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Columbia River Fish Trap Project

Pound Net 1

Location

Lower Columbia River (Cathlamet, WA and Clifton, OR)

Project Type

Alternative Commercial Gear Evaluation

Status

Active

Start Date

August 2013

Completion Date

TBD

Description

Since 2016, Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) has led a multi-year study in the lower Columbia River to evaluate fish traps (or, “pound nets”) for selective harvest and bycatch mortality reduction in commercial salmon fisheries. The goal of this project is to identify a viable alternative to conventional gill netting to benefit wild salmonid recovery, fishermen, and coastal fishing communities.

The fish trap was a historically effective gear, popular in both indigenous and commercial salmon fisheries of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. By design, fish traps remain fixed in position by piling or anchor and passively funnel returning adult salmonids from the “lead” (a fine-meshed wall positioned perpendicular to shore) through a maze of mesh compartments in which fish rarely escape. Captured salmonids instinctively move against the current into progressively smaller compartments of a fish trap (“heart,” “spiller,” and “live well,” respectively). The final compartment has dimensions appropriate for operators to sort the catch for harvest or passive release with little to no air exposure and handling. Salmonids remain free-swimming within a fish trap and selected mesh dimensions minimize or prevent entanglement altogether. This low-impact capture and release process has potential to dramatically reduce commercial bycatch mortality of threatened wild salmonids relative to the conventional gill net fishery, thereby benefiting wild salmonid recovery and increasing sustainable fishing opportunities for fishermen.

WFC engineered and constructed an experimental fish trap near Cathlamet, WA in collaboration with a commercial fisherman in 2016. A feasibility study was conducted to assess total catch and immediate survival of bycatch. Demonstrating adequate catch and high immediate survival (click to see the Year-1 results), a long-term post-release bycatch survival study was conducted from a modified trap in 2017. Results of this peer-reviewed and published study suggested that fish traps can effectively target hatchery fish while releasing bycatch mostly unharmed (click to see the peer-reviewed and published results).

Showing substantial promise as a sustainable harvest tool, WA State authorized implementation of the first commercial trap fishery in 83 years in the fall of 2018. This test fishery investigated the economic viability of the gear within the lower Columbia River fishery (click to read WFC’s report or view test fishery results).

In 2019, research was expanded to determine the feasibility of the gear under seasonally variable river conditions and to estimate post-release survival of salmonids from a modified passive trap design through release-recapture and net pen holding studies. Testing the modified trap to identify potential improvements in bycatch survival, WFC once again demonstrated the feasibility of the gear for selective harvest and low-impact ecological monitoring with post-release survival of sockeye and coho salmon estimated at 100% (click to see the peer-reviewed and published results).

Building upon the 2019 pilot study of the modified passive trap design, WFC conducted yet another coho salmon post-release survival study in the fall of 2020. Results of the long-term holding study confirmed findings from 2019 and once again demonstrated the potential of the modified commercial trapping technique to achieve 100% survival of adult salmon bycatch (click to see the 2020 results).

Moving forward, WFC and partners will deploy a new modified passive fish trap in the Clifton Channel, OR and collect additional years of post-release bycatch survival data through release-recapture and net pen holding studies over the summer and fall of 2021-2022. Results will be reviewed by Columbia River management agencies to set official bycatch mortality rates for the modified passive fish trap design. At present, WDFW is considering designation of an emerging fishery for fish traps (in accord with RCW 77.65.400 and RCW 220-360-040), making the gear legal for use in the lower Columbia River. This may enable selective harvest of hatchery-origin stocks and safe release of wild salmonid bycatch with the modified fish trap gear in the lower Columbia River commercial salmon fishery by ~2022.

2016-2017 Goals & Objectives (Cathlamet, WA)

To develop an innovative and effective fishing technology for the reduction of bycatch and hatchery impacts to ESA-listed salmonids and benefit of U.S fisheries, WFC designed, constructed, and monitored the performance of a modified fish trap in the lower Columbia River from 2016-2017 with local commercial fisherman Jon Blair Peterson. Specifically, objectives were to determine the effectiveness of the gear in capturing hatchery-origin Chinook and coho salmon and reducing post-release and cumulative mortality of wild fall Chinook salmon and summer steelhead trout relative to the performance of previously tested commercial gears in the lower Columbia River. Environmental and biological covariates, CPUE, capture conditions, bycatch, immediate survival, and post-release survival of fish were assessed. Similar to previous alternative gear tests, this study intended to achieve three major goals:

1) Test and refine deployment and operation of a pound net trap under modern conditions of the Columbia River;

2) Determine effectiveness of the harvest method in capturing salmon relative to previously tested alternative gears. Directly estimate species-specific catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) and CPUE covariates;

3) Evaluate the ability of a pound net trap to protect non-target species through identification of capture and release conditions, immediate survival, and post-release survival of fall Chinook salmon and summer steelhead trout.

Assessing CPUE from the experimental trap and employing the Cormack (1964)-Jolly (1965)-Seber (1965) method for estimation of survival through paired mark-release-recapture, this study investigated the effectiveness of the alternative gear in capturing targeted stocks with improved survivorship of released fishes relative to previously tested commercial gears. Providing precise and unbiased estimates of cumulative survival to fisheries managers may enable implementation of low-impact stock-selective harvest and/or research tools for the rejuvenation of working waterfronts and the reduction of bycatch and hatchery impacts to wild salmonids.

This project received funding under award #NA17NMF4720255 from NOAA Fisheries Service, in cooperation with the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program. The project was also funded through the Washington Coastal Restoration Initiative and Patagonia Provisions. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations within the report and publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.

2018 Goals & Objectives (Cathlamet, WA)

A commercial trap fishery was established in the lower Columbia River for the first time in over 83 years by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in collaboration with WFC, local commercial fishermen, fish processors, and fish buyers to evaluate the feasibility of the gear in a commercial setting for mark-selective harvest. Specifically, objectives of the test fishery were to determine the economic potential of a mark-selective commercial trap fishery and estimate ecological impacts. Total harvest, revenue, bycatch, CPUE, and immediate survival were assessed in lower Columbia River late-summer and fall fisheries from August through October 2018. The test fishery was established to achieve the following goals:

1) Evaluate the economic performance of the trap fishery - measure costs, CPUE, fish prices received, total revenue, and projected future added-value;

2) Evaluate ecological impacts of the trap fishery - further assess immediate survival of captured and released fishes in a commercial setting, estimate total post-release mortality to wild salmonid stocks, and determine bycatch to target species catch ratios;

3) Investigate use of value-added practices – capture fish passively, minimize air-exposure, minimize handling, live-bleed catch, utilize immersion ice baths, and process locally;

4) Identify successes and failures of the fall 2018 test fishery and determine next steps.

Evaluating revenue generated and estimated wild salmonid fishery mortalities, we compared results from the experimental trap fishery to that of the conventional lower Columbia River mainstem gillnet fishery. Ultimately, this information can be used by fishermen and resource managers to determine the feasibility of mark-selective salmon trap fisheries and the potential benefits of transition to alternative commercial fishing strategies.

This project was funded by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Wild Salmon Center. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations within the report are those of Wild Fish Conservancy and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.

2019 Spring and Summer Season Goals & Objectives (Cathlamet, WA)

WFC constructed and monitored the performance of an experimental fish trap in the lower Columbia River during the spring and early-summer of 2019 with a modified passive spiller design. Specifically, objectives were to determine the effectiveness of the gear in capturing targeted salmonid and shad stocks for harvest and research while reducing mortality of released fishes relative to the performance of previously tested commercial gears in the lower Columbia River. Environmental covariates, CPUE, capture conditions, bycatch, immediate survival, and post-release survival were assessed. Similar to previous alternative gear tests, this study intended to achieve three major goals:

1) Test and refine deployment/operation of a pound net trap under modern conditions of the Columbia River and a host of varying seasonal environmental and ecological conditions;

2) Determine effectiveness of the harvest method in capturing shad, sockeye, spring Chinook, and summer Chinook salmon. Directly estimate species-specific catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) and CPUE covariates;

3) Evaluate the ability of a trap to release bycatch and other fishes unharmed during commercial harvest or research operations through identification of immediate and post-release survival of spring/summer Chinook salmon and sockeye salmon.

Assessing CPUE from the experimental trap and employing the Cormack (1964)-Jolly (1965)-Seber (1965) method for estimation of survival through paired mark-release-recapture, this study investigated the effectiveness of the alternative gear in capturing targeted stocks with improved survivorship of released fishes relative to previously tested commercial gears. Providing precise and unbiased estimates of cumulative survival to fisheries managers may enable implementation of low-impact stock-selective harvest and/or research tools for the rejuvenation of working waterfronts and the reduction of bycatch and hatchery impacts to wild salmonids.

This project received funding under continuation of award #NA17NMF4720255 from NOAA Fisheries Service, in cooperation with the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations within the report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.

2019 Late-Summer and Fall Season Goals & Objectives (Cathlamet, WA)

WFC, WDFW, and partners conducted a fisheries research, development, promotion, and marketing project to build the foundation for sustainably certified trap fisheries utilizing stock-selective harvest techniques and best business practices in the lower Columbia Sub-basin (Wahkiakum County, WA). Operating a modified fish trap from August through November 2019, the project had the following action plans:

1) Evaluate Trap Fisheries: Identify successes and failures of bringing hatchery salmon resources to market with a new technology for fishing fleets;

2) Perform Research: Monitor stock-composition, further assess bycatch mortality, identify means to improve gear efficiency/sustainability and meet conservation and management goals;

3) Develop and Implement Value-Added/Direct Marketing Practices: Form a steering group (including fishermen, processors, WDFW, NOAA, WFC, UW, Sea Grant, and other interested fisheries management agencies) to ensure use of best practices in harvesting, icing, processing, and marketing to maximize customer base and pricing for sustainably-harvested fish;

4) Initiate Sustainable Market Certification: Initiate certification of trap fisheries with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to increase product profile, customer base, and fish value in the marketplace;

5) Plan for the Future: Develop gear regulations/standards, identify potential trap sites, stream-line the application and permitting process, and raise awareness of alternative harvest tools; identify stakeholder mitigation options and appropriate economic incentives to facilitate alternative gear transition in the lower Columbia River. If testing in 2019 is successful, WDFW will consider initiating a rule-making process to implement pound nets as a legal gear for commercial harvest in accord with RCW 77.65.400 Emerging commercial fishery, and RCW 220-360-040 Emerging commercial fishery designation-Experimental fishery permits. An agency-appointed advisory board would be formed to represent interests of the affected industry.

Results of this project are being used to inform the potential implementation of fish traps at a broader scale. Furthermore, the appropriate regulations and processes were identified to support a socially and economically responsible transition to alternative gears.

This project received funding under award #NA19NMF4270028 from NOAA Fisheries Service, in cooperation with the Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program.

2020 Summer and Fall Season Goals & Objectives (Cathlamet, WA)

To collect an additional year of post-release mortality data for resource management agencies, WFC estimated post-release survival of coho salmon from a modified passive fish trap in September-October 2020 in the lower Columbia River, WA. WFC directly estimated long-term release survival from a fish trap by holding and observing treatment groups for a 96-h post-capture period. Salmonids exposed to the commercial capture procedure were released into captivity at intervals throughout the study period. To determine mortalities during holding periods, treatment groups were checked twice a day at regular intervals, with WFC staff stationed to monitor temperature, dissolved oxygen, and piscivore activity. Deceased and live fish were enumerated throughout the experiment. Post-release bycatch survival was directly estimated by a binomial proportion (p = # survived/# total) with associated binomial variance. Results were compared to prior gear studies estimating salmonid release survival in the lower Columbia River.

2021 Goals & Objectives (Clifton, OR)

WFC and partners will construct and quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of a substantially modified passive fish trap in capturing hatchery salmon and reducing bycatch mortality of ESA-listed salmonids in a currently untested location within the Clifton Channel, lower Columbia River, OR. Similar to prior evaluations, this study has three major goals:

1) Engineer, construct, and refine deployment/operation of a substantially modified fish trap in a new location and state within the lower Columbia River Basin, OR (2020-2021);

2) Evaluate the effectiveness of the harvest method for selective capture of hatchery-origin salmonids relative to previously tested gears. Estimate species-specific CPUE and bycatch (2021);

3) Determine the ability of fish traps to effectively release non-target stocks through estimation of immediate and post-release survival of Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead (2021).

Employing a net pen holding methodology and/or paired release-recapture to estimate post-release survival of Chinook, coho, and steelhead, this study will provide precise and unbiased estimates of catch composition and bycatch mortality for a modified passive fish trap. Completion of this study will ensure that the US v. OR Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and resource management agencies in OR and WA have the information necessary to evaluate the utility of using alternative commercial gear in efforts to reduce bycatch and hatchery impacts for the recovery of ESA-listed salmonids, SRKW, and coastal fishing economies.

This project received funding under award #NA19NMF4720230 from NOAA Fisheries Service, in cooperation with the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program. Additional funding is needed for field research activities in 2021.

Project Contact

Adrian Tuohy

Managing Agency/ Organization

Wild Fish Conservancy

WFC Budget

$202,000 (2016)

$158,769 (2017)

$77,500 (2018)

$199,689 (2019)

$285,646 (2019-2020)

$171,050 (2020-2021)

*The budgets listed above represent total costs for planning, project admin, all research activities, reporting, and dissemination of results; they should not be interpreted as the costs of constructing and installing fish traps. For more information on trap construction costs, see the attached reports and publications.

Funders/ Partners

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program
  • Washington Coastal Restoration Initiative
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Patagonia Provisions
  • Horizons Foundation
  • Looking Out Foundation
  • Wild Salmon Center
  • University of Washington
  • Flathead Lake Biological Station
  • Idaho Department of Fish and Game
  • Jon Blair Peterson
  • C & H Classic Smoked Fish


Reports and Publications

Atlas, W. I., et al. 2020. Indigenous systems of management for culturally and ecologically resilient Pacific Salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) fisheries. BioScience. doi:10.1093/biosci/biaa144.

Tuohy, A. M., J. R. Skalski, and A. T. Jorgenson. 2020. Modified commercial fish trap to help eliminate salmonid bycatch mortality. North American Journal of Fisheries Management. DOI: 10.1002/nafm.10496.

Tuohy, A. M., J. R. Skalski, and N. J. Gayeski. 2019. Survival of salmonids from an experimental commercial fish trap. Fisheries 44: 423 – 432. doi:10.1002/fsh.10292

Tuohy, A. 2018. Post-release survival of Chinook salmon and steelhead trout from an experimental commercial fish trap in the lower Columbia River, WA. Master’s Thesis. University of Washington. Seattle, WA.

Tuohy, A. M, N. J. Gayeski, and A. T. Jorgenson. 2020. Evaluation of pound nets as stock-selective fishing tools in the Lower Columbia Sub-basin. Final report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program (BREP). Seattle, WA.

Tuohy, A. M. 2020. Commercial fish traps for bycatch mortality reduction in salmon fisheries. The Osprey 95: 6-9.

Tuohy, A. M. 2020. Short and long-term post-release survival of Coho Salmon captured with a passive fish trap in the lower Columbia River, WA. Wild Fish Conservancy. Duvall, Washington.

Data

2017 Chinook GSI Report
BREP Data Sharing Plan
SK Data Sharing Plan
2017 Unique Haul Data
2017 Catch Data
2019 Catch Data (BREP, May-July)
2019 Unique Haul Data (BREP, May-July)
Coho Salmon Short-Term Holding Study Data 2019
Coho Salmon Long-Term Holding Study Data 2020
Coho Salmon Long-Term Holding Study Data 2021
Coho Salmon Holding Study Summary Table 2019-2021

*These data and related items of information have not been formally disseminated by NOAA, and do not represent any agency determination, view, or policy.

Related Articles

New fish traps to get commercial test in the Columbia River resemble vintage gear long banned from fishery, The Daily News, May 23, 2021.

 

Researchers hope fish trap will be safer for wild fish: An experiment on the water, The Astorian, November, 18, 2019.

Seattle Chef Renee Erickson: Eat This Salmon, Wild Salmon Center Feature Story, October 30, 2019.

Banned Fish Trap Returns To Columbia As Sustainable Way To Catch Salmon, Oregon Public Broadcasting, January 16, 2019.

Fish Traps: The Pound Net Revival, MeatEater.com, October 1, 2018.

Old Tradition May Be Key to Saving Salmon – and Fishermen, Courthouse News Services. October 20, 2017.

Fish traps were banned, but some now say ‘it’s the future’ for Columbia River salmon, Seattle Times, October 16, 2017.

 

Fish Trap Publications & Videos


The Fish Trap's official online field journal:
thefishtrapjournal.org

Read the Columbia River Fish Trap Brochure

Wild Fish Runs E-Newsletter Project Updates:

 

  • Wild Fish Runs, Summer 2020
  • Wild Fish Runs, Winter 2020
  • Wild Fish Runs, Fall 2018
  • Wild Fish Runs, Spring 2017
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    Videos

    The Fish Trap: How It Works, from 'The Fish Trap (2019) by North Fork Studios


    Banned fish trap could help save Columbia River's wild salmon by Oregon Public Broadcasting, (November 6, 2020)

     

     

     

    Part 3: The Fish Trap (2019) by North Fork Studios

     

     

    PART 2: The Fish Trap Moves Forward (2018) by North Fork Studios

     

    PART 1: This Fish Trap: A Sustainable Way Forward for Fish and Fishermen (2017) by North Fork Studios

     

    Pictures

    Pound Net 6 Pound Net 7 Pound Net 5

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    Pound Net 3 Pound Net 2

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