Today’s Catch

As we reported in this space last month, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has asked the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to ban commercial gillnets on the main stem of the Columbia River.

Washington’s two candidates for Governor, Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna, as well as Washington’s current Governor, Christine Gregoire, have chosen not to comment on the plan’s closing of the valuable resource. However, three Washington State legislators who appear to take their responsibilities to their constituents more seriously are State Senator Brian Hatfield and Representatives Brian Blake and Dean Takko, who wrote the following letter to Governor Kitzhaber. Next month we’ll report on the results of their efforts.

Dear Governor Kitzhaber:

Although it may be unusual, we three Washington State legislators are contacting you to express our deep concerns about your proposal relating to commercial fishing on the Columbia River. We represent the constituency in coastal southwest Washington State. A good number of the people that we represent at Washington’s Capitol are commercial fishermen.

Respectfully, we believe that your proposal has been put forward with good intentions. However, we also believe that rather than help conservation, if implemented, your proposal will harm the fishery on the Columbia River.

Commercial fishing methods have undergone serious change in the recent decade. The fishery on the Columbia has been effectively managed for escapement and conservation. Your proposal will have no positive impact on conservation, despite what you may have been told. Commercial fishermen are doing an excellent job of complying with regulations. The real mortality numbers speak well for the commercial fishery.

These small businesses are probably the most regulated in the country. Many of these fishing families have been doing this since before statehood. They have adapted, cooperated and invested in sustainable catch equipment and methods. Use of recovery boxes and tangle nets has been very successful and effective and the wild fish mortality numbers have greatly diminished.

Virtually all fisheries, sport and commercial, have by-catch mortalities to some degree. Most are currently using “best practices” that have been developed over the years. Totally eliminating those mortalities is an admirable goal but not at the expense of one fishery over another, particularly in this case where the in-river sport fishery continues to use barbed hooks, a gear banned in ocean sport and commercial fisheries almost 20 years ago!

We request that you to rethink your proposal. Please take a closer look at the real policies that are best for conservation. Please gather a variety of fishing interests – sports and commercial – tribes, biologists, the federal agencies, our constituents on both sides of the Columbia River, both states’ fish commissions, and staff from both states, to learn the real numbers and to amend your well-intentioned proposal. Your plan to change the way commercial fishermen can fish will ruin them and it will NOT enhance conservation objectives.

There will be a joint Washington-Oregon Fisheries Commissions workgroup meeting in Portland on October 18th. Our constituents will be present; we hope the workgroup, stakeholders, and policy-makers can find solutions together.

Thank you for your time and any consideration you might grant to our request.


Washington State Legislators
19th Legislative District

Brian Hatfield, State Senator
Brian Blake, Representative
Dean Takko, Representative