SKAMOKAWA -- Larry Holland and two helpers dug their feet into the sand and pulled with all their might on a fishing seine net that looped into the Columbia River.
Then Holland, a commercial fishermen who lives in Cathlamet, hopped on an ATV for some extra pulling power to haul the seine towards shore.
After about 15 minutes of effort, Holland, his crew and Department of Fish and Wildlife employees counted the catch of exactly one coho.
A subsequent set of the net yielded nothing, though the netters have gotten 70 salmon per set of the net on other days.
Measuring the effectiveness of beach seines, along with purse seines and a device called a Merwin trap is the goal of a $400,000 study under way on the lower Columbia.
Depending on the study's results, Columbia River commercial fishermen might some day switch from the gillnets they now use to seines or traps.
Alternatives to gillnets are getting more attention as fishery managers try to increase the catch of hatchery salmon so they don't compete with wild salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, biologists want to minimize mortality of wild fish that are caught and released.
For more than 50 years, Columbia River commercial fishermen have used only gillnets, which have a mesh size ranging from six to nine inches and trap fish by the gills. Gillnets must be hauled on board boats before the fish can be removed. By that time, fish that must be released may be injured too badly to survive.
The current study examines three types of nets which are gentler on fish. Seines have a 3 1/2 inch mesh, and fish can be examined while still in the water.
Some of the fish caught are being marked with tags so their movement can be monitored, though all are being returned to the water.
A few hundred yards offshore from the beach seine, another crew swarmed over a purse seine boat skippered by John McKinley of Skamokawa.
A skiff pulled the purse seine, which is 650 feet long and 30 feet deep, out in a circle. The net was drawn in, trapping fish in a small area from which they could be snatched with a dip net.
In five sets of the purse seine Monday, the crew caught 20 chinook, 21 coho and one steelhead.
The net has caught as many as 100 fish per set, Kinne said.