COLUMBIA RIVER — Lower Columbia commercial fishermen are applauding Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s effort to write a letter this week directing possible changes to Columbia River gillnet policy.
However, the local association, Salmon for All — representing Washington and Oregon gillnetters, fish buyers, processors and businesses — wanted to hear stronger direction from the governor rather than the vague language used in the letter.
In the three-page letter, Kitzhaber instructs the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to consider more factors as it continues to implement his August 2012 order that gillnetting be phased out on the Columbia River’s main stem. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has chosen to mirror whatever policies Oregon adopts regarding gillnetting.
Kitzhaber suggests creating an annual economic assessment, forming a collaborative work group, providing updates on new fishing alternatives and analyzing gear types and harvest performance.
Ideally, local commercial fishermen hoped the governor would have abandoned his plans to phase out gillnets, which are used to catch a large amount of fish at one time.
Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fisheries and Salmon for All board member, said he agrees with the recommendations in the letter, but believes the phasing out of gillnets already caused financial harm to the commercial fishing community.
Salmon for All is suing the state of Oregon over the process of rule-making regarding gillnets.
Fick is requesting official numbers from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Anecdotally he said the record runs of salmon this fall are not equaling high returns.
“I’m glad to see that the governor is considering ongoing changes to his rule-making, due to the fact that we have already been significantly damaged in this process, economically and socially,” Fick said. “We would like a constructive change where we have a collaborative process of all the affected user groups. We need to build consensus.”
The governor’s suggestion of forming a collaborative work group is a positive step forward, Fick said, to air out the differences between various groups. No work groups have been established, so far.
Fick wants to see commercial fishermen, consumers and the professional recreational industry collaborate.
A portion of the governor’s letter that states how the gillnet band is subject to “adaptive management [which] does not mean abandoning the rules or their core elements …” is worrisome to Salmon for All President Jim Wells.
“[The ODFW commission] will react by adjusting elements within the overall management framework. In other words, they are not willing to deviate from the original rules or management framework, and that is not what we discussed when we met with the governor,” Wells said.
Kitzhaber met with local and other commercial fishing leaders — including one from Washington — about three weeks before releasing the letter.
Salmon for All, a pro-commercial fishermen association, is striving to return gillnet policies to the way they were before the governor’s plan went into place.
Fick said responsible gillnetting and commercial fishing as a whole have offered countless jobs to residents around Clatsop County. Phasing out those opportunities would negatively impact the local economy and even people working seasonally to afford college, he said.
“Almost everybody who has grown up here has touched salmon somehow, which has given them life choices through education,” he said.
‘Almost everybody who has grown up here has touched salmon somehow, which has given them life choices through education.’
— Steve Fick
owner of Fishhawk Fisheries and Salmon for All board member