The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Promises have not been kept


November 15, 2018

To The Eagle:

I appreciated your reprint on the “Kitzhaber Plan” or Columbia River Policy C3620, that appeared originally in the Columbia Basin Bulletin. I attended the presentations by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Dept. staff to the Fish and Wildlife Commission on Nov. 1 and 3. What did not appear in the Bulletin article and received scant attention, although commercial fishermen testified at the meetings on the topic, are the economic dislocations that have occurred due to this policy, including here in Wahkiakum County.

Until recently, the Columbia River gillnet fishery was a major economic driver in Wahkiakum County and the lower Columbia. The policy focused instead on recreational fishing priority, and has marginalized a fishery that sustained communities in our county and neighboring counties for 150 years. The result is that salmon have been transferred to a mostly non-local transient recreational fleet and away from local residents and economies.

The policy promised that new “SAFE” area or side-channel fisheries would be created; that “alternative gears” would be developed; and that fishermen’s incomes would be maintained if they gave up the mainstem and fished only in side channel areas. None of these promises have been kept. Moreover, the state has been forced to spend large sums of money to install and maintain weirs in tributaries to protect natural-origin salmon spawners from the inundation of hatchery populations that would interbreed, and which should have been caught in commercial fisheries. In an attempt to further control the straying of uncaught hatchery-origin fish onto spawning beds, the state and the federal government have been steadily reducing hatchery production, affecting both commercial and recreational fisheries. The promised benefits from the policy, particularly the notion that the recreational fishery would increase significantly, have not occurred.

Ironically, the intense scrutiny to which the gillnet fishery has been subjected during the six years this policy has been in place has produced solid data that demonstrate that the gillnet fishery is still the most selective means of commercial fishing available, using the methods of timing of fishing periods, mesh size, and area fished. I cannot see where any aspect of the sport priority plan has been a success. The possible exception would be with some of the industrial users of the Columbia River who see no reason to continue raising salmon to mitigate for their activities when no one is able or allowed to catch them.

One final negative for the local lower Columbia and coastal economy is the exit of distant water fishing permits. Most fishermen have portfolios of permits for different fisheries, in order to spread their risk and ensure that they have a place to fish if run predictions in a particular area are low. The vast majority of local fishermen hold permits or quota for one of the Alaska fisheries. The earnings from these fisheries come back here, because people live here due to the Columbia River gillnet fishery. This is their home base. As we have retired/expired those permits have been sold outside this area, mostly back to Alaska residents, because there is no fishing here for the next generation to follow.

I believe this issue is due more to the urban/rural divide than to political party. The last four governors (two in Oregon, two in Washington) have done little to assist rural and coastal counties and communities. Meanwhile, our county, and others nearby, continue to see negative social statistics and continue to export our young people because there are no jobs here for them.


Kent Martin



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