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Carmen Macdonald

A passion for fishing and hunting grew into a career that's included Alaskan guide, media sales, writer and the politics of outdoor recreation. My company, Vaunt Marketing, represents industry-leading brands in the US and Canadian markets.

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August 10, 2012

Governor Kitzhaber Moves Decidedly On Gillnets

by Carmen Macdonald

I'm shocked, nervous, excited, scared and franticly doing a re-write of what was a difficult indictment of Oregon leadership with regard to allowing the the issue of gillnets to get to a ballot measure.

Yesterday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber released this letter to Roy Elicker, Director of ODFW, and Bobby Levy, Chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Governor's Letter

The Governor is paid to lead, to make the hard decisions…and now within his third term, he's stepped up to the plate on the topic of gillnets.

Initiative petitions are a last resort. They're a way of telling government that they've failed to do their job with regard to an issue, and that the voters are taking back control of their government. One can only imagine that the higher a person's rank in government, the more the initiative process feels inflammatory. I would have to expect that Ballot Measure 81 hit the tipping point.

Do I love Ballot Measure 81, brought forward by CCA? Not word for word, but my now round-filed draft was 100% behind it because the issue has been in denial for decades and I'd support CCA absolutely for creating actual action. A tanglenet, the leading "advancement" of the last two decades, is a resized gillnet. It is progress that can be waved around in a press release, and perhaps can be used to clear an extremely low-set bar for "selectivity," but it's weak at best.

The letter from the Governor has lots of potential for excitement:

"Until this recovery occurs, it is important to enhance recreational and commercial economic benefits within ESA constraints and in ways that complement recovery efforts."

Hopefully, this means:
1. Constraining the economic output of sport fisheries to run gillnet fisheries is not providing the best return to the people of Oregon.
2. We've transferred an enormous amount of hatchery production to the SAFE areas of the lower Columbia River over the last 15 years. When this program started, it was to transfer gillnet effort off of the mainstem Columbia. It's time to advance the intent of this program.
3. Non-selective gillnetting of about 100,000 late run coho that have been marked for selective harvest is simply not acceptable.
4. Anytime your placing a non-selective gillnet, or some derivative like a tanglenet, in the water instead of a sport fishery, you're selling Oregon short.

"Proposals that fail to enhance benefits for both recreational and commercial interests in the lower Columbia within a conservation framework are an unacceptable solution, as is the status quo."

Hopefully this recognizes that sport fisheries are vital arteries of economic activity that penetrate small towns throughout a large percentage of Oregon and wholesale transfers of hatchery production of say spring chinook from the Southern Willamette Valley to terminal areas does not fly.

"The Department should continue leadership in promoting fish recovery, including better in-river migration conditions and reduced mortality caused by the Columbia River hydropower system."

The hydropower system has either eliminated, or sufficiently impeded, the spawning, rearing and migration habitat within the Columbia River to the point that our wild runs no longer have the resiliency to sustain intensive harvest. I applaud the recognition of this and Oregon's ongoing support for meaningful change to dam operations. The hatchery system we know today was a response to the destruction caused by dam construction; it was not the source of the destruction. Changes are necessary to harvest methods to be consistent with recovery, but true recovery will only happen within alterations to the hydropower system. In a pointed example, we cannot expect recovery of Willamette River spring chinook to be accomplished by hatchery and harvest policy when their spawning habitat is locked behind dams on the Clackamas, Santiams, McKenzie and Upper Willamette Rivers.

"The Department should continue development and use of alternative selective fishing gear for commercial mainstem fisheries, and implement these fisheries to optimize conservation and economic benefits when recreational fishery objectives are met."

In broad thinking, I'm very much hoping this is a recognition of the size of ocean commercial fisheries on Columbia River stocks from Oregon to Alaska and their role in delivering massive quantities of fish to the public. The last numbers I pulled on fall chinook impacts detailed 76% of those impacts going to non-tribal and tribal commercial fisheries and 24% going to sport fisheries. I also hope it's recognizing that when you enter the Columbia River, you gain tremendous accessibility for the sport fishing public, those that fish from both the bank and from boats. These inland fisheries are huge economic opportunities for the states of Oregon and Washington that, given the stability of a sport fishing priority, can return handsomely to our economies.

In a grand total, I'm hopeful that the components of the outline break the stalemate of sport versus commercial on the Columbia River and eliminate the ongoing jockeying and non-productive animosity between the user groups.

The long-term future of both sport and commercial fishing in the Columbia basin is held in the productivity of the rivers. The challenges in hydropower and habitat are exceptional. Energy expended towards these solutions is the best way to secure a future that includes both people and salmonids, sport and commercial fishing.

I cannot say that I've ever seen a printed document sent from the Governor's office to the Director and Commission that's been worded to deliver such strength of action.

Governor John Kitzhaber has stepped up.

Is his document perfect? I assume many will find ample areas of fault. I have a lot of "hope" wrapped up in my understanding of what I've read. Nevertheless, it represents numerous steps down a path, and a negative issue that's been at a standstill is now on the move.

The obvious question here is what becomes of Ballot Measure 81? Does the Governor's action eliminate the need? While the sponsors of 81 can be the only ones to make that determination, I'm sure most parties involved could do without the expense, animosity and public bloodletting that tend to accompany these events.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet via teleconference on Tuesday, August 14th to discuss the issue. When the time is announced, you can watch it here: Commission

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