An Oregon election initiative aimed at banning the use of gill nets in “inland” waters such as the Columbia River has gained considerable steam over the past month and a half with the collection of more than 105,000 signatures, well over the 87,213 needed to get the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Organizers of the petition drive on May 25 submitted to the Oregon Election Division sheets containing 92,474 signatures. By late this week another 13,000 signatures had been collected by paid petitioners for the campaign, led by a coalition called “Stop Gill Netting Now.”
“Our target is between 120,000 and 130,000,” said David Schamp, chairman of the Oregon Coastal Conservation Association’s Oregon chapter’s board of directors. All petition signatures submitted by July 6 will receive consideration.
The proposal was submitted to the state Elections Division July 18, 2011, by the CCA, a non-profit organization made up in large part of recreational saltwater anglers. Chief petitioners are state Sens. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Rod Monroe, D-Portland and Schamp.
The signatures submitted last week, as well as any submitted later, must be verified by the state agency to assure the signers are registered Oregon voters. An Elections Division spokesman said an unofficial rule of thumb is that petitioners would be wise to submit 10 percent more signatures than the required amount to assure there are enough valid signatures.
“We’re feeling good about the campaign,” Schamp said.
The issue has been a hot topic, with comments and appeals. In certifying the ballot titles the Oregon Supreme Court denied claims by tribes and commercial fishermen that said the proposed language for the ballot measure violated the constitution. The tribes and fishermen had appealed ballot titles developed by the state Attorney General’s Office.
"The message is clear: Oregonians support sustainable fisheries reform,” Schamp said. “It’s time to stop using an outdated commercial fishing method that indiscriminately catches and kills endangered salmon and wildlife. As a state we invest tremendous financial and volunteer resources in wild salmon recovery efforts yet these iconic species remain on the brink of extinction.”
If approved by voters, the measure would prohibit the use of commercial gillnet fishing on inland waters, including the lower Columbia River and coastal river estuaries such as Tillamook. The measure provides for alternatives for those that currently fish with gillnets, i.e. the use of seines that allow the release of wild fish in a relatively unharmed states.
“The problem with gillnets is that they have a high mortality rate for wild salmon, steelhead and sturgeon,” according to Russell Bassett, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders. “This measure provides a common sense alternative to gillnets that will help recover our threatened and endangered fish populations in the Columbia River.”
“Today’s outdated fishing method in the mainstem Columbia River adversely impacts retailers, fishing guides, boat builders, tackle and rod manufacturers, as well as Oregon’s tourism industry,” Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, stated,. “We desperately need change, by policymakers or voters, that will grow jobs for our community, protect commercial fisherman and provide better protections to our wild salmon populations.”
Opponents of the measure say a ban on gill netting would cost jobs in their industry, and limit access to fish – most notably salmon – by the non-fishing public.
Salmon for All’s Hobe Kytr said conversations are ongoing with other commercial fishing colleagues about how to counter the gill-net ban campaign and educate the public about the potential consequences. SFA is an association of gillnetters, fish buyers, processors, and associated businesses. He says commercial fishers catch and killer far fewer wild fish than anglers.
The proponents say that the proposed measure, also backed by the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association and the American Sportsfishing Association, would protect Native American tribal fishing rights. The ballot title says the law change would outlaw “non-tribal” fishing in Oregon inland waters with gill nets, but not treaty-protected fisheries.
By turning in petition signatures last Friday, supporters qualify for early signature verification from the Secretary of State while still continuing to gather additional signatures.
Since mid-April the petitioners have collected $400,000 in cash contributions, as well as numerous “in-kind” contributions, according to data posted online by the state Elections Division. The committee has spent a like amount during that time frame with NW Democracy Resources, self-described as a national leader in signature gathering.
The modified ballot title is as follows:
“Prohibits commercial non-tribal fishing with gillnets in Oregon "inland waters," allows use of seine nets.
“Result of “Yes” Vote: “Yes” vote changes commercial non-tribal fishing in Oregon “inland waters” (defined) by banning gillnets, adopting other regulatory changes; recreational salmon fishers ensured their recent share.
“Result of “No” Vote: “No” vote continues current commercial fishing practices, retains laws allowing gillnets, leaves other current regulations in place; continues annual adjustment of recreational salmon harvest share.
“Summary: Current law allows commercial salmon fishing in Columbia River only with gillnets; requires recreational salmon fishers’ percentage share of overall salmon catch to be readjusted annually; allows issuing of gillnet permits within limit of 200; recognizes gillnet licenses as valid in Columbia River in both Oregon and Washington waters. Measure bans commercial gillnet fishing by non-tribal fishers in Oregon “inland waters” (defined); requires Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to permit use of “seine nets” (defined) instead; ensures that recreational salmon fishers’ percentage of overall salmon catch remains at 2007-2011 levels; prohibits purchase of salmon caught by gillnet by non-tribal fishers in Oregon inland waters; prohibits issuing of additional gillnet permits; repeals statute recognizing validity of gillnet licenses in Oregon and Washington waters….”
The proposed law change would affect roughly 70 percent (the part of the river judged by the CCA to be on the Oregon side of the line) of the Columbia River from the mouth upstream along the Oregon-Washington border to the point it turns north into Washington. Reciprocity – the right of Oregon or Washington license commercial fishers to fish anywhere in the river -- would be ended, according to the CCA’s Bryan Irwin.