WDFW and Columbia Salmon Policies Change – What Oregon Fishing Guides Need To Know


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has revised the “Columbia River Salmon Fishery Management Policy.” The policy addresses what kind of non-tribal fishing is permitted in the Columbia River (and Snake rivers) and fish sharing. The policy (C-3620) came into effect seven years ago (in 2013), and was reviewed in 2018. Finally, the policy has now been revised, and the amendments have passed the voting 5 – 4. You can check out the revised version here.

In a broader context, the policy itself and the amended provisions aim to guide the management of non-tribal, Salmon, and Steelhead fisheries of Columbia River. The core purpose revolves around the protection, recovery, preservation, and conservation goals of Salmon and Steelhead. The policy also aims to improve the local fishing industry’s economic well-being by addressing both commercial and recreational fishing issues. It also seeks to promote orderly fishing operations in waters where both Oregon and Washington have concurrent jurisdiction.


Who Needs To Know About These Changes

Whether you are one of Portland Oregon Fishing Guides or a novice working with any of the Columbia River Fishing Guides, understanding the changes that have taken place in the policy would be to your advantage.

The policy changes address allocation distribution changes between commercial and recreational fishing, the kind of commercial gear that is permitted, alternative gear allocation, etc. So if you are taking any guided fishing trips to the Columbia River, looking for Sturgeon, Salmon, or Steelhead, you should be aware of what kind of gear you can fish with and pack.

The changes also have a significant impact on fisheries as commercial fishing allocation has been revised (in their favor).

The amended policy’s core guiding principle includes promoting the recovery of the endangered population (listed by Endangered Species Act – ESA) Salmon and Steelhead in the Columbia River. In 1990, 13 Colombia Basin Salmons and Steelhead populations were declared endangered under the ESA. The two most endangered Salmon species are Chinook and Coho.


Notable Changes in The Revised Policy


A few notable changes in the revised policy are:

  1. It aims to protect the salmonids that migrate using the cold refuge areas (tributaries which have colder water than the mainstream river), seasonal recreational fisheries might be closed. These thermal angling sanctuaries will prevent migrating salmonids, especially steelheads.
  2. The policy aims to focus on scientific monitoring and is imperative to keeping track of migration, hatching, and stock depletion patterns. It will also help understand seasonal mortality rates and the impact of commercial/recreational fishing tendencies on endangered populations.
  3. It seeks to improve hatchery production, especially to counter the unprecedented losses that occur to these endangered populations’ natural habitat due to human-caused reasons, i.e., construction of dams, etc.
  4. The policy also directs the department to look into alternative commercial fishing gear. The aim is to replace the currently allowed equipment with something that, while improving the target species “catch,” doesn’t pose a threat to non-target species.
  5. Both states, Oregon and Washington, need to expedite their commercial license buy-back program. This was part of the original policy language but wasn’t implemented as vigorously as the policy suggested.
  6. The allocation is now different for upriver (or Spring) Chinook as well. The original policy allocated allowable upriver ESA impacts 80% and 20% to recreational and commercial fisheries. The revised policy has changed this number to 70% and 30%, thus allocating 10% additional impact to commercial fisheries. But that’s only for run-sizes between 82,001 and 217,000. For smaller run sizes, the allocation remains the same. The revised policy has moved to an abundance-based matrix.
  7. Within the recreational fisheries, the Bernville Dam fisheries (up to state-line) and Snake River allocation has also been revised. It’s changed from 10% and 15% to 10% and 20%.
  8. Similarly, the allocation quota for summer Chinook Salmon is now different as well. The allocation pertains to the fisheries above and below Priest Rapids Dam. Based on the abundance-based matrix, the distribution is now 70% and 30% for recreational and commercial fisheries. The original policy allowed 80% of impacts to recreational and 20% to commercial fisheries. Based on the run-size, the allocation favors fisheries above the Dam, especially if the run size is smaller.
  9. The new fall Chinook policy now aligns Washington policy with the Oregon policy. The allocations are a bit more restrictive, as commercial fisheries get 30% or less of the available impacts and recreational ones get 70% or less than the previous 20% and 80% distribution, respectively.
  10. The impact allocation of Coho Salmon is not numerical. The distribution is priority-based: Commercial fisheries are assigned sufficient impacts; the balance will be allocated to recreational fisheries. If all allowable impacts are not used, the remainder is allotted to mainstream Coho fisheries.
  11. The current alternative gear definition includes pound net, tangle net, and purse/beach seine. In addition to that, any commission authorized gear can be used. The use of Gillnet is also allowed as mainstream commercial gear.

Final Words

These changes aren’t just important for Oregon fishing guides, or other Columbia River fishing guides. Fishery managers and should also take note of the differences in impact allocation and the new gear permissions they have been allowed. The revised policy language is set to take effect from the beginning of 2021. The WDFW is also expected to start a dialogue with Oregon’s Commission to ensure that the regulations are concurrent, and there are no discrepancies in impact allocations across the state line.

The department is supposed to keep track of the policy implementation and send annual reports to the commission. A comprehensive review is due after 2025 to see how effectively the revised policy has been implemented and how it has affected the endangered population.




Leave a Comment