Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Today's Catch: Who Benefits?

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Cui bono? That’s Latin, for “who benefits?” The responsibility for an act can usually be determined by asking who stands to gain as a result of the act.

At press time, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission had voted to ban the commercial gillnet fishery on the main stem of the Columbia River in early December, and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission was scheduled to vote on the same issue on December 15th.

While ostensibly done in the name of “conservation,” what’s the actual motivation behind Governor Kitzhaber’s misguided notion to take the wild Columbia River salmon resource away from the public and hand it to a small group of sport fishermen? Sport fishermen keep one fish for every three or four they catch, but one man’s “catch and release” is another man’s “selective harvest.” A recent Alaska Department of Fish and Game study of caught and released king salmon in the Kenai River found that small males suffer the highest mortality rate of up to 17.6 percent, while large males suffer the lowest, up to 9.7%. In other words, catch-and-release kills small kings at twice the rate as large kings, and the large trophy fish a Columbia River angler will keep actually stands a much better chance than the smaller fish he catches and tosses back. These smaller fish are the same ones that are too small to be caught in a commercial gillnet, giving them a fighting chance of growing up to become a larger, commercially viable fish. This demonstrates any argument by the State of Oregon that the new ban is ecologically sound to be specious at best.

Washington State’s proposal also calls for the phase out, over a three-year period, of commercial gillnets from the mainstem of the Columbia River. The alternative proposed by the two-state solution is for the current commercial fleet to change gear types from gillnets to purse seines.

This proposal boggles the mind.

The nets alone will be a big investment: count on between $17,500 and $20,000 to have the new nets made, and expect to spend several thousand dollars on a powerblock and the upgraded hydraulic system to run it.

Converting a Columbia River gillnetter to a seiner is virtually impossible, says local shipyard owner and fisherman Bill Gardner, whose experience includes more than 40 seasons of commercial fishing, as well as 40 off seasons of building and repairing fishing vessels, including hundreds of gillnetters and seiners. He says the closest comparison to this might be found in the Prince William Sound Gillnet/seine combination boats.

“The very smallest boats of this fleet are much bigger and really entirely different boats from the Columbia River gillnetters,” he says, noting that a seine boat of any size requires considerably more reserve buoyancy and stability than is generally found in a typical Columbia River boat. “I do not believe any marine surveyor worth his salt nor any Coast Guard safety inspector would approve of this sort of experiment leaving port.”

That opinion is confirmed by John E. Long, Jr. of North Star Insurance Services, who says that a roll test or stability report would be required in order to insure a converted vessel, and “our underwriters undoubtedly would not go for this due to the size of the vessel compared to the weight of the nets.”

Over the years consumers have been gradually educated on the benefits of wild vs. farmed salmon. If the drive to eliminate gillnets continues, only farmed fish will be available in stores – the wild fish will only be available to those with the time, equipment and disposable income to fish recreationally. Cui bono?

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