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Washington delays action on gillnet ban until January; fishers continue protests

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Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 12:45 pm | Updated: 11:32 am, Mon Dec 17, 2012.

TUMWATER, Wash.— The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission met Saturday – but did not make a decision about the Columbia River fish management plan.

Instead, the nine-member panel was briefed on the specifics of the plan and heard from Oregon and Washington citizens during a public comment period.

A decision by the commission is tentatively set for mid-January, a delay that offers more opportunity for public comments.

The plan would eventually remove gillnet use on the main stem of the Columbia by 2017. Oregon’s six-member fish and wildlife commission voted 4-2 on Dec. 7 to adopt the plan.

The management plan was developed by a two-state process, with workgroup meetings beginning in September. Gov. John Kitzhaber generated the process after sending letters in August to Oregon and Washington’s fish and wildlife departments, asking them to alter management on the river.

Fish and wildlife staff from both states and industry advisers convened at the workgroup meetings. The plan reallocates salmon on the river to sports fishermen, shifts commercial gillnet use to off-channel sites and calls for developing seine nets or alternative gear instead of gillnets.

Oregon’s commission adopted the plan that was finalized by the workgroup meetings, with a few changes, allowing for a more gradual reallocation of spring Chinook salmon, with more going to recreational fishermen and less going to commercial fishers in the next four years.

Gov. Kitzhaber sent a last-minute letter to the Oregon commission, indicating that his budget would assign $ 5.2 million for the plans objectives. It also called for adaptive management, allowing the process to be re-evaluated after one year. Washington commissioners agreed with this notion, saying it was necessary because of the apparent uncertainty associated with it.

The Washington commission heard from nearly 40 people who spoke about the plan’s perceived negative and positive impacts.

Commercial fishermen from Oregon and Washington came to give testimony, with recreational supporters boisterously laughing at one point about a comment made by a gillnet fishermen. They were told to be quiet by Commission Chairwoman Miranda Wecker.

Bill Hunsinger, Port of Astoria commissioner and commercial gillnet fishermen, told the panel that gillnet fishermen up and down the West Coast are watching what is going on and are lending support in opposition to the plan.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” he said.

Hunsinger told the commissioners that the Oregon commission’s actions didn’t represent the view of people in Clatsop County. He said that Columbia gillnetters have contacted attorneys in both states and the American Civil Liberties Union to see what legal action could be taken to reverse the plan.

“We’re going after the governor and we’re going after the state of Oregon,” he said.

His son, Otis Hunsinger, spoke about the hardship that he and his family would incur because of the plan, specifically expensive requirements to transfer to alternative gear.

“There’s absolutely no way I could seine,” he said, about changing to the style of nets that are currently illegal in Oregon. He also stated that on his 24-foot boat it wasn’t feasible to use seines, and that a larger boat would be needed to continue fishing.

“With this plan, we have both sides fighting against each other,” he said about the polarization it has caused between commercial and recreational fishermen.

River guides expressed their concern about the portion of the plan that would change the sturgeon fishery, which would draw down the chances to catch the fish. The Oregon commission allowed for a one-fish limit of sturgeon for 2013, instead of an initial catch-and-release program. Guides asked for a more gradual change because of negative impacts on their business.

Members of the Coastal Conservation Association from Oregon and Washington expressed support for the plan and said that the change was long overdue.

Dave Schamp, chairman of the CCA in Oregon, reiterated his support given at prior meetings.

“I’m here this morning to offer thanks,” he said. “We applaud your efforts. We also appreciate the hard work of the department staff of both states.”

He said, “It’s an important and long overdue step.”

Sports fishermen were concerned about a barbless hook provision in the plan. The requirement removes the use of barbed hooks, which are a sharp point near the hook that helps keep fish on the line of a reel.

The recreational fishermen said that it would make it harder to fish and wished to have it phased in. Fish shop owners and salesmen said that it would hurt their business if barbless hooks were required.

Jack and Georgia Marincovich spoke to the commission, driving from Astoria to express disapproval and frustration about Kitzhaber’s proposal.

“There’s only room for a handful of fishermen,” Jack Marincovich said about fishing at the off-channel select sites which would be the locations available for gillnetting if the mainstem ban goes ahead.

A third-generation commercial fishermen and executive director of the Columbia Fishermen’s Protective Union, Marincovich said, “The new plan that came out of Salem won’t save one fish.”

“Our small businesses are being attacked by the governor of Oregon,” said Georgia Marincovich. “There’s no need for this plan; it’s simply allocation.”

She said that nobody was listening to the people of Clatsop County. “We can’t sleep at night. Our hearts are breaking,” she said, about the plan’s affect on those around her.

Les Clark, of Chinook, Wash., said that gillnetters are already working on other gear and that it should continue.

“We have been working on alternative gear and we’ve made some advances that are positive,” he said. “I would like to have the opportunity for the gillnet fleet to continue working on those positives.”

“We have a lot of things we can work on,” he added, but said that both commercial and recreational fishermen had to work together.

The plan will take effect in Oregon beginning in January 2013. Many in the gillnet community are planning to meet and further discuss taking legal action against the plan.

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