Gillnetters sue state to stop new rules
March 7, 2013
A group of Washington based gillnetters has sued the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to overturn regulations that would move gillnetters off the main stem of the Columbia River and sway salmon allocations further in favor of recreation anglers.
The suit, filed Monday in Wahkiakum County Superior Court, asks the court to declare the regulation entitled "Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy Decision" invalid.
The suit is similar to one filed last month in Oregon against the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which had adopted the new regulations before the Washington commission had acted. An Oregon Court of Appeals judge had issued a stay of implementation of Oregon's rules while that suit is considered.
Petitioners in the Washington suit are Robert Sudar, Longview; Chris Doumit, Cathlamet; John Hanson, Chinook; Michael Wullger, Chinook, and Jim Long, Chinook. They contend that the new regulation's "ultimate effect is to ban non-tribal gillnetting on the Columbia River mainstem for all species of fish, including sturgeon, smelt, shad and salmon."
Further, the regulation "causes irreparable economic devastation for these commercial fisheries and the coastal communities that depend on them."
The plantiffs say that the court has the authority to invalidate an administrative rule if it exceeds an agency's statutory authority, if it was adopted without complying to rule, or if it is arbitrary and capricious. The plaintiffs contend that the regulation exceeds the commission's statutory authority.
The commission's mandate, the suit says, is to maintain the economic well being and stability of the fishing industry.
"By depriving commercial fishers of a critical and well established means of fishing, the regulation destabilizes the fishing industry," the suit says.
The suit also contends that the regulations are invalid because the governor hasn't maintained a balance of representation in appointments to the commission, for there are no commercial fishers on it.
Commercial fishermen and other local interests welcomed the suit.
Cathlamet resident Bruce Holland, a third generation commercial fisher with 50 years in the industry, is one.
"I would have to quit fishing if the rule were put into effect," he said.
The rule would put all the gillnetters into a few small areas off the main channel. One, Deep River, is in Washington and is crowded with boats fishing 100 feet apart. The bulk of the fleet, around 200 boats, would be crowded into waters on the Oregon side of the river.
Wahkiakum commissioners on Tuesday also voiced support for the suit.
"We're for it," said Commissioner Mike Backman, who is a fish buyer.
Commissioner Blair Brady commented that the board has opposed the new rules and is lobbying with legislators to overturn the rules.