Oregon lawmakers back gillnetting bill

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Gov. John Kitzhaber’s effort to move commercial gillnet fishers off the Columbia River took a big step forward in the final hours of Oregon’s legislative session this week.

Recreational fishers will find higher prices for licenses to catch salmon and steelhead, along with an exclusion zone at a popular fishing spot near Astoria.

Lawmakers approved a surcharge of up to $9.75 per year to raise money for fisheries enhancement. They also authorized an exclusion zone at the mouth of Youngs Bay, a popular fishing spot near Astoria.

The measure lifts a decades-old ban on seine nets for commercial fishing and allocates $500,000 to mitigate the economic impacts of ending gillnet fishing on the main stem of the Columbia beginning in 2017. It was welcomed by sport-fishing interests and denounced by commercial gillnetters, who have ardently opposed Kitzhaber’s effort to get them off the main stem.

“I think it really is a huge step into this century for fishery management,” said Liz Hamilton, director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

At Kitzhaber’s request, the fish and wildlife commissions in Oregon and Washington voted earlier this year to restrict gillnets to side channels like Youngs Bay and release more hatchery fish in those areas to boost the number of salmon returning.

The measure was approved Sunday in the Senate and Monday in the House, and Kitzhaber is expected to sign it. It directs the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt an exclusion zone at the mouth of Youngs Bay by Feb. 1, 2014. The boundaries are undefined, and the fight over where to set them is likely to be yet another source of tension between the long-feuding commercial and recreational fishers.

The mouth to Youngs Bay is a popular recreational fishing spot known as Buoy 10. The exclusion zone will be reviewed every three years and could be eliminated.

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