ILWACO — U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler met with local officials and fishermen Feb. 19 at the Port of Ilwaco for a discussion centered on salmon preservation legislation, along with other concerns facing local ports and fishing-related issues.
Approximately 15 people attended the meeting including current and former local officials, fishermen, fleet managers, seafood processors and wholesalers.
Increasing hatchery production
At the start of the meeting Herrera echoed ideas mentioned during a local gathering in early October, when about 50 state and local officials, scientists, researchers, business owners and fishermen convened for a Fisheries Roundtable in Ilwaco.
“We’re going to look at how we can influence an increase in hatchery production,” Herrera said.
“I’ve heard it from everybody — how can we increase the pie? Those are some things we’re going to look at in the next six months, how can we increase hatchery production and build a coalition around that to help us,” she said. “I heard it from just about everybody that there’s an opportunity here. We’re just not where we should be. There are tributaries that should have runs but don’t, and it’s not for lack of trying.”
Herrera said she intends to bridge coalitions together for a common mission among fishermen and conservationists.
“With regard to the orca situation, there’s people who probably were never engaged in this that much are now very concerned with increasing the salmon production,” Herrera said. “I’m meeting with (NOAA administrator) Chris Oliver, and this is one of the topics I’m going to be bringing up. I think this is an area we can make a difference.”
Third-generation fishing charter owner Butch Smith sat next to Herrera Buetler and gave her a sheet detailing the decline of orcas and Chinook salmon over the years.
“The Kitzhaber plan is not working,” Smith said, of the initiative driven by former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to eliminate commercial gillnet salmon fishing in the river.
“Wild fish and hatchery fish are both needed,” Smith said. He called for more funding for fish hatcheries and cooperation among sport and commercial fishermen, tribes and gillnetters. Current attempts are underway to bring the Chinook hatchery into production, where up to 80,000 fingerlings could eventually help bolster stocks for orcas and fishermen.
“These orcas are starving,” Smith said. “Let’s work together.”
Two local port managers each made pleas for federal assistance for dredge-related work. Ilwaco Port Manager Guy Glenn Jr. spoke about the importance of receiving continued support for dredging and pile dike maintenance in Ilwaco and implored Herrera consider funds for Chinook in the future.
“We didn’t get dredge funding this year for the Chinook channel,” Glenn said. “That puts us in jeopardy going forward. We definitely need funding for Chinook in 2020.”
Port of Willapa Harbor Manager Rebecca Chaffee asked about federal reimbursement for necessary dredge-related work and asked to be considered for federal funding in the future adding that she hasn’t “seen the corps since 2002.’’
“We haven’t gotten a penny for dredging,” Chaffee said. “We have a big oyster and gillnet industry [in Willapa Bay]. Dredging is a big issue for us.”
During an open discussion period, Herrera heard an array of fishing industry-related concerns.
One local fish wholesaler expressed regret about the poor 2018 salmon season, which he said accounts for 70 percent of his business.
“I don’t see the same faces I once did,” said Ilwaco Landing Fishermen co-owner Mike Shirley. “Salmon kept people going but now it’s not there.”
Shirley said some employees were losing heath insurance as a result of working fewer days because of a lean salmon season.
Ilwaco Mayor Gary Forner summed up the sentiment of the meeting.
“Fishing is the lifeblood of Ilwaco,” Forner said. “We would like to see salmon enhancement — it’s a no brainer.”