The proposal, presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Aug. 14, would prevent the use of gillnets by non-tribal fishers on the main channel of the lower Columbia River, and would restrict them to off-channel areas within the Select Area Fisheries Enhancement (SAFE) program. The commission has directed the Department of Fish and Wildlife to draft the necessary rules to implement the plan. The SAFE program, a collaborative initiative of the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments, Clatsop County, the Bonneville Power Administration and local commercial fishers and processors, releases juvenile hatchery salmon at four off-channel locations on the lower Columbia. The sites were selected to maximize harvest opportunities for commercial fishers while minimizing impacts on wild salmon runs listed under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011 the SAFE program released a total of 5.85 million spring and fall Chinook and coho juvenile salmon. Clatsop County’s Fisheries Program currently raises fish for three of the SAFE areas: Youngs Bay, Tongue Point and Blind Slough. Juvenile salmon are reared in the program’s net-pen structures to acclimate them to river conditions before their release. The board’s letter explains that the SAFE program was established to provide only a supplemental source of fish to commercial harvesters, and that catches in the main Columbia channel still account for more than half of the total non-tribal commercial gillnet salmon harvest. The letter also notes that there is limited capability to expand salmon production in the SAFE program to make up for the harvest opportunities on the main channel that would be lost through the Governor’s proposal, and that the existing SAFE fishing areas are not large enough to accommodate more vessels during fishing season. Future funding for the Clatsop County Fisheries Program from BPA is also not assured, the letter states.
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