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NW Fishletter #270, January 21, 2010

[6] Sport Group Launches Anti-Net Initiative In Oregon

After getting the cold shoulder from Oregon legislators earlier this year, sportfishers in Oregon announced Dec. 24 they are leading an initiative drive that would outlaw the use of gillnets and tanglenets by non-Indian fishers.

The petition drive has put lower Columbia commercial gillnetters in their crosshairs, but sporties say they do not want the commercial fleet to disappear, just fish cleaner.

According to a briefing document from the Coastal Conservation Association (nearly 3,500 members in Oregon), the proposed law would help commercial fishermen with funding to transition from traditional net fishing to more selective fishing gear like beach seines or fish wheels.

The changes in fishing methods would allow fishers to release more wild, ESA listed salmon and steelhead alive, and keep more hatchery fish to sell, creating a "sustainable" fishery.

The CCA said the changes would also provide a greater return on the investment of Oregon taxpayers towards salmon recovery, but neglected to mention that the lions' share of recovery funding comes from BPA.

"Oregon's failure to protect and enhance our wild salmon runs threatens the state's credibility as a leader in sustainability," said Dave Schamp, chair of the Oregon CCA board of directors and a lead petitioner in the action. "Each year, taxpayers, electric utility rate payers and others collectively contribute about $1 billion to recovery efforts, yet wild salmon, an important natural economic resource for out state, remain on the brink if extinction."

Critics say the initiative is just another ploy to increase the catch of sports fishers at the expense of the commercial sector, though sports fishers are already allowed a higher impact on ESA-listed stocks like upriver Columbia spring chinook than the lower Columbia gillnetters.

In addition, they say the initiative would do nothing to curtail tribal gillnetting above Bonneville Dam, which is allocated five to six times more impacts on the listed upriver stocks.

If commercials would be catching fewer listed fish in the future, sporties would likely be allowed an even higher level of ESA impacts.

Columbia Basin harvest managers released information earlier this year that showed the non-tribal sports fishery is allowed about 69 percent of the allowable ESA impacts on upriver spring chinook and non-tribal gillnetters 31 percent.

In 2009, sporties caught more than 11,000 upriver hatchery spring chinook, the gillnetters landed nearly 4,000 hatchery fish.

Both groups must release all wild fish, and fishing regulations recognize impacts are different from the two types of fishing. Managers estimate about 10-percent mortality from hooking releases, and about 30 percent from gillnets.

So far, sports groups have not had much luck convincing the public that the nets should go. Voters turned down net ban initiatives in Washington state in 1995 and 1999.

The CCA sponsored a bill in the Oregon legislature this year that mandated more selective fishing methods in the state, but it never survived committee hearings.

Another bill was pushed hard by the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and included their plan developed last year which called for increasing gillnet catches by boosting the so-called SAFE fisheries, now funded mostly by BPA, that raised hatchery fish in netpens out of the mainstem to allow harvest with fewer impacts on ESA-listed fish.

Yet another bill, introduced by Oregon state senator Fred Girod (R-Lyons) called for outlawing gillnetting in the state. Neither proposal made it out of committee. -B.R.

The following links were mentioned in this story:

Initiative drive

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