SKAMOKAWA - Well-known Lower Columbia gillnetter Kent Martin of Skamokawa sees this year's historic loss of a commercial spring Chinook season as part of a long-term imbalance in political power between urban elites and the working people who rely on fishing for a basic livelihood.
"Well, I think it's an urban-rural conflict - basically a form of colonialism where the people on the lower river don't have much value except for tourism, to entertain recreational sport fishers."
Martin said it has been found that people who stay at the bed & breakfasts and inns around the Peninsula are very enthusiastic buyers of local products, especially salmon and other seafoods.
Martin feels that he and other local fishers are being ham-strung from selling local products as part of what would attract people to the Peninsula by urban sports fishers "who feel they should have the entire resource."
"Both in the spring and the fall as the [salmon] run moves through the Lower Columbia River, there's quite a bit of traffic around here with regard to that recreational fishing, but it lasts a couple or three weeks, max. And then it's gone. They talk about all the benefits, but they bring squat to the lower river for the most part. They come here, put their boats in the water and then leave."
"It's a looting of resources that we've used for generations. And that's not to say that there shouldn't be fisheries up there [in the Portland area], I'm just saying they shouldn't have it all. And certainly not all for recreational fishing. But that's the mindset."
Martin said that he feels the solution would come with "hard and fast, long-term regulation, dividing the allocation up." But, he said, "The recreational people are against that, because they want it all. They want to keep stealing and taking as much away as they can."
Martin has been a gillnetter as long as he has been a fisherman, his entire life. His family has fished that way along the Columbia River since immigrating here from Norway and Sweden in the 1870s. Both of his great-grandfathers were fishermen for local canneries. After college and graduate school Martin returned to the value and the family tradition.
"I keep hearing that gillnets are the problem, and I think that's hog wash. The problem is they [urban sportsmen] want every last fish to run by them, preferably more than once, before there's any kind of commercial fishery."
Today, due to the commercial fishing restrictions on the Columbia, Martin has to travel to Alaska in order to make any real money from fishing.
He said that while his career is coming to an end, he is very concerned with future generations of fishers along the Lower Columbia.
In comparing how fishing has been a part of him and his family for over 100 years here, he said, "It's like being Jewish. I couldn't not be one, even if I wanted to. Can't put it any plainer than that. It's my whole life."
Irene Martin -
Irene Martin came to fishing when she married Kent some 35 years ago. In that time she has worked alongside her husband through the years. She has also become a historian of local fishing lore and is the author of an upcoming book about the Bumble Bee cannery in Astoria.
"What I'm seeing is communities being denied access to natural resources. And communities along the lower Columbia have traditionally depended on those natural resources and I think you're going to see a major economic downturn in these communities. It's not just the gillnetters that are going to be affected by this. If this is going to become a policy for these two states, and it looks right now like a very good likelihood, then basically these communities are going to get cut out."
Martin, who is also an Episcopal priest, deals with poverty issues on a regular basis and said, "As I look at it right now there will have to be more food banks, and here the food is coming in and going out just as fast now. People are going to be out of work and there's not a whole lot of other jobs for them to move into."