It is incredibly disappointing that WDFW and ODFW have once again chosen to return
“small-mesh” gillnets to the mainstem lower Columbia River for spring Chinook –
despite vocal opposition from the public and ample evidence of high bycatch levels
making this is one of the dirtiest fisheries in America. It is yet another affront to
recreational anglers that help fund these agencies and Washington taxpayers that spent
$14.4 million on a Columbia River gillnet license buyback to reduce mainstem

In 2022, Tucker Jones, ODFW’s Ocean and Columbia River Program Manager,
deemed this mainstem gillnet fishery “risky” and rightly noted that a fishery where
“salmonid bycatch had the potential to exceed the targeted catch, doesn’t make a lot of
sense.” CCA staff provided testimony prior to this week’s decision pointing to the actual
observer data from the 2022 fishery, which showed that 99 percent of the catch was
non-target fish. Looking at just salmonid species, for every two targeted hatchery spring
Chinook caught, three non-target salmonids were discarded as bycatch, including ESA-
listed species. The same levels of bycatch are likely again this year.

WDFW and ODFW claim that “small-mesh” gillnets are selective and allow fishers to
release wild and ESA-listed fish unharmed but have little science or data to substantiate
these claims – especially when gillnet operators must simultaneously sort through
hundreds of shad caught in their nets.

The states and the gillnet lobby also like to claim that this fishery is needed to
sustain the commercial fishing industry and provide salmon to consumers, but the truth
is a record number of spring Chinook are being commercially harvested by gillnets in
off-channel areas that are being funded by the public and anglers to replace mainstem
gillnetting. In fact, more spring Chinook are being commercially harvested in the off-
channel areas than what is caught in all recreational fisheries in the Columbia and
Snake Rivers combined.

The decision comes at a particularly inopportune time for ODFW, which just selected
a new Director that will have to address a looming budget shortfall. In fact, ODFW is
expected to request legislation to increase sportfishing license fees and extend the
$9.75 Columbia River Basin Endorsement fee during the 2025 legislative session.  The
endorsement was created in 2013 to help fund the Columbia River fishery reforms,
including removing gillnets from the mainstem lower Columbia River. A similar WDFW
endorsement died in the Washington Legislature after WDFW reversed key provisions
of the Columbia River fishery reforms in 2019 – costing the agency about $1.5 million a