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Kitzhaber Proposes Transition Plan To Move Non-Tribal Gill-Nets From Mainstem To Off Channel Areas
Posted on Friday, August 10, 2012 (PST)
In an Aug. 9 letter to the state’s top fish and wildlife official, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber laid out his point-by-point plan for easing tensions between Columbia River sport and commercial fishermen and providing more fish for all, while at the same time building on efforts to recover protected salmon and steelhead stocks.

Thursday’s missive to Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Bobby Levy and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Roy Elicker urges action to end gill-net fishing on the mainstem Columbia River where nets are more likely to encounter wild fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. A total of 13 Columbia River basin salmon and steelhead stocks are ESA listed.

The governor’s plan urges a transition from the use of commercial gill-nets on the mainstem to alternative, “selective” gear that causes lesser mortality when entrapping wild fish. Kitzhaber also advises action to enhance commercial fisheries in so-called select areas -- off-the-mainstem sites such as Youngs Bay near Astoria, Ore. Commercial fishers encounter far fewer listed fish in those off-channel areas, which have annually been planted with hatchery salmon.

Kitzhaber’s plan urges new rules that would allow gill-net gear use only in those select areas, which he wants enhanced to provide more hatchery fish there for commercial fishermen.

The Oregon governor’s to-do list does not go as far as a ballot initiative approved for Oregon’s Nov. 6 general election. The measure would ban the use of gill nets in any Oregon inland waters, including Youngs Bay and other select areas.

(For more information, see CBB, July 20, 2012, “Proposed Oregon Gill-Net Ban Qualified For Nov. 6 Ballot; Commercial Fishing Interests Vow Fight”

“A clear transition period for phasing commercial gill net fisheries out of the mainstem and into enhanced off channel fishing areas is a central part of this solution,” Kitzhaber wrote. “A transition period (e.g. 2013-2016) should be designed to span the time needed for the new investments in off-channel areas to occur and provide returns necessary to the vitality of the commercial fishery.”

“Securing political support and additional resources necessary to the implementation of enhanced off channel fishing areas is also essential, and as such, I am committed to working to achieve this support.”

“In a situation as complex as the lower Columbia, a long-term solution must prioritize selective gears and fishing techniques to minimize mortality of ESA-listed and non-target fish and optimize recovery,” Kitzhaber said. “I believe the use of gill nets in non-tribal mainstem fisheries is inconsistent with this objective.”

“I also believe the long-term solution must enhance the economic vitality of both recreational and commercial fisheries, which provide the public with benefits including recreation, family-wages jobs and business, local commerce and export economies, nationally-renowned culinary destinations, and the Pacific Northwest’s uniquely high quality of life and culture.”

The OFWC has scheduled a meeting via teleconference for next Tuesday, Aug, 14 to discuss the recent letter from Kitzhaber. The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. ODFW will offer an audio stream so that the public can listen in on the discussion. The link for the audiostream is

The letter asks the Commission and ODFW to work with their counterparts in Washington to complete the necessary rulemaking before the end of 2012 that includes the following key elements:

-- Prioritize selective recreational fisheries in the mainstem Columbia River;
-- Phase out the use of commercial gill nets in the mainstem Columbia River and transition the use of gill nets to off channel areas;
-- Allocate a majority of available salmon to the sport anglers;
-- Improve off channel fisheries by increasing hatchery production in those areas and by enhancing area boundaries and/or locations;
-- Continue development and use of alternative selective fishing gear for commercial mainstem fisheries, and implement these fisheries when recreational fishery objectives are met.

According to Commission Chair Bobby Levy, the meeting on Tuesday will be a first chance for Commission members to discuss the Governor's letter, be briefed by staff on the issues, and identify some first steps.

“The governor has turned to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to come up with a solution and that's what we intend to do," said Levy.

"We will work with our Washington counterparts and stakeholders and together develop rules that reflect the governor's proposals as well as the many legitimate interests among the public."

While Tuesday's meeting will be listen-only for members of the public, Levy said there will be substantial opportunity for public comment as the process progresses.

Changes to regulations would require a public rulemaking process led by the Commission.

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