Friday posed the final nail in the coffin for the future of gillnets on the Columbia River. Of course I’ve been following this subject for years on the radio show and with clients in the boat. We’re all interested in the outcome as sport fishermen, but as a native Northwesterner, I still have mixed emotions about this “end of an era” in NW history.
Natural resources built the Pacific Northwest. If it wasn’t for the abundant resources, very little would have attracted so many to the region. From the Hudson Bay Company and the fur trade, to 100 years of logging, gillnetting on the Columbia River has now embraced a similar fate that our history won’t ignore.
There was a time on the Columbia River that nearly 200 cannerys were fed by the lower Columbia River gillnet fleet. Spring Chinook have always been the most popular for commercial uses, but all species played a role in providing the region and America with canned Salmon.
The gillnetting population today, is a fraction of it’s former mighty self, but still provided some regional product and was still looked to as a major supplier of Columbia River Spring Chinook. Fisheries managers hope to expand off channel fishing opportunities, but even if that’s accomplished, I’m sure the fleet will long for the open water of the Columbia.
I think most believe that the removal of gillnets is the right thing for the resource and that many populations will prosper in their absence. Sturgeon have been hit particularly hard by over fishing in the last 30 years and hopefully the removal of the nets, coupled with modified recreational fisheries will aid in their recovery. Salmon on the other hand, still face huge obstacles that have little to do with the gillnets.
Habitat loss by dams, avian predation, sea lions and open ocean harvest still account for huge losses to juvenile populations. I think we can all agree that habitat loss is a “ship that’s sailed” and probably won’t ever be remedied. But avian predation, sea lions and open ocean harvest would be very easy to deal with if common sense could prevail.
For more on this issue, check out my article on the subject in fishwire.net: Washington follows Oregon with decison to remove Columbia River gillnets