Passage of SB830 ushers in new era of salmon conservation and fishing opportunity

Salem, Ore. – The Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 830 yesterday 18-12, and the Oregon House passed it this morning with a vote of 41-18. The measure creates the statuary framework and funding to move forward administrative changes passed earlier this year by the fish and wildlife commissions of both Oregon and Washington. Those policy changes include moving Lower Columbia River non-Tribal gillnets into off-channel areas, allowing the use of selective commercial fishing gear, and moving allocation of available fish for harvest to a sport fishing priority in the lower Columbia. Other changes implemented through this process include requiring anglers to use barbless hooks on these fisheries, and transferring some tributary hatchery releases to off-channel areas for more commercial fishing opportunity.

These historic votes usher in a new era of salmon harvest reform for the Lower Columbia River that seek to maximize the economic benefits of the river’s fish runs and provide better protections for wild salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act, while at the same time ensuring both sport and commercial fishermen have more opportunity to land fish.

The changes to Lower Columbia River fisheries are part of package brought forward by Governor Kitzhaber last year as a compromise to Measure 81, which would have made any use of gillnets illegal in Oregon. After Governor Kitzhaber introduced the plan and the commissions moved forward with implementing it, all members of the Stop Gillnetting Now coalition abandoned Measure 81 in favor of this process.

“For years, the commission and legislature failed to act to implement harvest reform on the Lower Columbia River,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry. “Kudos to Governor Kitzhaber. He realized that there is a way to maximize the economic and social benefits of our salmon runs, and worked with both sides of the aisle, his commission and the state of Washington to make it happen.”

Use of selective commercial fishing gear, such as seine nets, has been illegal in Oregon for more than 60 years, but with the passage of SB 830, seine nets and other selective gear can be used again in Oregon by the commercial fishing industry. The state of Washington and some Tribal members have been test fishing seine nets, and those test fisheries have shown that seine nets have a much lower mortality than a gillnet on non-target species like wild salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon.

“We want to reduce mortality on wild fish, and this is a big win for our wild salmon and steelhead stocks that enter the Columbia,” said Tom Wolf, Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited chair.

SB 830 also creates two new funding mechanisms to implement the changes, including the ability for ODFW to charge an angler permit fee to fund the transition, and the ability for counties to seek general fund monies to offset any hardships these changes may create for commercial fishermen seeking to switch gear.

“There’s really only about 200 people who fish with gillnets in the Columbia and none of them make all of their income from this fishery,” said Russell Bassett, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders. “We often hear from the opposition to these changes that it will harm rural coastal communities, but that’s clearly not the case. The commercial industry as a whole and the consumers that purchase Columbia River salmon will actually get more fish out of it.”

The changes will be implemented over a three-year transition period, and are scheduled to be fully implemented by 2017. The harvest reform should mean longer seasons and more catch for the hundreds of thousands of Pacific Northwest residents and tourists that fish these runs.

“We’re really excited about what this means for stabilizing seasons and bringing tourists to the area,” said Bob Rees, president of Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. “Right now we often have abrupt, early season closures that sour the attitudes of potential life-long customers. Also, with the long-term closure of Columbia River sturgeon, we have to make up for lost revenue to these rural Columbia River communities. The more people that take up the great sport of angling, the more money being pumped into the rural Oregon economy.”
The main champions of SB830 were Sen. Fred Girod and Rep. Bill Kennemer, along with Kitzhaber. In the past, similar measures have been split along party lines, but SB830 received bipartisan support.

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Liz Hamilton, NSIA, 503-631-8859
Russell Bassett, Steelheaders, 503-653-4176
Tom Wolf, Trout Unlimited, 503-883-1102
Bob Rees, NWGAA, 503-812-9036
July 8, 2013
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