Gillnet fishery suppliers hurt by uncertainty

ASTORIA — Uncertainty about the future of the gillnet fishery on the Columbia River has begun to hurt the businesses that supply the trade.

“We’ve had the slowest year so far that we’ve ever had,” said Bob Zakrzewski, co-owner of an Astoria business that repairs boats and motors for gillnet fishermen and that is up for sale.

“If I was a gillnetter I wouldn’t be putting a bunch of money in my boat if I don’t know if I can fish or not,” said his partner in Columbia Pacific Marine Works, Lasse Vedenoja.

The Oregon Court of Appeals is considering a challenge from commercial gillnetters to new rules that shunt them from the main stem of the Columbia to tributaries. They say they can’t make a living there.

The gillnet ban was pushed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, who hoped to mediate a long dispute between commercial and recreational fishermen. The nets are the primary means of commercial fishing on the river.

They snag fish by the gills, preventing them from breaking free. Critics say they are cruel and kill endangered salmon.

During the appeal, the Oregon rules have been stayed. Washington has adopted similar rules.

About 500 commercial gillnet permit holders and their families on both sides of the river wait to see what the future holds.

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