A letter issued Thursday night by Gov. John Kitzhaber has taken many locals in the gillnetting industry by surprise.
Kitzhaber has called for phasing out nontribal commercial gillnet fishing in the mainstem of the lower Columbia River in the letter to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The governor proposed that those gillnet fishermen transition to off-channel areas such as Youngs Bay, areas that are stocked with hatchery fish so that gillnetters could still haul in a healthy harvest without inadvertently catching wild, endangered fish.
“Given all of the conversations I’ve had with him, I’m stunned with his letter,” state Sen. Betsy Johnson said today.
A proposal to ban the use of nontribal commercial gillnets in the Columbia is on Oregon’s November ballot.
Local gillnet fishing representatives who met with Gov. Kitzhaber this week came away from their meeting with the expectation that the governor would oppose the gillnet ban.
Kitzhaber's natural resources assistant, Brett Brownscombe, said the governor “doesn't feel the ballot measure is the right way to approach it. He feels that the Fish and Wildlife Commmission is – not the ballot box.”
Asked whether Kitzhaber would officially oppose the gillnet ballot measure in a Voters Pamphlet statement, Brownscome said: "He hasn't decided officially yet.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission announced today that it will discuss the governor's proposal via conference call Tuesday.
Stop Gillnets Now, the group behind a ballot measure to prohibit commercial gillnet fishing in the Columbia River issued a statement welcoming the action.
“We greatly appreciate Gov. Kitzhaber’s recognition that gillnets are a significant conservation problem and the continued use of gillnets on the Columbia threaten endangered salmon and needlessly kill seabirds and other wildlife,” the statement read. “We would like to thank Gov. Kitzhaber for his leadership in responding to the growing concerns about Gillnets, including the 142,000 Oregonians who signed a petition and placed Measure 81 on the November ballot.
“This is an important elevation of an issue that for too long has seen common sense solutions blocked by special interests at legislative and fish and wildlife commission levels. 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.”
Steve Fick of Fishhawk Fisheries – who opposes the gillnet ban – said he has yet to see the specifics of the governor’s proposal, but hopes that when those specifics do become available, the governor will explain why this idea is a good one.
“We’re going to review it and analyze it before we make a proper statement on it but I personally don’t think we need to come off the mainstem when we stay within the guidelines of harvest,” Fick said. “We want to maintain our jobs and our viability as a fishery and we want to be a partner in continued recovery.”
Salmon For All advocate Bruce Buckmaster said he would need to analyze the proposal before he could issue a statement.