Court of Appeals dismisses challenge to Columbia River gillnet reforms

Efforts on track to remove destructive gear from Lower Columbia, improve local economy

Posted on February 06, 2015

For immediate release – Feb. 6. 2015  |  Contact: Picinich, CCA Washington  |  1006 W. 11th St  |  Vancouver, WA 98660

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A policy to remove non-tribal gillnets from the mainstem of the Columbia River moved another step closer to implementation this week with the Washington Court of Appeal’s opinion affirming the Thurston County District Court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by commercial gillnet interests challenging the policy. 

The gillnet policy, adopted by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in January 2013, seeks to remove non-tribal gillnets from the mainstem of the lower Columbia River and restrict them to off-channel areas where this non-selective form of gear would encounter and kill fewer wild and endangered fish. The policy also anticipates the implementation of selective commercial fishing gears for mainstem commercial fisheries. Commercial gillnet interests have sought to overturn the policy since its adoption in both Washington and Oregon.

“Our region is already seeing the economic, conservation and social benefits of this policy, which is still in the transition period,” said Nello Picinich, Executive Director of CCA Washington.  “As this policy is fully implemented it will generate tens of millions in economic value, jobs, revenue to fund the enhancement of our fisheries, and improved conservation of our wild salmon and steelhead populations.”

In 2012-2013, both the Washington and Oregon Fish and Wildlife commissions adopted a plan proposed by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber that prioritizes recreational fisheries in the mainstem of the Columbia River and eliminates the use of non-tribal gillnets in the lower Columbia’s mainstem after a transition period ending in 2017. The Governor’s plan was offered in the wake of CCA’s successful efforts to put a gill net ban initiative on the Oregon ballot. However, unlike the ballot initiative, Gov. Kitzhaber 's plan resulted in both states adopting a plan that eliminates the use of non-selective gill nets.

“The policy has now withstood two legal challenges in Washington, but that doesn’t mean the gillnet lobby won’t try again to derail it now and in the future,” said Picinich. “We would be wise to note that a net ban in Florida was briefly overturned last year after more than two decades on the books. We will have to remain vigilant to defend this landmark reform.”

Currently, a similar challenge to the gillnet rules adopted by ODFW is awaiting a decision from the Oregon Court of Appeals.