By Rep. Liz Pike, Guest columnist
I applaud our own Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for its 7-2 vote on Jan. 14 to reach a compromise that has our state moving in the right direction for conservation of endangered salmon and steelhead. This recent decision removes all commercial gill nets from the lower Columbia River during the spring and summer runs and allows commercial nets in the fall in selected areas – but only through 2019 with the commitment to remove all gill nets completely after that time. This two-year extension of fall gill netting is a compromise to the original plan in favor of the gillnetters, to allow more time to develop selective commercial fishing methods and help the commercial fishery achieve financial goals.
I am, however, extremely disappointed in the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife Commission which voted Jan. 20 to permanently allow commercial non-tribal gill nets in the lower Columbia, likely creating non-concurrent regulations between our two states. It would mark the first time in nearly a century the two states couldn’t agree.
This is a giant step backward in the conservation of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. With this action, the state of Oregon ignores thousands of public comments and plunged co-management of the Columbia River fishery into complete disarray. Worst of all, Oregon broke faith with its previous commitment agreed to and adopted in 2012.
That 2012 promise was the result of a long process to negotiate an agreement to remove commercial gill nets completely from the Columbia River by Jan. 1, 2017.
Two governors, along with stakeholders representing the commercial gill net fleets, recreational anglers, fish and wildlife commissions from both Oregon and Washington, tribal fishermen and salmon conservation groups from both states all agreed to honor this agreement.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced to the entire Pacific Northwest that her environmental conscience is for sale to the highest bidder when she recently appointed former gill net industry lobbyist Bruce Buckmaster to Oregon’s commission. His deciding vote is a slap in the face to tens of thousands of recreational anglers in Oregon and Washington who agreed to pay a new salmon endorsement tax each season over the past three years in order to fund the promised Columbia River reforms agreed to in 2012.
If I was a recreational angler who paid this salmon endorsement tax, I’d be demanding my money back. As it stands now, Oregon sold them a tax with false promises. Our state must not follow suit.
In Washington, our recreational anglers make up the user group contributing the biggest chunk of money to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife budget. They are the ones paying to keep the lights on at our hatcheries and in agency offices across the state.
All of this comes at a time when WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife are heading into difficult budget negotiations, and asking their state legislators for huge fishing license fee increases.
In the face of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s horrific decision last week, it is now even more important that our own Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission adhere to principles and honor the integrity of the promises made four years ago to the citizens of this state. Our commissioners have demonstrated strong leadership. I urge them to stay the course in any potential future negotiations that may occur between our two states.
I look forward to working with legislators from both states to implement the removal of commercial gill nets completely from the lower Columbia River at the soonest possible time to save our endangered salmon and steelhead fisheries for all time.
With broken promises from our sister state to the south, it will be difficult to embrace any future bi-state co-management strategies with Oregon. We are now faced with immediate enforcement challenges for both Washington and Oregon as they navigate an imaginary line between our two states on the Columbia River. Perhaps the silver lining will be more Washington fishing licenses sold to Oregon recreational anglers.
Rep. Liz Pike is a Republican from Camas who represents the 18th District, part of which is bordered by the lower Columbia River.