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TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Commercial gillnetters want a state ban on using the nets in the main channel of the Columbia River to be phased out.SALEM — Commercial gillnetters said Oregon should halt its phased-in ban of their salmon fishing method in the main channel of the Columbia River.


Speaking to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlfe Commission March 18, panelists representing gillnetters said alternative commercial fishing methods are expensive or unproven, and plans to develop salmon runs in side channels show little promise.

Astoria fisherman Jim Wells, president of Salmon for All, said only big migratory fish returns the past couple years have kept gillnetters operating. He said limiting gillnetting to the Columbia’s side channel sloughs will cost commercial anglers two-thirds of their income.

“We’ve been lucky to have big runs,” Wells said. “Our income is coming off the mainstem. We need to be there.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP
EO MEDIA GROUPHe and others asked the commission to halt implementation of the main channel gillnetting ban, which takes full effect in 2017. The commission wasn’t scheduled to take action Friday, but invited panels to speak on the issue.

Sports fishing groups, led by the Coastal Conservation Association, take the opposite view. More than two-dozen backers, many of them wearing red CCA caps, attended the ODFW Commission meeting to support the Columbia River Harvest Management Plan adopted by Oregon and Washington in 2013.

Sports fishing groups argue that gillnetting is an indiscriminate method that catches and kills salmon whether they are hatchery raised or wild.

“With over a dozen Columbia River salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the (federal) Endangered Species Act, we all know that non-selective gillnet fisheries have no place in the future of our Columbia River fisheries,” according to the CCA's website.

The CCA argues that sportsfishing brings more money to river communities. Guide fees, license fees, hotel stays and other income circulate as recreational anglers have greater access to salmon in the lower Columbia, the organization maintains.

'Gambled the science would work'

The management plan was approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2013. In addition to shunting gillnetting to side channels, it allocates 70 percent of salmon catch to recreational anglers this year and 80 percent next year.

The gillnetting ban has political backers, as well.

In a March 14 letter, state Sens. Fred Girod and Rod Monroe urged the ODFW Commission to “continue implementing this common sense plan.” The senators praised the economic impact of a gillnetting ban and said more selective fishing methods “are critical to conserving wild salmon populations and maintaining hatchery production.”

Salmon For All representatives respond that the commercial industry has lost part of its valuable spring and summer Chinook harvest, side channels haven’t been improved as promised and alternative gear such as seines is prohibitively expensive. Group member Irene Martin said the management change was based on a policy decision that turned out wrong.

“We’ve seen a lot of heartache in our communities,” Martin said. “Policy without science is a gamble. We gambled the science would work.”

Eric Mortenson is a reporter with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in Salem.

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