Oregon’s former Gov. John Kitzhaber apparently loves to hate Columbia River commercial fishing.

In 2012, the Coastal Conservation Association successfully wooed Kitzhaber, convincing him propose that the state ban salmon gillnetters from the main stem of the Columbia River with the hopes that despite years of testing to the contrary, they would miraculously find seine nets to be more selective than gillnets in taking wild salmon (as opposed to hatchery salmon).

Before he resigned from office in 2015 (an investigation led to citations from the Oregon Ethics Commission for using his office for personal gain and failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest), Kitzhaber championed a ban and struck a deal in 2013 with the joint commission that has managed the river with Washington’s fisheries counterparts for 100 years.

In 2017, the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission threatened to withdraw from the joint agreement but ultimately compromised to bring the states back into co-management.

Five years after the 2013 agreement, the joint commission is conducting a comprehensive review, and Oregon officials are threatening again to make a (gasp!) data-based decision to allow the use of gillnets on the main stem of the Columbia River.

Enter Kitzhaber: drumming up support for his ill-advised and poorly implemented plan of old with PSAs on gillnetskill.com.

The flip side of the Kitzhaber deal — as is often the case with CCA plans — was to transition the commercial quota to the recreational fleet. The result was a high mortality rate among the fish they had hoped to conserve by reallocating those “protected” fish to the sport sector. Imagine that!

Data gathered over several years indicate that gillnets do not have the effect on fish that advocates of the Kitzhaber plan estimated, or that other types of gear were more selective.

Yet here we are again, dodging the mudslingers in another fish fight. Science is on our side, but the lobbying dollars may not be.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 14 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

Join the Conversation