Advocacy Group Sets Sights
by Bill Monroe
As salmon issues in Oregon and Washington veer toward a possible legislative meltdown next spring, there's a new player in the game.
In the year since it has emerged across communities in the two states, the Coastal Conservation Association has become a force to be reckoned with.
Gary Loomis of Woodland, Wash., the charismatic fishing rod giant and a prominent salmon and steelhead advocate, attracted the national fishing organization to the Northwest and continues to attract members to its ranks as its Oregon and Washington chairman. With 7,000 new members in 16 chapters (eight in each state), the Pacific Northwest division (its Web site is ccapnw.org) has taken on a life of its own, and legislators are hearing the rumbles.
"We're like a 15-year-old to the national organization," said Angela Hult of Portland. "Growing like crazy."
The CCA has been a significant player in coastal fisheries issues along the eastern seaboard and especially the Gulf Coast. Expansion to the West Coast was expected, and the time was ripe, Loomis being frustrated by what he believes are inadequate fish management policies and salmon fortunes in a nosedive regionwide.
(Several jack counts have been good this year, by the way. Anyone whose glass is half full has reason to hope for better seasons to come.)
No small reason for CCA's mushrooming growth has been the continuing conflict between sport and commercial non-tribal gill-netters in the lower Columbia River.
Although changing the way salmon are taken commercially in the Columbia remains near the top of CCA's list, the organization's goal goes far beyond simply ending gill-nets.
"It was kind of the perfect storm," said Hult, the regional government relations committee chairwoman and the Northwest's representative on CCA's national committee. Government relations committees are near the heart of CCA efforts to change fisheries management. "The time is right here in the Northwest."
But, cautions Bruce Polley of Sherwood, "You won't see a big smart bomb. It's going to take time."
Polley, a member of the government relations committee for Oregon chapters, is one of the thoughtful CCA members who are picking up telephones, shaking the right hands and quietly bringing CCA into the game.
"I'm just a poster boy for Joe Six-pack, but maybe there's a way for Joe Six-pack to finally move the issues forward," he said. "The history of salmon has been all about commercial fishing -- we set rules for how to get maximum harvest. So the question becomes, how do we change the rules? If we were up to our eyeballs in salmon, it wouldn't be an issue."
Hult and Polley insist CCA isn't focused on ending commercial fishing, just the way it is executed.
"We're all (sport and netters) about the same thing," Polley said.
Like many other fledgling organizations, CCA erupted with a groundswell of support from sport anglers irritated by what they view as indiscriminate gill-nets.
Unlike other organizations that have come and gone, though, CCA in both states is taking its steps carefully, building its own bureaucracy and getting ready for what will almost certainly be showdowns in Salem and Olympia next year.
Among the association's new Washington policies (similar to those under consideration in Oregon): better selective harvest for commercial fishing, improved monitoring of fisheries including those far beyond salmon, cutbacks in all fishing (sport and commercial) when necessary to conserve runs, improved hatchery practices (including better hatchery funding from the federal government) and, most recently in Oregon, a stance on marine reserves that requires scientific evidence before they're enacted.
Hult and Polley said CCA is already in close contact with several key legislators but would go no further in discussing strategies.
The first sign of the coming struggle came last week as CCA joined the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Southwest Washington Anglers in withdrawing from a process fish agencies in both states had hoped would reach important compromises.
The so-called "visioning committee" included representatives of sport and commercial fishing, but the three associations felt the deck was stacked against any significant changes in the way Columbia River salmon are managed.
"It's obvious to us that we need to concentrate our efforts on the legislature," said Jim Martin of the sportfishing association.
The departure of the three major sport interests essentially dashes the hopes of a compromise soon and probably sets up a major legislative discussion.
Unfortunately, that will come in the same session legislators review a request for hunting and fishing license increases. Talk about lousy timing.
Roy Elicker, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, was noncommittal this week about what's next on Columbia management, but he agreed the sport walkout is a blow.
"It's going to be up to our commission," he said. "They're discussing it right now."
The issue, given the abrupt sportfishing retreat, will almost certainly be on the agenda for July fish and wildlife commission meetings in both states.
Look for commission members to do their best to come up with their own plan for salmon-sharing on the Columbia River.
A joint-commission meeting between the two states is scheduled for December somewhere near the Portland International Airport. It's a possible venue and deadline for a new plan before one is dictated from legislators.
For their parts, legislators traditionally have supported commercial gill-net fishing on the Columbia and might very well hope they won't have to tangle with angry constituents.
Good luck with that.
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