About a year ago I was considering starting a local fishing organization to help maintain fairness to all fishermen who fish on the Columbia River.
Last year the lower river fishermen below the mouth of the Willamette River did not feel they got their fair share of spring chinook. Many fishermen including myself felt the decisions made by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were based on politics and pressure from the majority, not scientific data.
I have always trusted that ODFW leaders would stay focused on the scientific data presented to them from their own biologists and data from other agencies to maximize fishing opportunity for all fishermen, both sport and commercial.
In this past year I have been talking with Fish and Wildlife personnel from Oregon and Washington about past years' unbalanced fishing seasons. Overall, they want to do a better job and provide equal opportunity. The Advisory Groups for both sport and commercial fisheries were formed to help achieve such goals.
After the decision was made for the 2008 spring chinook season, and in talking with many fishermen and observing their reactions of anger and disbelief, I felt that forming a fishing organization made up of angry, upset fishermen to throw rocks back over the imaginary wall that continues to rise between upper and lower river fishermen, was not the best approach; the wall will only get higher.
Both commercial and sport fishermen on the lower river - meaning "outside the metropolitan area" - know they are outnumbered in both numbers of people and political power, but everyone, both fishermen and non-fishermen, has an equal investment and interest in the fish that swim the Columbia River through state and federal taxes.
Any fisherman that chooses to invest large amounts of money in gear and boat, or who belongs to fishing clubs or fishing organizations, has no more rights to these fish than someone who lives in New York City.
After living in a fishing community for 52 years now and being a fisherman myself, I fully understand how locals feel when a group of people or an organization outside the area wants to take away someone's livelihood for their own benefit without reasonable and believable justification.
My focus in becoming a member of the advisory board is to learn more about the fishery and listen to other members to help myself understand their views on fishing. My goals are to help maintain balance between sport and commercial fishing.
Living in the Astoria area all my life, I have different views through history than many new sport fishermen when it comes to commercial gillnetting.
I live for sport fishing, but I'm not going to take away the salmon steak made available through commercial fishing from a person who chooses not to sport fish. I am also someone who chooses to live healthy eating wild salmon, not farmed.
Actually, I hear more complaints from the sport fisherman who works full-time that the guide fisherman who fishes every day is one of the main reasons our fishing seasons have become shorter - they're catching the quotas of fish made available. I agree somewhat, but it is only part of a complex puzzle. I also believe guide and charter fishermen provide a great service to the people who chose not to invest large amounts of money into fishing gear and boats for various reasons.
Why would someone, say, from eastern Oregon who enjoys fishing salmon or sturgeon make a large investment to only fish the Columbia River a couple times a year?
Maybe it would benefit both the guide fishermen and other fishermen if there were a set number of guide fishing permits allowed to fish the Columbia River, similar to the commercial fishing fleet. This would create a "guide fishing permit" that has net worth that can be sold or passed on to family members. This may provide more fish available to the "working fishermen" who has limited time to fish.
This year for the spring chinook season, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife decided by limiting the fishing time to three days per week and reducing the limit to one fish per day from two, it made it possible to fish for a longer time span and for a portion during the peak of the run.
The season chosen did not provide any additional fishing days, so it did not sit well with some, but others were happy compared with last year.
Work, family commitments and weather conditions make it difficult for many to try and squeeze in a few days for fishing in a season that may last only 30 days. Limited consecutive days of opportunity are what bother most fishermen who have busy schedules, who fish both sturgeon and salmon.
Even though the numbers of days available for harvest are the same, it makes the season seem longer if only a limited number of days per week and weekend are allowed. It also provides greater opportunity to many. Economically, it makes more sense as well: instead of businesses getting all the fishermen in a short time frame, it will provide income for a longer period of time.
Over the years as a hunter and fisherman, I have belonged to many organizations and clubs. I have found there are good and bad beliefs in all, even though we all have common interest. Fly fishermen not agreeing with bait fishermen, rifle hunters not agreeing with archery hunters, traditional archers not agreeing with compound hunters, and the constant battle between commercial and sport fishermen. I'm no armchair biologist, and I understand my views will not please everyone, but I respect them and their views.
Through technology, Internet, population growth, increased demand on resources, etc., sportsmen in general have separated themselves into smaller packs fighting over the same prey. I believe that will continue, but I also believe we need to find common ground amongst all of us before some bigger wolf or organization walks off with all our rights.
My goal is to maintain positive common ground between all fishermen, non-fishermen and anyone who benefits directly from the resource.
Astoria resident Bob Bingham was recently appointed to the Columbia River Recreational Fishing Advisory Group for a three-year term.