Why you should vote NO on measure 81 – The GillNet Ban

Ballot Measure 81 is deeply flawed and will cause harm to fishing communities on the lower Columbia River, through economic loss and denial of traditional lifestyles and foodways. Hipfish Monthly strongly endorses a no vote on measure 81.

Ballot Measure 81 is deeply flawed and will cause harm to fishing communities on the lower Columbia River, through economic loss and denial of traditional lifestyles and foodways. Hipfish Monthly strongly endorses a no vote on measure 81.

Measure 81, which would ban the use of gillnets by nontribal commercial fishermen in the inland waters of Oregon, but would allow the use of seine nets (which have been illegal for non tribal commercial fisheries on the Columbia River since 1948) is the most recent clash in the long and unnecessary battle between recreational and commercial fishermen over allocation of salmon in the lower Columbia River. This effort to outlaw gillnetting in the Columbia River is the first attempt in several years with any real teeth to it. Measure 81, ingenuously titled the “Protect Our Salmon Act”, is the brainchild of Texas-based Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and other organizations like Stop Gillnetting Now. These groups were unable to raise enough funds to back the initiative within Oregon. 89% of the funds used to generate signatures for Measure 81 were from a donation of more than $500,000 from one resident of Washington State.

The biggest problem with using the initiative process to change fishery regulations with respect to the Columbia River is that the new regulations would apply only to Oregon commercial fisherman, wholesalers, and processors. If Measure 81 passes, Washington non-tribal commercial fishermen will continue use gillnets to harvest salmon and sturgeon in the Columbia River.

Another major problem with Measure 81 is that although the authors would have you believe otherwise, it merely boils down to an allocation shift of harvest (and the accompanying incidental bycatch) from the gillnet fisheries to the recreational fisheries. Measure 81 will in no way contribute to the recovery of endangered stocks of Columbia River fish.

The issues surrounding the Columbia River fisheries are complex. The fisheries are jointly managed by state (Oregon and Washington), federal, and tribal agencies whose overall goal is to conserve threatened and endangered fish populations and at the same time, provide maximum opportunities for both recreational and commercial fishing in the Columbia River. Individual fishing seasons are set by the Columbia River Interstate Compact, a partnership between the fish and wildlife departments of the states of Oregon and Washington who work together to craft concurrent regulations that apply to the Columbia River fisheries. When you average out the total allowable harvest allowed to non-tribal fisheries, recreational fisheries are allocated 80% of the catch and commercial fisherman get 20%.

Confusing the issue further, in reaction to Measure 81, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has come up with a somewhat more equitable plan that would phase out non-tribal gillnetting on the main channels of the Columbia River and require the development of alternative fishing methods such as purse seining for commercial use. Under this plan, commercial gillnetting in off-channel areas such as Youngs Bay would continue. (See sidebar for more information on Governor Kitzhaber’s plan.)

In response CCA and many of the other organizations that originally backed Measure 81, feel that they have already won, have stepped back from their campaign and are now offering support for the Governor’s plan. Some groups, including The Association for Northwest Steelheaders, have even submitted Arguments in Opposition to the Measure 81 section of the Oregon Voter’s Pamphlet.
Despite this, Measure 81 is still on the ballot.

The hot button issue with respect to both sport and commercial fisheries in the Columbia River is the incidental take (death and/or harvest) of protected and endangered native (wild) salmon during the seasons when hatchery or healthy wild runs (and there are some) are targeted.

Disguised as conservational rhetoric, Section 1 of Measure 81 declares that gillnets “indiscriminately kill or injure large numbers of endangered wild salmon and other non-target fish and wildlife species.” This and other statements in Section 1 of Measure 81 are inaccurate and misleading, blaming the commercial fishing industry for the decline and extinction of salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River. In actuality, the current major stresses on the long declining wild salmon population in the Upper Columbia River are the dams, particularly those without fish passages like Grand Coulee Dam, whose installation ended the historic runs of huge “June hogs” (Chinook salmon from the spring run that individually could weigh as much as 100 pounds). In contrast, the greatest threat to the native salmon population in the Lower Columbia River is loss of habitat due to urban development, logging, and pollution.

The authors of Measure 81 would have you believe that sport fishermen do not harm or kill any endangered salmon or steelhead. “Every fishery that releases fish has a mortality rate,” says Hobe Kytr, spokesperson for Salmon for All. The mortality rates for by catch in the commercial fisheries has been extensively studied, but according to Kytr, there has never been a mortality study done on the sports fishery.

In addition, the passage of Measure 81 may mean that “only Oregonians who purchase salmon tags will have access to locally sourced Columbia River fish,” stated Kytr. This will remove salmon from the plates of many Portland locavores.

Kytr contributes a shocking fact with respect to Measure 81. “Sport fishermen contribute only 1% (through purchase of fishing licenses)
toward the vastly expensive hatchery bill. 85% of the money for hatchery programs comes from the Federal Government. The fact is that taxpayers, all of us, everyone in the United States, is paying that hatchery bill. Why should the sport fishermen, who constitute less than 6% of the population, get all of the fish? It’s all about greed.”

In other words, everyone in the United States owns those Columbia River hatchery fish and should be able to get a chance to eat them. Sports
fishermen are basically getting a free ride, yet they still want more.

As well as preventing Oregon commercial fishermen from using gillnets in the inland waters of Oregon, Measure 81 would also ban the sale in Oregon of any fish caught by Washington fishermen on the Columbia River. It is not clear whether the confederated tribes could continue to sell their catch in Oregon, or if processors in Washington could sell fish to wholesalers, retailers, or restaurants in Oregon.

Conceivably, it could become illegal for consumers to drive across the bridge to Washington, purchase gillnet caught salmon, and bring them back to Oregon. The only option remaining to an Oregon consumer might be to eat the fish in Washington, and “smuggle” it home in your belly.

Negative economic impacts from the passage of measure 81 would not be felt by commercial fishermen alone. It would also affect seafood processors, restaurants fish dealers, retailers, and.

Although brothers Mark and Steve Fick, lifelong Astoria residents, are not descended from a long line of commercial fishermen like some families on the North Coast, they both derive all or much of their livelihoods from salmon in the Columbia River. Mark, a Columbia River gillnetter since 1977, said of Measure 81: “It makes me angry that this is portrayed as some sort of conservation issue when it has nothing to do with conservation. It’s a share grab from one group to another. A lot of people don’t understand how that works, that both sport and commercial fishermen are killing endangered and protected fish. Measure 81 would shift all of the allowed killing of endangered and protected fish to the sport industry.

Hooks stress and kill fish, too. If we are going to be having gear restrictions, we should probably be doing it sport-wise too and get rid of hooks, they’re deadly. ” Steve Fick, owner operator of Fishhawk Fisheries, a small seafood processing plant on the waterfront in downtown Astoria, pulls no punches when talking about Measure 81. “CCA, has set forth a goal to eliminate the oldest commercial fishery west of the Rockies. This should be an Oregon issue, for Oregonians, and by Oregonians. This affects our community in so many ways. Socially, part of the fabric of this community is a natural resource-based economy. Philanthropically, a lot of the local funding for scholarships, youth programs, and non-tax based funding programs for schools comes from natural resource-based industries like commercial salmon fishing.”

In further discussion of the issue, Steve Fick is knowledgeable and unapologetically blunt. “With CCA, and the other organizations behind Measure 81, it’s all about greed. It’s not about fairness. It’s not about environmental issues, sustainability, or the recovery of the fishery. It’s about them catching more fish. I have worked very closely with some of these organizations to recover salmon so that we could all share in the benefits. Now, they want to get rid of us. It’s a slimy backstabbing approach [to fisheries regulation]. This isn’t what being an Oregonian is about.”

He continues, “All of the people that work in this community, the people that work in the processing plants, the support industries on down to the latte stands. We are all of under attack by a bunch of bullies. It’s not fair and it’s not right. Salmon is a significant part of my seafood processing, it’s something that can’t be replaced. It will have a devastating affect on a lot of people with full-time jobs.”

Lisa (née Tarabochia) and Gordon Clement own Clemente’s, an upscale seafood restaurant located in downtown Astoria. The menu at Clemente’s is centered around Columbia River salmon for much of the year. Salmon harvested by members of Lisa’s family, using gillnets. For at least four generations, some members of the Tarabochia family have made their primary living as commercial fishermen, often on the Columbia River. Lisa Clement stated, “If Measure 81 passes, it would affect us tremendously because we are a restaurant that sources from a small radius around us, that’s central to our belief system. We believe that it is very important to eat what is harvested and caught locally. With Measure 81, we would have no opportunity to obtain the local fish that our customers desire. I would not be able to serve salmon any other time than during June and July when I can get fresh red salmon, caught by my family in Bristol Bay, Alaska.”

Industries that rely on business from Oregon gillnet fisherman would also be hurt by Measure 81. Kurt Englund, of Englund Marine and Industrial Supply in Astoria believes that passage of Measure 81 will “greatly affect our business. We serve the gillnet industry, if that goes away, we would have to find another industry’s worth of business to replace it, which is extremely hard to do, or we lay people off. Having to cut staff back would be the worst thing for us. We would experience loss of sales, and we would also have dead inventory. We sell nets and many other items specific to gillnetting, there would still be some business from

Washington and tribal gillnetters, but there would also then be a glut of used gear for sale by out-of business Oregon gillnetters. We also sell boat parts, boots, raingear, and knives to gillnetters and would experience loss of sales in those categories. This is a major deal for us.”

Small businesses, offering specific services to the gillnet industry, will be profoundly impacted by Measure 81. Columbia Pacific Marine Works, located near Pier 1 at the Port of Astoria owned by business partners Bob Zakrzewski and Lasse Vedenoja. The shop specializes in the repair and installation of stern drives on boats. “We bought this business in ’97”, stated Vedenoja, “a friend of mine used to own it and he passed on. A guy that works for us has been with us ever since, we go back 15 years.” Zakerzewski said that, “70% of our business is from the gillnet industry. If Measure 81 goes through, we’re done, we will be out of business and will have to close our doors. That’s four full-time
employees who will be out of work.”

The possibility of lost incomes, lost livelihoods, even lost traditional and favorite foods is tough to swallow for a small town like Astoria,
whose entire economy was once based on fishing, shipping, and logging. It doesn’t have to happen. Please vote no on Ballot Measure 81. If you are in favor of, or are still undecided on this issue, please take a careful look at pages 69-73 of your Voter’s Pamphlet before you vote. The list of persons and organizations who submitted Arguments of Opposition is surprisingly long and includes the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes, the Oregon restaurant and Lodging Association, and many others too numerous to list here.

Hipfish Monthly gives a special shout of “Thank You!” To Hobe Kytr of Salmon for All, who although not quoted extensively in this article, was instrumental in clearing up much of this writer’s confusion with respect to the regulation, biology, and recovery of Columbia River fisheries. Any errors herein should be attributed to the author and not Kytr or Salmon for All. For more information on a subject far vaster than the scope of this article can do proper justice, visit salmon for All’s No on 81 online FAQ page at: frequently-asked-questions.

Measure 81 in Brief

Section 2 ORS 508.775- (1) Amends the portion of the law requiring a vessel permit in order for an individual to operate a vessel in the Columbia River gillnet salmon fishery to: “Notwithstanding any other provision of the commercial fishing laws, it is unlawful to use a gillnet or tangle net to take salmon, steelhead, or other fish in the inland waters of the state of Oregon.“ Removes the portion of the law allowing Washington permit holders to land salmon caught in the Columbia River in Oregon.

(2) Amends the portion of the law that makes it unlawful for a fish buyer or processor to buy fish taken in the Columbia River gillnet fishery from someone not having a vessel permit to: “Notwithstanding any other provision of the commercial fishing laws, it is unlawful for a wholesaler, canner or buyer to buy or receive salmon, steelhead, or other fish taken by a gillnet or tangle net from the inland waters of the state of Oregon. “ (3) Amends the law such that the changes in (1) and (2) above do not apply to tribal fisheries.

Section 3 ORS 509.216 (a) Requires the commission to “permit the use of seines for the taking of salmon in the Columbia River.” (b) Allows the commission to permit the use of “fixed fishing gear for the taking of salmon by commercial purposes from the Columbia River” You can download a PDF file of the complete text of Measure 81 at: uploads/2012/…/Measure-81-text.pdf. To see
the full text of the current applicable laws, go to: and enter the ORS number of interest (e.g. 509.216)

Governor Kitzhaber’s Plan
On August 9, 2012, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber sent a letter to the heads of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), outlining how he would like Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to resolve the long conflict between recreational and commercial fishermen in the Columbia River. He stated that changes in the management of the Columbia River Fisheries must be made and that changes (like Measure 81) that do not benefit both recreational and commercial interests are unacceptable.

Kitzhaber requested that the process begin immediately so that the rule making process can be completed by the end of 2012.

Key elements of Kitzhaber’s plan include: Phasing out non-tribal gillnets in the mainstem of the Columbia River during a defined transition period of a few years.

Reserving the mainstem of the Lower Columbia River for recreational fishing only. Segregating gillnetters to off-channel areas such as Young’s Bay and Blind Slough.

Redistributing the commercial share of mainstem fishery harvest impacts to recreational fisheries.

Enhancing off channel fisheries by increasing hatchery production in those areas and changing/expanding boundaries and/or creating new locations where commercial fishing will be allowed.

Development of alternative selective fishing gear (e.g. purse seining) for commercial mainstem fisheries.

Working jointly with the State of Washington to develop concurrent policies. (Laws enacted under Measure 81 would apply to Oregon only, causing differing policies in a joint use area.)