The Coastal Conservation Association will attempt to place an initiative on the Oregon ballot in November to ban gillnets and tangle nets in state waters.
The initiative was filed on Christmas eve with the Oregon Secretary of State's office. The agency has 10 work days to determine if the required 1,000 sponsorship signatures are valid.
Dave Schamp, chairman of CCA's Oregon board of directors, said the Protect Our Salmon Act would ban the nets in Oregon waters including the Columbia River. The act calls for the use of commercial fishing methods that allow selective harvest of hatchery fish, while allowing wild fish to be released.
"Oregon's failure to protect and enhance our wild salmon runs threatens the state's credibility as a leader in sustainability," Schamp said. "Each year taxpayers, electric utility rate payers and others collectively contribute about $1 billion to recovery efforts, yet wild salmon, an important natural and economic resource for our state, remain on the brink of extinction."
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The act also establishes a fund and oversight to compensate commercial fishermen for the transition to alternative, selective gear. It does not affect any tribal fishing rights or tribal members' fishing gear.
While the Columbia River is managed jointly between Washington and Oregon, changing commercial fishing methods does not have to happen concurrently, said Angela Hult of CCA.
"It is worth noting that every substantive change in commercial fishing in the Columbia started with one state taking action before the other, and we are hopeful that this initiative will have a positive impact for the region as a whole," she said.
Once the Oregon Secretary of State's office qualifies the sponsorship signatures, the measure goes to the state attorney general's office to write a title and text. The title and text are made public, and comments sought. The comments then are reviewed and a certified ballot title issued.
CCA will need 82,769 valid signatures by July 2 to make the November ballot.
The Coastal Conservation Association is a nonprofit organization with 200 chapters in 17 states. It expanded into the Northwest in 2007 and has more than 9,000 members in chapters in Washington and Oregon.
Jim Wells of Astoria, president of Salmon For All, a commercial fishing group, said sport-fishing interests tried to eliminate the commercials via the Washington and Oregon fishing and wildlife commissions, then the state legislatures, but failed.
"Their strategy is going to be to get an uneducated public to approve a ban," Wells said.
Sport fishing hook-and-release mortality is 20 percent in the ocean and at Buoy 10, while release mortality in a tangle net is just 14.7 percent, he said.
Most gillnet boats on the Columbia River are too small to be converted to the more selective purse seines. It would cost about $150,000 to $200,000 for a purse seine vessel, he said.