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Will ODFW Tell Gill-netters to Change Their Ways?

PHOTO: Commercial Fishing Boats in Astoria. Photo by Rick Swart.
PHOTO: Commercial Fishing Boats in Astoria. Photo by Rick Swart.
October 17, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife officials meet Thursday to consider a plan to limit gill-net fishing on the lower Columbia River. It's been a controversial topic for years, but Gov. John Kitzhaber has made a series of recommendations that at least some groups say they can live with.

The concern is that nylon nets, strung across sections of the river, entangle a lot more than fish.

Nine wildlife and conservation groups have voiced support for the governor's plan, including Oregon Wild, where Steve Pedery is conservation director.

"The argument the gill-netters make is, 'This is really just about who gets to catch the fish.' This is really a much bigger issue, and when you're using a fishing technique like gill-nets - that is inherently dangerous to marine mammals, to seals, to otters, to diving birds - that's not a good thing."

Gill-nets aren't allowed along the coast, but commercial anglers still can use them on the Columbia River.

Nello Picinich, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association, says his group agrees with Kitzhaber that they still could get a good catch by moving into "safe zones" that are closer to hatcheries.

"The biggest component that CCA supports is getting gill-nets off of the lower main stem Columbia River and moving them into the off-channel areas, where they will have, ideally, less impact on ESA-listed salmon and steelhead species."

Other types of nets, called purse seines, allow fishermen to sort and release what they didn't intend to catch. Pedery says their use and the other recommendations aren't new, although a small but vocal gill-netting industry has opposed them in the past.

"They are concerned that the money might not be there for future hatcheries, or that at some point they're going to be required to switch to this more selective fishing gear - and they don't want to do that."

On the Oregon ballot, Measure 81 also seeks to ban the use of gill-nets on the Columbia. Kitzhaber is calling his plan a compromise, however, and says the fish and wildlife agencies are the ones that should make the final call.

They're meeting from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thurs., Oct. 18, in the Spruce Room at the Airport Embassy Suites, 7900 N.E. 82nd Ave., Portland. More information on the meeting is online at dfw.state.or.us.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR