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Oregon anglers to pay more to fund elimination of gill-nets from lower Columbia

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a new fishing endorsement that will be required for anglers targeting salmon, steelhead and sturgeon on the Columbia and Snake rivers, and their tributaries, beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

The annual endorsement will cost $9.75 when purchased with an annual fishing license, and $1 per day for daily licenses. It will be required on all rivers within the Columbia River basin when fishing for salmon, steelhead or sturgeon.

The endorsement is required for all fisheries on the Columbia and all tributaries in the Willamette River basin and Oregon Central and Northeast angling zones, as well as in a handful of Columbia River tributaries in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Northwest Zone.

Money from the endorsement will help fund the transition prescribed by state officials to eliminate non-tribal commercial gill-nets on the mainstem Columbia River.

The goal of the fishery management plan proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber and approved by the OFWC is to provide additional salmon and steelhead for sport fishing.

That OFWC-ODFW decision has since been challenged by commercial fishing interests in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The commercial fishing interests say, in a request to the court, that new lower Columbia River fishing rules be stayed while legal arguments play out -- that the Oregon plan does nothing to help beleaguered salmon stocks that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The fishery management plan shifts allowed impacts from commercial fisheries to anglers, and makes no promises that lost mainstem commercial fishing opportunities will be made up elsewhere.

“The point is rather simple… the challenged rules contain the allocation shifts in favor of recreational interests, but the specifics of any mitigation measures are not found in the rules, are not required by law and are highly speculative as to their efficacy.

The fact that ODFW believes that the rules “envision enhancing 'the economic benefits of off-channel commercial fisheries,’ does not mean it will happen,” according to a legal brief filed Sept. 27 with the Oregon appeals court by commercial fishing interests.

“It is not possible to conclude, on this record, that the challenged rules increase the economic benefits for commercial fishers.”

“Perhaps this is obvious, but let us be clear -- the challenged rules require a major reallocation of fishing rights for ESA-impacts from commercial fishers to recreational fishers. The rules focus on who can harvest listed species, not whether the fish may be caught,” according to the brief filed by commercial fishing interests.

The state of Oregon, in a brief filed July 31, says that a legal stay of implementation of the new fishing rules is moot.

“Until those future allocations have been set, any alleged harm is purely speculative. Moreover, even if fishery allocations are set as specified in the rules, those allocations -- in combination with proposed fishery enhancements, including new mainstem commercial fisheries -- will actually benefit commercial fisheries, now and in the future.

“In the short term, fisheries and allocations set for the fall of 2013 are expected to produce a higher commercial harvest than in recent years,” the Oregon brief says. “And in the long term, the rules envision enhancing ‘the economic benefits of off-channel commercial fisheries,’ in part by an increase in the release of hatchery fish at those sites as well as continued and new mainstem fisheries.

“Moreover, in the unlikely event that petitioners are economically impacted by the rules, Senate Bill 830, which was enacted by the 2013 Oregon Legislature, established the Columbia River Fisheries Transition Fund (“Fund”) to alleviate economic impacts and to assist with the cost of new gears as commercial fisheries transition to new, more selective and ultimately more.”

The new fishing rules call for a shift of commercial gill-net fisheries from the Columbia mainstem to off-channel “select” areas where hatchery fish would be targeted, and where wild ESA fish rarely roam. Future mainstem commercial fishing would be limited largely to alternative fishing gear, such as seines, which Oregon says would have a lesser mortality rate on listed fish.

The endorsement approved this week by the OFWC was authorized by the Oregon Legislature to help fund the package of Columbia River fish management and reform actions adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and their Washington counterparts.

The new endorsement is required beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and will go on sale beginning Dec. 1. Additional information about the genesis of the endorsement and its geographic scope can be found on the ODFW web site:

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/CRP/columbia_river_basin_endorsement.asp

The endorsement is a key part of Senate Bill 830, which was passed by the Oregon Legislature and signed into law in 2013 with the support of several sport fishing organizations.

SB 830 deposits money from the endorsement in a Columbia River Fisheries Enhancement Fund to help enhance fisheries, optimize the economic benefits of fisheries and advance native fish conservation.

SB 830 also created a separate Columbia River Fisheries Transition Fund to provide financial assistance to individual commercial fishermen affected by the new law – including the potential purchase of alternative gear. This fund received state general funds appropriated by the Legislature and does not use any money from the endorsement fund.

The OFWC is the policy-making body for fish and wildlife issues in the state. The six-member panel meets monthly. The next meeting is Dec. 6 in Portland.

Story courtesy Columbia Basin Bulletin, used by permission.

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