The governor recently signed Senate Bill 830. His signature ushers in a new chapter in lower Columbia River salmon management and the prospect of a brighter future for sports anglers and commercial fishing interests that both stand to benefit.

This historic bill moves lower-Columbia River nontribal commercial gillnetters off the main stem Columbia, where wild fish migrate, and into designated off-channel areas called “SAFE (Select Area Fishery Enhancement) zones.” These zones have been seeded with hatchery salmon smolts to deliver increased harvest opportunities for commercial fishers.

The bill is intended to assure the future of commercial harvest in the lower-Columbia while expanding sportfishing seasons in the main stem Columbia River.

The goal with this legislation is to optimize economics for all involved, the Columbia River salmon food industries, sports anglers, communities and businesses across much of the state. From boat builders in southern Oregon to enhanced tourism in Clatsop County, literally hundreds of businesses and dozens of rural communities stand to benefit. In my view, the status quo was short-changing the fish, the sportfishing community and lower Columbia River communities looking for economic answers and opportunities to fuel their well-being.

For more than 25 years I have had a front row seat in trying to sort out this issue. I’m a sport fisherman and my legislative district is home to thousands of passionate salmon anglers and sportfishing-related businesses. These stakeholders brought me to the issue of nontribal gillnetting when I was a state senator in the 80s. Like my constituents, I’ve made a substantial investment in my salmon and steelhead fishing. Like many close to this sport, I’ve watched as the landscape for both recreational and commercial interests has become increasingly challenged by regulation and fisheries management necessary to protect dwindling populations of wild fish and tribal agreements.

We have all seen the promise of recreational fishing and what it is capable of generating to communities far and wide.  I know from personal experience the kinds of expenditures that are made individually for boats and fishing equipment, but also the money spent at restaurants, for lodging and at retail for apparel, supplies and accessories.

With tens of thousands of additional angler trips expected through this legislation and greater certainty in fishing seasons, clear winners will be sports anglers and the lower Columbia River communities who stand to gain mightily through upticks in tourism.

And the biggest beneficiary of this legislation is the resource. For the commercial and sportfishing communities to win, the fish have to win. Senate Bill 830 opens a new and exciting era of conservation, not just through the removal of main stem Columbia River gillnetting but anticipated increases in fishing license sales that fund Oregon’s conservation mission. 

Ultimately, the fish have to come first for all this to work and this move can help recover fragile stocks that migrate throughout the Columbia Basin.

Senate Bill 830 reflects what’s right with Oregon. This legislation was bipartisan and represents responsible public policy. Decades of diligent work and difficult compromises may finally end the more than 100 years of acrimony that pits good Oregonians against good Oregonians. For some, especially the commercial community, it may be difficult today to see the silver lining. But I’m confident 10 years from now we’ll wonder why we didn’t do this sooner.

Rep. Bill Kennemer represents Oregon House District 39.

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