A Conversation with the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission


On Friday, September 15th in Welches, Oregon the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission met to discuss several items important to fisheries conservationists throughout the state.

First, the wild B-run summer steelhead in the Columbia continues to be of critical concern due to their all-time low returns. Earlier in the year, the Native Fish Society utilized an action alert, to urge the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to increase protections during the migration of these fish up the Columbia River.

At the September Commission meeting, the Native Fish Society advocated protecting wild steelhead from angling while they're holding in a series of known refuges along the state's 400-mile border with the Columbia River. The recommendations were science-based, enforceable, and met the various criteria involved in angling regulations.

NFS Executive Director, Mark Sherwood said, "We're not talking about a recovery measure, we're talking about an emergency situation that we need to respond to." He went on to say, "Oregon has taken leadership before in the Columbia River, and it's our intent to be working in the other states to provide as much protection for these fish as we can." The Commission directed the conservation groups including the Conservation Angler, The Native Fish Society, Trout Unlimited, and the Wild Fish Conservancy to work with ODFW staff to design those increased protections for refuge areas.

The second issue discussed was Willamette winter steelhead, the River Stewards who advocated for a proactive approach to this year's historically low return, and the sea lions at Willamette Falls. "To peg the extinction of Willamette Winter Steelhead on sea lions is not telling the whole story," said Conrad Gowell, River Steward Program Director with the Native Fish Society. "There are things we can do, and people who want to do them that does not require congressional action." For instance, there is no minimum escapement level for winter steelhead over Willamette Falls. We are still actively fishing over them, regardless of their dire condition." There are major, systemic issues in the Willamette, and we should continue to address the suite of threats to native fish in the watershed. River Stewards recently launched a campaign called Respect the Springers to bring science-based fisheries management to anadromous fisheries recovery.

The Commission also acted to maintain the no bag, no size limit for smallmouth bass in the central zone, including the Deschutes River. As the Native Fish Society continues to address the many ecological strains facing the Deschutes, we are encouraged that smallmouth bass, a non-native predator species, are being managed secondarily to threatened salmon, steelhead, and trout. Effective immediately, anglers may legally retain an unlimited number of non-native bass in the central zone. The Deschutes River, however, is only one of a number of areas statewide where conflicts between non-native warm water fish and endangered native fish species exist. We believe a statewide policy addressing this issue is warranted and is uniquely positioned to bolster sport fishing opportunity and contribute towards the conservation and recovery of native fish.

Finally, the Native Fish Society invited the commission members on a field trip to see an experimental fish trap on the Lower Columbia River first hand. This project, in collaboration with the Wild Fish Conservancy, has demonstrated very low post-release by-catch mortality and is currently studying the long-term survival of post-release fish. An alternative to gill nets or purse seines, pound traps have the potential to provide both real conservation benefits to imperiled salmon and steelhead while improving local fishing economies. To learn more check out our Fish Trap Fisheries campaign web page.

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