Some backers of anti-gillnet ballot measure change course

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PORTLAND — Three groups that had backed a November ballot measure to remove gillnets from the Oregon side of the lower Columbia River are now urging a no vote, saying Gov. John Kitzhaber has a better idea.

After Measure 81 made the ballot, Kitzhaber proposed limiting gillnet fishermen to work in off-channel areas, where they could catch hatchery salmon without accidentally catching endangered, wild fish.

The three groups are the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Northwest Guides and Anglers Association.

The three other groups in the coalition behind Measure 81 could do the same: the Coastal Conservation Association, Oregon Wild and The Humane Society of the United States.

But, The Oregonian reported Wednesday, those groups say they aren’t sure yet the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will actually approve Kitzhaber’s proposal. He’s called for action by the end of the year.

The positions of all six groups are spelled out in statements submitted for the state voters guide.

Kitzhaber submitted one, as well, saying Measure 81 “will further divide Oregonians instead of advancing economic and conservation gains that a more thoughtful effort can achieve.”

There’s a risk the ballot measure could fail, and the commission or the Legislature could water down the governor’s request. Gillnetters say off-channel areas wouldn’t generate an adequate harvest.

But given Kitzhaber’s strong support for his proposal, “I don’t think there’s a lot of room to mess with it,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “The governor has stepped forward with a thoughtful and more complete proposal and deserves support.”

The commission’s seven members are gubernatorial appointees.

The other members of the anti-gillnet coalition — the Coastal Conservation Association, Oregon Wild and The Humane Society of the United States — filed voters’ guide statements urging a yes vote on Measure 81.

All three groups said they support the governor’s plan, but said its fate is uncertain and asked voters to check the campaign’s website for updates.