Gillnetters say they can challenge Oregon ballot measure

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The commercial fishing industry says it has grounds to challenge Oregon's Initiative 21 if it passes in November.

The initiative would ban non-tribal gillnets on all inland waters in Oregon, which includes the lower Columbia. It would not address the use of gillnets by Indians with treaty fishing rights who currently fish upstream of Bonneville Dam.

About 70 percent of the lower Columbia River is on the Oregon side of the border with Washington, which mostly follows the shipping channel.

Hobe Kytr of Salmon for All, a commercial fishing group based in Astoria, Ore., said the initiative would not compensate gillnetters for their boats and gear, which would be in violation of the Oregon constitution.

Under I-21, the commercials would have to switch to seines instead of gillnets in Oregon waters.

Since 2009, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been researching the use of other types of commercial fishing gear on the Columbia, such as purse seines.

With such seines, wild fish can be removed in the water so that there is a lower mortality rate.

Kytr said several more years of research are needed before the National Marine Fisheries Service could approve the use of seines on the Columbia.

Even if seining were eventually permitted on the Columbia, most gillnet boats cannot be converted to seining, Kytr said.The initiative is backed by the Coastal Conservation Association, the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association and the Northwest Sportsfishing Industry Association.

Oregon recreational fishermen unsuccessfully sponsored initiatives to eliminate the Columbia River gillnet fishery in 1962 and 1964.

Proposed Washington initiatives to ban net fishing failed in 1995 and 1999.

Attempts to ban gillnets through Oregon legislative action failed the past two years.