The governor’s budget will cover the cost of changing fishery management on the lower Columbia River.
However, state Sen. Betsy Johnson and North Coast gillnet fishermen remain skeptical.
Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 2013-15 biennial budget will ascribe $5.2 million to costs associated with his proposal to phase out the use of gillnets on the main stem of the lower Columbia River.
His proposal was set in motion in August and allows for greater allocation of salmon for recreational fishermen beyond 2017 and calls for alternative gear such as seine nets to be used by commercial fishermen.
Gillnets would be allowed in hatchery sites at off-channel areas.
The governor’s statement begins with his belief that a better fishery management policy on the lower Columbia River can be attained, one that surpasses the “status quo” and ballot Measure 81, which would have banned gillnets on the river. The measure failed on the November ballot.
“This conflict has gone on too long,” he said. “It is time to come together.”
Kitzhaber said his proposal is meant to enhance “economic outcomes for both Oregon's commercial fisheries and Oregon’s recreational fisheries.”
His budget would put $5.2 million toward enhancing off-channel sites, where hatcheries would be increased, testing alternative gear such as seine nets, and covering costs for gillnet fishermen to convert to alternative gear.
Kitzhaber also writes that he will work with the Legislature to achieve an “economic win-win” for both sides.
The Legislature would have to approve the use of seine nets before the proposal is fully implemented. They are illegal to use in Oregon.
The letter indicates that an endorsement fee would be paid by Columbia River sport fishers to cover the costs.
Speaking to the governor, state Sen. Betsy Johnson has questioned his assumptions. “I believe that his plan is fundamentally inequitable,” she said.
She added that raising the amount of money for alternative management approaches would be challenging.
“It is built on numerous assumptions that put a disproportionate risk on the commercial fleet,” she said. “I don’t think the governor’s plan should go into effect until these assumptions are realized.”
Commercial gillnet fishermen have vehemently opposed the governor’s proposal from the beginning, citing the expensive upgrades in equipment, lack of access to fish and not enough room in the off-channel sites. They have been skeptical of funding for the changes since the beginning, and the amount prescribed in the governor’s latest statement didn’t send a wave of relief.
Jim Wells, president of Salmon For All, questioned whether there are enough recreational fishermen on the Columbia to raise the money through endorsement fees or whether the $5.2 million figure is sufficient.
Bill Hunsinger, a commercial gillnet fisherman and Port of Astoria commissioner, pointed out that costs would go beyond the fleet having to adopt new gear. They would need bigger boats as well, because seine nets require more fishermen to operate.
Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments are still working on the governor’s proposal. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meets Friday in Portland to discuss the issue.
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.