Commissioners should support commercial fishers


October 7, 2021

To The Eagle:

This letter is in reply to the letter in the 9-23-21 edition titled, “Sport fishermen: unite.” The writer of the letter seems to be totally unaware of the huge losses the gillnet fishery has had to endure since the 1970s. Less time to fish, closure after closure, more fish being allocated to the sports throughout the years. The latest, and by far the worst, coming in 2013 when Oregon Governor Kitzhaber started implementing a plan to remove gillnet fishermen from the main stem of the Columbia River. And, yes, he was successful in doing just that. It wasn’t long after this that he had to resign after doing favors for another special interest group.

I would hope that the sport fishermen begin to understand what our local commercial gillnet fishermen have given up since the 1970s. A very good explanation of all these losses are in the books written by local author Irene Martin, “Legacy and Testament, the Story of the Columbia River Gillnetters” and “Bumble Bee Brand, the Flight of the Bumble Bee.” Truly, I cannot explain things better than the author of these very well written books. All I can do is give my own experiences growing up here in the lower Columbia, and what commercial gillnetting meant to the local community, and how the closure of the main stem of the Columbia river to gillnetting has hurt the economy of the lower Columbia.

The gillnet fishery is and was mostly a lower Columbia local family affair. The families lived in the area, meaning they made their money here and spent it here. I remember buying my first new car at a local dealer in 1973 after a very profitable two week August season. That was a usual thing. The August season brought a lot of money into the local economy, and it stayed here in the lower Columbia. The fish caught went to local grocery stores, restaurants, and into salt barrels and freezers to live on through the winter.

The writer of the letter ends by saying that the local marina will suffer from less traffic from mostly metro based guide boats, and transients, that are here for just a short time. What about the local gillnetter fleet that used to moor there all year round? Also, he is upset about, “A net trap at the mouth of the Elochoman” where the commercial fishing interests have been forced to retreat to. Please, sir, you already have the entire main stem of the Columbia River, what else do the commercials have to give up, and where else is there to go?

The writer finishes his letter by asking the readers to petition our Wahkiakum County commissioners to not back the very few gillnet fishermen left, and instead voice their letters to support outside interest groups that use our marina facilities very rarely, buy most of their provisions out of the area, and then take their fish and money home to the metro areas they are from. I can only hope that you write your letters in support of the very wise decision the county commissioners have already made, backing the very few lower Columbia family gillnetters still in existence.

Bernie Bjork



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