Oregon wants to move gillnets off mainstem Columbia

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission will begin deliberations Tuesday on Gov. John Kitzhaber's directive to move gillnetters off the lower Columbia River's main stem.

Oregon's commission will meet by teleconference at 2 p.m. Tuesday. An audio stream will be provided so the public can listen in on the discussion. The link for the audio stream is http://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission.

On Thursday, Kitzhaber sent a letter to Bobby Levy, chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Roy Elicker, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, calling for shifting the gillnetters to off-channel areas such as Youngs Bay at Astoria.

Kitzhaber's letter says the Oregon commission "...should phase out the use of non-tribal commercial gillnets in the mainstem Columbia River. This should include the transition to gillnet use to off-channel areas, and the development of a transition plan that achieves this.''

The Oregon governor says the state "should adopt a policy for selective recreational fisheries as the primary management approach in the mainstem.''

He mentions both salmon and sturgeon fisheries and wants the new rules by the end of the year.

Kitzhaber's directive comes three months before Oregon voters will decide on Measure 81, which would prohibit gillnets and tangle nets in Oregon inland waters.

The signatures of 142,000 Oregonians were collected by anti-gillnet forces to place the measure on the ballot.

"In the coming days, we will examine the details of the governor's proposal, monitor action by the commission and determine the best way forward for the campaign,'' said Eric Stachon, communications director for Yes on 81 Stop Gillnets Now, in a prepared statement.

Levy, Oregon commission chair, said Tuesday's teleconference will be to discuss Kitzhaber's letter, get a briefing by staff, and identify initial steps.

"The Governor has turned to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to come up with a solution and that's what we intend to do,'' Levy said. "We will work with our Washington counterparts and stakeholders and together develop rules that reflect the Governor's proposals as well as the many legitimate interests among the public.''

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, issued a statement on Friday. Anderson laid out Washington's beliefs for a long-term management plan and promised to work with Oregon in "an open and transparent'' process.

"We respect the objectives he (Kitzhaber) expresses in his letter, but are not bound by them,'' Anderson said.

Much of the lower Columbia River, particularly close to the coast, is on the Oregon side of the state line.

"This doesn’t apply to Washington," Rick Hargrave, a spokesman for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the website PolitiFact Oregon. "Washington commercial gillnetters can continue to do their thing in Washington waters.''

Guy Norman, regional director for Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, told PolitiFact Oregon the goal always is concurrent regulation.

"However, if we are unable to attain concurrent regulation, for one reason or another, then each state reserves the right to set regulations within their respective boundaries," he said.

Kitzhaber's letter mentions 2013-2016 as the time needed for new investments in off-channel areas and fish to return. He also directs Oregon to continue to develop and use alternative selective fishing gear for mainstem commercial fisheries when recreational fishery objectives are met.