by The Columbia Basin Bulletin
with Rick Nelson of The Eagle
An Oregon election initiative aimed at banning the use of gill nets in inland waters such as the Columbia River has gathered more than 105,000 signatures, well over the 87,213 needed to get the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Organizers of the petition drive on May 25 submitted to the Oregon Election Division sheets containing 92,474 signatures. By late this week another 13,000 signatures had been collected by paid petitioners for the campaign, led by a coalition called “Stop Gill Netting Now.”
The measure is drawing concern from gillnetters and county officials on the Washington side of the river.
On Tuesday, Wahkiakum County commissioners agreed to raise the issue when they meet next month with commissioners from Pacific, Clatsop and Columbia counties to talk about fishery issues. The four counties have been meeting for over a year to develop unified input on fishery issues.
Commissioners Dan Cothren, Lisa Marsyla and Blair Brady said they would propose the four-county coalition prepare a statement outlining adverse impacts that could come from passage of the initiative. These include:
--Commercial fishers have made advances in techniques, such as tangle nets and resuscitation boxes, that reduce impacts on endangered species, and they shouldn't be overturned to create a monopoly for recreational anglers.
--The initiative will harm the economies of lower river communities that are home to commercial fishers. There is no provision to compensate communities for that economic loss, and there are no provisions for compensating gillnetters for their losses or to assist them in refitting to handle potential new gear such as a purse seine.
--Management of resources by petition inadequately addresses complex fishery management issues.
--Select Area fisheries near Astoria will have to close, impacting the economy and taking fish out of the market for consumers and for the Buoy 10 sport fishery.
--The loss of commercial fishing will eliminate the source of spring and summer salmon for retail sale to consumers.
--The initiative ignores the need for shared sacrifice and shared benefits and places the burden of conservation solely on commercial fishers and their families.
Gillnetter Kent Martin commented that Washington officials don't seem to support the commercial fishing industry. Without that support, the energy and wealth of the commercial fishing industry is leaving the area.
The proposal was submitted to the state Elections Division July 18, 2011, by the Oregon Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), a non-profit organization made up in large part of recreational saltwater anglers.
The signatures submitted last week, as well as any submitted later, must be verified by the state agency to assure the signers are registered Oregon voters. An Elections Division spokesman said an unofficial rule of thumb is that petitioners would be wise to submit 10 percent more signatures than the required amount to assure there are enough valid signatures.
The issue has been a hot topic, with comments and appeals. In certifying the ballot titles the Oregon Supreme Court denied claims by tribes and commercial fishermen that said the proposed language for the ballot measure violated the constitution. The tribes and fishermen had appealed ballot titles developed by the state Attorney General’s Office.
If approved by voters, the measure would prohibit the use of commercial gillnet fishing on Oregon's inland waters, including the lower Columbia River and coastal river estuaries such as Tillamook. The measure provides for alternatives for those that currently fish with gillnets, i.e. the use of seines that allow the release of wild fish in a relatively unharmed state.
Opponents of the measure say a ban on gill netting would cost jobs in their industry, and limit access to fish – most notably salmon – by the non-fishing public.
Salmon for All’s Hobe Kytr said conversations are ongoing with other commercial fishing colleagues about how to counter the gillnet ban campaign and educate the public about the potential consequences. SFA is an association of gillnetters, fish buyers, processors, and associated businesses. He says commercial fishers catch and kill far fewer wild fish than anglers.