In what's being hailed by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) as a tremendous victory for anglers, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 9 to 0 in favor of passing a new policy that will eliminate the use of gill nets in the lower main channel of the Columbia River.
The groundbreaking action taken on January 12 by the Washington commission is very similar to that taken by the Oregon commission on December 7, marking a multi-lateral move to better manage the salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.
“This has been the goal since CCA chapters were formed in Oregon and Washington in 2006,” said Gary Loomis, chairman emeritus of CCA Washington. “Our members should be extremely proud of their accomplishment. They worked at all levels of this lengthy process and turned out in huge numbers for every meeting. Very simply, they drove this process to a conclusion that many people thought was not possible.”
The action taken by the Washington and Oregon commissions follows a plan proposed by Oregon governor John Kitzhaber that will prioritize recreational fisheries in the main stem of the Columbia River and eliminate the use of non-tribal gill nets in the lower Columbia’s main stem after a transition period. The plan also calls for an increase in the number of hatchery fish released in off-channel areas to offset reductions in main-stem commercial fisheries.
The governor’s plan is unprecedented, and was offered only in the wake of CCA Oregon’s successful efforts to put a gill-net-ban initiative on the ballot in November. Unlike the ballot initiative, however, the governor's plan had the potential to result in bi-state rules that eliminate the use of non-selective gill nets, a goal realized with the vote of the Washington commission, the CCA indicated in a news release.
“When we set out on this undertaking, we knew we would never have the luxury of traveling a straight path, but we always knew where we wanted to go,” said Dave Schamp, chairman of CCA Oregon. “It is incredibly exciting to have finally reached this point, but our work is far from done. We will have to stay engaged to defend the new rules and influence their implementation, just as CCA chapters in Texas, Florida and Louisiana have done and continue to do.
“Governor Kitzhaber deserves credit for his leadership and vision as do the fish and wildlife commissions in both states,” continued Schamp. “When implemented, this new plan for Columbia River fisheries will deliver enormous economic, social and conservation benefits to the people of Oregon and Washington.”
CCA was founded in 1977 by anglers frustrated at the demise of important fish stocks in Texas due to rampant commercial overfishing with destructive gear. The organization ultimately succeeded in banning gill nets and implementing game-fish status for red drum and speckled trout. That groundbreaking victory was followed by similar ones in Louisiana, Florida and elsewhere. Since then, the organization has grown to 17 state chapters with more than 100,000 members.