The results are in on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s experiment in alternative commercial fishing gear on the Columbia River. And they look good for the state’s goal of finding ways for commercial boats to catch more hatchery salmon and steelhead without harming wild fish. The Columbia Basin Bulletin reports purse seine nets (see a video of how they work here) performed the best, and they are thought to have a relatively low impact on released wild fish. The WDFW tests assumed that overall less than 25 of the released wild fish – roughly .1 percent – suffered direct mortality from the test gear. **
We’ll have to get the other half of the results from gillnetters, though, who worry that the catch won’t cover the added costs of buying and staffing a three- or four-person purse seiner (as opposed to a one- or two-person gillnet operation). Fishermen have told me the purse seine works out financially in Alaska salmon fisheries because there’s a lot more fish to catch. Sportfishing and environmental groups criticize gillnets for killing too many wild fish in their nets while targeting hatchery salmon in the Columbia. The alternative gear – which allows live capture and release of wild fish –has been proposed as a win-win solution to ongoing battles over gillnets.
**Note: I updated this copy to reflect new information about the mortality rate cited in the Columbia Basin Bulletin. We’ll talk more about this key piece of the alternative gear tests.