Columbia River Gill nets and their effect on the fishery

Gill Net Mortality

I have reviewed articles for years on the effect of the commercial gill net fishery and have written many letters to the powers that be. I hear lots of complaining from sport fishermen about this abuse of our sport fishery and I wonder just how many actually take the time to complain to those that have the ability to make permanent changes here in Oregon and across the river in Washington.
The simple fact of the matter is that this non-selective fishery targets not only summer run chinook but no less than five other species of listed endangered salmon and steelhead stocks under the endangered species act. Many of the non-target fish are endangered sockeye from the Snake River system in Idaho.
Every sport fisherman in Oregon and Washington is required to purchase a catch record wish is then turned in to the respective state agency so that the sport fishery can be tracked. It is not voluntary, it is mandatory that every sport fisherman immediately fill out the location, time and date of the catch whether it is released or kept. Further, the sport fisherman is required to release all wild fish IE non clipped adipose fin preferably without removing them from the water.
Conversely, since the commercial gill net fisherman is self-regulated and not required to record the catch until it is either sold to a fish buyer on the water or transported to a buyer over land. The respective state organizations rely on the honesty of the commercial fishermen to report their catch of salmon, steelhead and sturgeon with no oversight of the fishery by state officials. The only time that a ticket can be issued is at the point of sale to a registered fish buyer. The way that this rule is sidetracked is by the gill netter holding fish selling permit in which case the gill netter can sell directly to the public, bypassing any interdiction by law enforcement.
By not allowing fish and game enforcement to target the gill netters on the water, there is no real secure way of documenting illegal practices and or by-catch of non target species. To further complicate this issue, gill netters are operating mostly at night, a brain child of our wondrous fish and game officials to keep the commercial and the sport fishermen from being at each others throats. By operating at night, it is even easier for the commercial crowd to avoid the rules.
There are some very simple rules that would make the actual catch numbers actually reflect the total catch of both target and non target fish. First, each fish removed from the net must be logged immediately into a log book. By having this log book available to wildlife enforcement officials for inspection, cheating will be cut back substantially. Second, all commercial gill nets should be limited to daylight hours. By limiting the commercial fleet to daylight hours, gill netters can be observed by enforcement officials the same way they observe the sport fishermen.
There is now a much better option available to the fishery and that is to move the entire gill net fishery off the main channel of the Columbia (such as to Young’s Bay off the lower river) into specific areas where there are no wild fish. Increased hatchery releases and improved survival rates would ensure that the commercial market would be adequately covered.
By taking care of the problem in this manner, the by catch of sturgeon and wild stock would all but be eliminated. The additional benefits of this system would be the millions of dollars of revenue generated for the economies of these lower Columbia communities by sports fishermen. An additional benefit is that the sport fishery removes more fin clipped hatchery fish while having a very light mortality on non target species while the gill nets would be all but eliminating the chances of hatchery fish getting into our wild stock by restricting their use to these areas.
The only thing standing in the way of this coming about is you, the sport fishermen. By standing up and being counted you will ensure that we will have fish for many generations to come. Please take the time to stand up and be counted. Let your public officials know how you feel with a personal email to your representatives of your respective state. It is only possible if we stand together that this will come to pass. If we all just keep quiet, it will allow our fishery to continue a downward spiral. We have seen some major indicators of this in the current sturgeon season which will run something like four days. That is a crime and needs to be changed through proper management of our resources. Please stand up and be counted by contacting one or all of the officials below and voicing your polite opinion.
In Washington, send your message to:
Miranda Wecker, Chair
Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission

In Oregon, please write the Governor’s Natural Resource Advisor and your state legislators
Governor John Kitzhaber,
c/o Richard Whitman

Find your Oregon representative and senators at:

You may also be interested in: Save Our Columbia Fishing; Action Alert

Here’s what I want you to do now …

  • First, in the comments section below, lets hear some good ideas to motivate the sportsmen to get off the couch and remove the gill nets from the mainstem of the Columbia. Note that I will delete links that do not pertain to the topic.
  • Second, I would really appreciate it if you used the button below and shared this post on Facebook, Twitter or one of the other services.
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See you in the comments!

Kent Cannon

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About Kent Cannon

My passion is fishing and hunting as well as traveling throughout the Northwest and writing about those adventures. I was separated from my job a few years ago due to the still ongoing economic downturn. I had spent years working, focusing on things that really were not near and dear to my heart all the while scrambling and climbing to what I perceived as the top. I of course did not realize what I was doing, because I was caught up in the moment, focusing on what I thought was the American dream. Crashing and pushing ever forward like a Lemming headed for a cliff, oblivious the world around me. I was more than a little bitter over loosing my job; it was a good job as far as jobs go and I was making a lot of money so I could live according to the manner in which I wanted to be accustomed. In the process of trying to find another job in an unfavorable economic climate I found something that I had left behind many years ago. I found me! That is how and why I started this website, looking for myself and sharing things that I found along the way. Even though I am older now, suffering a little from arthritis and my hair is now somewhat graying I still have fire in my belly for the next adventure. The more that I seek out my next adventure, the more excited I become!

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