The Oregonian reports on a letter from Gov. John Kitzhaber to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in which he proposes moving non-tribal commercial gillnets off the Columbia River and into side-channel fishing areas.
You may have heard that there will be a measure on the ballot in November that asks voters to ban non-tribal gillnets in all Oregon waters – including the Columbia. The measure stems from ongoing conflicts between sport and commercial fishermen over catching salmon on the river.
The fight is long-running, complicated and intense. I wrote about it constantly as a reporter at The Daily Astorian, and I will revisit the topic later on the blog.
In his letter, the governor returns to a compromise proposed by sportfishers several years ago that would move gillnets off the mainstem Columbia River – instead of banning them altogether. Kitzhaber advocates for the alternative gear that can catch hatchery salmon with fewer impacts to wild fish. He also calls for funding a build-out of off-channel fishing areas such as Youngs Bay to make sure commercial gillnetters have enough fish to catch and enough space in which to catch them (that addresses a top complaint among gillnetters when the proposal to move them off-channel first came about).
In the letter, Kitzhaber takes an official position on gill nets: That they are not selective enough and don’t do enough to avoid killing wild fish:
“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,” he writes. “I believe the use of gill nets in non-tribal mainstem fisheries is inconsistent with this objective.”
However, he recognizes the need to keep non-tribal commercial fisheries alive:
“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-wage jobs and businesses, local commerce and export economies, nationally renowned culinary destinations, and the Pacific Northwest’s uniquely high quality of life and culture.”
The funding to expand off-channel areas for non-tribal commercial gillnetters will be a key component of Kitzhaber’s proposal. But I’m curious about how the governor’s proposal will play out if voters pass the ballot measure to ban gill nets. I suppose Oregon could still try to get money to expand off-channel fishing across the river in Washington state…