Fish Trap Fisheries

In collaboration with the Wild Fish Conservancy, we are evaluating an experimental fish trap, known as a pound net, as an alternative, stock-selective fishing tool for use in commercial salmon fisheries. This project is a continuation of efforts to assist veteran commercial fisherman Blair Peterson in the construction and testing of his 2013 prototype trap. A pound net is a stationary fish trap that passively captures returning adult salmon, enabling selective harvest of target stocks, such as hatchery origin fish, and release all endangered and listed stocks. Historically notorious for the over-harvest, these traditional technologies also hold substantial promise in reducing non-target mortality of ESA-listed fish in helping commercial fisheries become more sustainable and reducing the inbreeding of hatchery and wild salmonids.


Goals:

  • Test, refine, and operate a modern pound net trap.
  • Determine effectiveness of the harvest method in capturing salmon relative to previously tested alternative gears. Directly estimate species-specific catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE)
  • Evaluate ability of a pound net to effectively protect non-target species through identification of capture/release conditions and cumulative survival of released fishes.
  • Initiate a stakeholder driven legislative reform effort by putting forth a bill incentivizing entry and enabling lawful use of alternative fishing gears.

Background:

As fisheries have become increasingly regulated, resource allocation battles have become commonplace between different user groups (commercial, recreational, and subsistence groups), to the continued detriment of threatened and endangered fish. By creating a voluntary, non-regulatory, collaborative fish trap project, users can focus on ways they can selectively harvest mixed-stock fisheries and improve the stability of their fishing economy, subsistence and ceremonial fishing opportunities, while contributing to the increased escapement and survival of wild, native fish reaching the spawning grounds.

The recent downturn in ocean productivity, combined with drought conditions experienced throughout the Northwest over the past several years, has led to the lower returns on record for many threatened and endangered fish populations throughout the Columbia River basin. Commercial fisheries are at risk of severe closures, and tribal fish managers are having to decide between ceremonial harvest and future hatchery operations. By reducing bycatch impacts, or the unintended harvest of threatened species, in the Pacific Northwest commercial and tribal salmon and steelhead fisheries we can aid the recovery of endangered fishes and make fishing opportunities more resilient to environmental variability.

With the continuation of salmonid hatchery programs in the Columbia River and Pacific Northwest, development of stock-selective gears for improved targeting of hatchery-orgin fishes and reduction of bycatch impacts to wild fish stocks is necessary for the recovery of Endangered Species Act listed salmonids and rejuvenation of commercial fisheries. While hatchery production can enhance short-term harvest for local fishers, the escapement of hatchery fish, and the genetic consequences is detrimental to the persistence of wild, native fish species. Furthermore, the use of gillnets for harvest of hatchery salmon inflicts detrimental rates of bycatch mortality, hindering recovery of non-target wild fishes and forcing premature closure of fisheries when Endangered Species Act “take” limits have been exceeded.

This project strives to identify an effective and innovative fishing practice/traditional technology for the reduction of bycatch impacts to endangered salmonids. Based on historical blueprints of columbia River Traps and inspiried by stock-selective successes in Puget Sound fisheries, the fish trap was constructed in the lower Columbia River where salmon traps were once common prior to the 1936 fixed-fishing-gear ban. The Native Fish Society and Wild Fish Conservancy are now working on reaching out to resource managers for their participation in the collaborative process, and are working to identify the best ways to protect some of the most threatened runs of ESA listed fishes in the Northwest.

Key Documents:

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