, said Tucker Jones, ocean salmon Columbia River program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The rate indicates the percentage of fish that fishermen catch in their nets that are expected to be dead.
The historic rate is based on data collected during test fishing trips and observations in the 1980s and 1990s.
The new data will be presented to regulatory commissions as officials plan for the upcoming fishing seasons on the Columbia River.
"Pending some independent review, our analysis looks like we might have well overestimated the mortality," said Bill Tweit, assistant to the director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
While the lower mortality rate could be good news for fishermen, some were cited last year after refusing to allow state observers to board their vessels. The fishermen said they refused due to concerns and confusion about safety and liability.
Jim Wells, president of the commercial fishing advocacy organization Salmon For All, said he allowed an observer on board for the first fishing period, but refused during the third. He said the water was rough that night and he thought it wasn't safe.
Oregon State Police charged Wells for the violation, but a court later lowered it to a citation with a $225 fine.