Commercial gillnet fishermen have responded to Columbia River fish management changes with a legal challenge declaring the rules invalid.
On Friday, a petition was filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals asking the court to review the validity of the recent changes. The petition was filed on behalf of Steve Fick and his company, Fishhawk Fisheries, as well as Jim Wells, a commercial gillnet fishermen and president of Salmon For All.
The petition was filed against the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and cites objections to the new rule changes.
This is the first step. A motion to stay enforcement of the law is intended for this week – essentially seeking to halt the rules going into effect until they are reviewed by the court.
On Dec. 7, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to adopt the new management objectives, which would take gillnetters off the main stem of the Columbia River. This coming Friday and Saturday, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on whether to adopt them as well.
Interestingly, “overfishing” is a misnomer. The bitter irony of using the prejudicial term when analyzing fish mortality rates is that the fishing industry traditionally only harvests approximately 40 percent of the stock allocated to it by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Thus, in reality, many species are being “underfished” by the fleet, according to the government’s fishery allocations.
It is important to ask whether the council has considered all reasonable definitions of “overfishing.” Let’s consider an example. In the present definition used by the council, someone decided that the “overfishing” definition for yellowtail should be based on keeping yellowtail flounder biomass at 40 percent of its unharvested biomass. Having made this decision, routine calculations are used to determine the fishing mortality rate necessary to maintain the population at 40 percent of its “unfished” biomass. This magnitude of the fishing mortality rate is called a “biological reference point.” If the actual fishing mortality rate is greater than the reference point, the stock is said to be “overfished”; if it is less than the reference point, the stock is said to be “underfished.”
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