Gillnet Ban 021517

Columbia Fishermen Deeply Divided

On Columbia River Fishery

By Liz McMaster

Dividing up the prized main channel Columbia River salmon  is a hotly contested topic, pitting commercial (gillnet) against sport fishers. In 2012, Measure 81 was defeated by Oregon voters, allowing non-tribal Oregon commercial fishers to catch salmon in Columbia River using gillnets in areas below Bonneville Dam. Washington gillnet licenses were recognized as valid in both the Oregon and Washington waters of the river. Then-Governor John Kitzhaber pushed a new ban, and the Commission backed him up in December of 2012, in spite of Oregon voters’ defeat of Measure 81. The ban would phase out gillnets in the main stem of the Columbia by 2017. 

Fast forward to 2017. A 4-3 vote by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission against the gillnet ban on January 20 will continue to allow gillnet fishermen on the main channel of the Columbia River. 

Oregon Governor Kate Brown, however, has plans to reverse this compromise that would allow the limited use of commercial gillnets on the Columbia River in favor of an outright ban on the use of gillnets. In a letter to Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Michael Finley, Brown is calling for the commission to comply with state policy and also with the state of Washington, which voted in January to end gillnetting in the main channel in two years and also to increase sport fishers’ portion of the Chinook salmon catch. This order would override the plan approved by the commission that opted to split the Columbia River Chinook salmon catch between the recreational and commercial fishermen with recreational fishers accounting for 80 percent and gillnetters being allowed 20 percent of the overall catch.

Gillnet fishermen have deep family ties to the industry and contribute economic value to their communities. Commercial gillnetters also sell their catch to markets for sale to the public, who otherwise would have no access to this resource without taking up sport fishing. 

Recreational fishers feel that gillnetting takes fish indiscriminately and can’t differentiate between wild and hatchery fish. Sport anglers would like to see gillnet activities only on the side channels of the river, and argue that recreational fishing brings in more economic returns to Oregon communities overall than commercial fishing.

For more information, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife site

To write to Governor Brown, the address is: Governor Kate Brown State Capitol Building 900 Court Street NE, 160 Salem, OR 97301 Phone: (503) 378-4582

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