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Gill-Net Battle: States Form Working Group On Kitzhaber Proposal, Voters Face Ballot Initiative
Posted on Friday, September 07, 2012 (PST)

The battle over the use of gill-nets to capture saleable salmon from the Columbia River continues this year on at least two fronts.

An initiative, created through a voter signature collection process, has gained access to the Oregon Nov. 6 general election ballot. Oregon Initiative 81 aims to ban the use of gill net and tangle net gear in all Oregon inland waters.

The statute change would affect most notably commercial fishing, and the sale of salmon caught in the Columbia River mainstem waters under Oregon’s jurisdiction. The state border line meanders to some extent up the Columbia where that river makes up the Oregon-Washington border.

The gill-net ban proposal would allow for the commercial use of fixed gear and seines. Such gear is believed to allow the selective harvest of hatchery produced fish, which are marked with fin clips before their release, and the safe release of unmarked wild fish.

Since the ballot measure was approved for voter consideration this summer, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has stepped forward. He directed the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to trigger a process that would result in a more modest end – a transition from non-tribal gill-net fishing in the lower Columbia to more benign gear; and a concentration of gill-nets in off-channel areas.

An Aug. 28 ballot deadline drew “statements” from both sides of the fence as regards the ballot measure.

Sport fishing interests, including some that had earlier expressed support for the ballot initiative, have said Kitzhaber’s path might be the best.

The ballot measure to be judged by voters this fall would require that the sport share of the chinook and steelhead harvest each year at least equal to the 2007-11 average.

WDFW fishery managers this week presented the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission with a proposal from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in which the two states would consider options for eliminating Columbia mainstem gill-net fishing. Instead of a total ban, the Oregon proposal would allow continued gill-net fishing in so-called off-channel “select” areas. The select areas are “terminal” fishing locations where young hatchery fish receive their final, pre-release rearing. The fish then proceed to the Pacific Ocean, grow to adulthood and home in on the select areas when they return as adults.

The select areas are designed to provide opportunities for both sport and commercial fishers where few wild, protected fish wander. Most of the wild salmon and steelhead that are protected under the Endangered Species Act remain in the mainstem during their upstream migration.

Resolutions passed by the governing bodies of the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Nez Perce tribes cite the ballot measure’s lack of emphasis on rebuilding abundant, sustainable salmon populations.

“Ballot Measure 81 does not save fish or fishing communities,” said N. Kathryn Brigham, chairwoman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, an organization that provides technical advice to the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes.

“All it does is reshuffle who gets to catch the fish in the Lower Columbia. It doesn’t change how many fish can be caught and it doesn’t help rebuild salmon runs. Tribal, state, and federal co-managers carefully balance sport, commercial, and tribal fisheries with successful restoration efforts that are rebuilding upriver salmon runs,” Brigham said. “We have fought over fisheries allocations in the past and fighting over who gets to catch the fish doesn’t help build the necessary partnerships we need to restore and protect salmon. This ballot measure is just an allocation fight in the lower river, but it also distracts from the goal of developing healthy and sustainable salmon populations throughout the Columbia River Basin.”

A statement submitted Aug. 28 by the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association and NW Guides and Anglers Association encouraged a “no” vote on Measure 81.

“Despite an earlier endorsement in support of Measure 81, NSIA and NWGAA withdraw that support as a result of the governor’s action and encourage voters to vote ‘no’ on the ballot measure.

“SAFE [select] areas are an undisputed success for the commercial fishing industry. In the last two years, commercial gillnet landings in the SAFE zones grew larger than the sport harvest in the entire lower Columbia River,” the NSIA statement said.

“Additionally the outlook is even brighter for the future SAFE area harvests.

“To be clear, we have concerns with some elements of the governor’s plan, but we understand that bold change does not come without some trade-offs with everyone,” the statement says.

Chief petitioners for the ballot measure, Oregon state Sens. Fred Girod-R-Stayton and Rod Monroe, D-Portland, say the ballot measure is the appropriate action.

“As we approached the deadline for submittingthis statement, Governor Kitzhaber announced an alternative proposal that would remove gillnets from the mainstem of the Columbia River by limiting gillnets to off-channel areas,” Girod and Monroe say.

“While differences exist between the governor’s proposal and Ballot Measure 81, both share the same long term vision: removing gillnets from then lower Columbia for the betterment of endangered wild fish, wildlife and our economy.

“We believe that the governor’s vision, if adopted and implemented as proposed, represents a significant milestone in the management of fisheries on the Columbia River.

“However, as of this deadline, we cannot be sure that the governor’s plan will be accepted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.” The two state senators were joined by the Coastal Conservation Association in filing the initiative petition.

Kitzhaber’s proposal calls for developing a gill-net plan to transition gill-net fishing over the next three years to commercial fishing in off-channel “select” areas hatchery fish are, for the most part, are the target.

The gill-net ban initiative would also allow commercial mainstem opportunities with the use of more “selective” gear.

Scheduled is a Sept. 21 meeting in Olympia of a work group composed of three members each from the states’ fish and wildlife commissions, ODFW and WDFW directors and senior staff and four advisers from each state representing fishing interests.

The goal is to produce a committee recommendation by the end of the year.

For more information, see

CBB, August 17, 2012, “Oregon To Launch Rulemaking On Removing Non-Tribal Gill Nets From Columbia River Mainstem”

CBB, August 10, 2012, “Kitzhaber Proposes Transition Plan To Move Non-Tribal Gill-Nets From Mainstem To Off Channel Areas”

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