Oregon Voters Say No to Gill-Net Ban,
One effort to end commercial gill-net fishing on the lower Columbia River came to an end during Tuesday's general election with two-thirds of Oregon's voters saying no on Ballot Initiative 81.
"Unofficial election results" displayed Wednesday on the Oregon Secretary of State's Election's Division web site show that more than 66 percent voted against a measure that would have made it illegal under state law for non-tribal commercial fishers to used gill-nets in Oregon "inland waters," which would include portions of the lower Columbia River where the state has management jurisdiction.
Just less than 34 percent voted to approve the measure. In all 1,338,480 cast votes on the ballot initiative. Oregon has historically co-managed with Washington fisheries on the Columbia where the river represents the two state's borders.
"We're extremely gratified that the voters of Oregon overwhelmingly support continued commercial fishing on the Columbia River," Hobe Ktyr, a spokesman for Salmon for All, said of the electoral judgment. Salmon for All -- an Astoria, Ore.,-based association of gillnetters, fish buyers, processors, and associated businesses -- has led a campaign against the ballot measure.
The gill-net ban initiative gained a spot after an intensive effort led by the Coastal Conservation Association, a non-profit organization comprised of 17 coastal state chapters spanning the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The organization said its core group is made up of saltwater anglers.
The Oregon Elections Division announced July 7 that it had verified the submittal of 94,304 valid signatures in favor posing the gill-net proposal to voters. That represented 68.3 percent of the 138,067 signatures submitted by CCA. To get the proposal on the ballot required that at least 87,213 signatures of registered voters be submitted.
Shortly after the ballot measure's certification, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber came forth with an alternative solution aimed at easing the transition away from mainstem gill netting. The governor initiated a state rulemaking process in an Aug. 9 letter to Bobby Levy chair of the Fish and Wild Commission, and Roy Elicker, director of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The letter asked the commission and ODFW to work with their counterparts in Washington to complete the necessary rulemaking before the end of 2012 that includes the following key elements:
Meanwhile, the CCA and political action committee formed to push the initiative -- Stop Gillnetting Now -- backed away.
"On September 10 the Stop Gillnets Now coalition, the group that placed Measure 81 on the ballot, announced we were ending our campaign in support of Measure 81," according to the group's web site. "Instead, we would throw our support behind an alternative compromise plan to end commercial gillnetting on the lower Columbia River promoted by Governor John Kitzhaber."
"We have not run a single ad in favor of Measure 81 in any medium. We asked supporters to put their energy towards the commission process and we asked member organizations to do the same," the web site says. Instead, Stop Gillnetting Now has expended its resources on convincing others to support the Kitzhaber proposal.
The governor has spoken out against the ballot initiative.
"The election result is exactly what the governor expected," said Richard Whitman, Kitzhaber's Natural Resources policy director. He said the governor's message "got through to the voters."
The lopsided vote "does not change where the governor is at" on the gill-net issue, Whitman said.
Commercial fishing interests were pleased with the election results but now turn to face another battle -- the states' decision-making process regarding future management of lower Columbia fisheries.
"We are grateful to Oregon voters for seeing Measure 81 for the self-serving allocation grab that it was," according to a statement from a PAC formed to oppose the gill-net ban proposal. "Oregon voters understand that Oregon's commercial fishermen on the Columbia River fish for the public.
"Measure 81 and the management of the Columbia River fishery had no business being on the ballot, as even Measure 81's sponsors belatedly realized. This is the third time that Oregon voters have been asked to take commercial gillnet fishermen off the Columbia River, and the third time they have said no," the gill-net ban proposal's opponents say. "The decisive vote against Measure 81 should certainly count for something as the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife commissions and legislatures continue to balance the interests of all user groups on the Columbia River. This issue should be put to rest for good."
Kytr said that they fear that at the end of the transition commercial fishers will be left with nothing.
The governor has proposed an expansion of commercial fishing in so-called select areas located in off-channel areas in the lower Columbia estuary. But the governor "has not talked about funding" for those hatchery-based programs, Kytr said.
He noted that the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has recommended that funding be ended after 2016 for the Select Area Fisheries Enhancement program run by the ODFW, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Clatsop County Fisheries. The Bonneville Power Administration has provided a large share of the program funding through the Council's Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, including more than $1.9 million this past year.
That funding cutoff would occur at about the same time that Kitzhaber's plan aims to end mainstem gill-net salmon fishing for salmon and steelhead. Gill-net ban advocates say that the move would reduce impacts on fish stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Council recommendation said that the program should in the interim work toward self-sustaining status. BPA's Brian Mercier said this week that his agency is encouraging that transition toward a SAFE program that is no longer funded with revenues from Columbia basin power customers. BPA, which markets power generated in the federal Columbia/Snake hydro system, funds fish and wildlife actions as mitigation for negative impacts caused by the dams.
A statement from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission regarding the initiative says that Oregon voters have spoken -- there is no need to change the current fishery management system.
"Our tribes are pleased that Oregonians have wisely and overwhelmingly rejected Ballot Measure 81," CRITFC Executive Director Paul Lumley of the failure of Ballot Measure 81. "In defeating this Measure, Oregonians have reaffirmed their commitment to economic fair play and smart-thinking on the environment.
"The region is working together to rebuild salmon abundance," Lumley said. "Measure 81 and Gov. Kitzhaber's troubled alternative proposal are essentially allocation fights that distract this region from doing the real work. Our tribes remain committed to rebuilding abundance for our treaty rights and the entire public."
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