ASTORIA, Ore. — The Port of Astoria has backed off a four-fold increase in a parking fee for sport fishermen, after a protest that exposed hard feelings about gillnet fishing on the Columbia River.The board's commission decided Monday night to keep the fee at $5, the Daily Astorian reports.
Despite denials from port officials, sport fishermen protested they were being punished for gaining restrictions on commercial fishing with gillnets. They've long criticized the nets as harming fish and catching too many endangered species.
At the behest of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Oregon and Washington regulators plan to bar the use of the nets on the river's main channel.
The gillnetters say consigning them to side channels and tributaries will be ruinous to their business.
The controversy seeped into the port's plan to raise parking fees just as the late-summer salmon season was getting underway at the mouth of the river, drawing hundreds of boats.
A commission meeting Monday night featured two hours of impassioned testimony.
The port is a pillar of the economy at the mouth of the Columbia, but its leaders say it's hurting for income.
"If you're in the red, you've got to climb out somehow," said James Campbell, chairman of the commission.
Skip Hauke, the director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, told the commission the $20 fee would set back the area's tourism industry a decade, hurting lodging, restaurants and other businesses.
"You've got to find a way to implement it properly, and we hope it's not with another outrageous fee," fishing guide Kevin Newell told the commission. "We really don't want to see the sport-fishing community hammered overnight in the height of this Buoy 10 season."
Campbell said the increase would be suspended indefinitely, and there isn't enough time to make any changes for this year's season at the mouth of the river, known widely as Buoy 10.