Northwest scores huge win in effort to remove gillnets from Columbia River

Oregon Court of Appeals affirms Columbia River gillnet rules adopted by ODFW

Posted on March 19, 2015

In a landmark ruling today, the Oregon Court of Appeals cleared the way for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to continue implementing a bi-state plan to remove non-tribal gillnets from the mainstem of the Columbia River, providing decisive step forward in a long-running battle waged by conservationists to ban the destructive commercial fishing gear.

The Court dismissed outright all but one of the many challenges brought by gillnetters against the rules and ultimately found that none of the arguments were compelling enough to overturn the state agency’s decision to implement a phased-in removal of the nets. CCA Oregon, which has been fully engaged in the current gillnet ban effort since inception and was the only outside group to formally enter as a party to the lawsuit, was instrumental in achieving today’s ruling. CCA Oregon Chairman Dave Schamp hailed the Court’s decision.

“This is a tremendous win for Oregonians, anglers and, most importantly the fish we cherish,” said Schamp. “It has been a long, expensive endeavor but one that CCA was committed to every step of the way. I could not be more proud of the way our members have stepped up, from raising funds to defend against the lawsuits to providing testimony in Salem and everything in between. As expected, we finally prevailed and now we look forward to navigating the transition period to remove those non-tribal nets.”

In 2012-2013, both the Washington and Oregon Fish and Wildlife commissions adopted a plan proposed by then-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 ends 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, the bi-state reform plan resulted in both states adopting a plan that eliminates the use of non-selective gill nets.  The plan has also provided increased recreational fishing opportunity on the Columbia River, which will continue to increase as the plan is fully implemented.

Commercial gillnet interests have repeatedly sought to overturn the policy, but have been denied every time.  Last month, the Washington Court of Appeals dismissed a similar lawsuit from commercial gillnet interests challenging the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s adoption of the same plan.  CCA also formally intervened as a party to that lawsuit. 

“When the gillnetters and processors sued to stop these reforms, we were there to oppose them in court and we will have to be prepared to do that again in the future,” said Bruce Polley, CCA Oregon Vice President. “Today is a good time for CCA members to reflect on everything that was done to build an organization capable of engaging meaningfully in every level of the administrative, legislative and legal systems to see this through to the end. Tomorrow, we get back to work making sure that the plan is properly implemented and tackling the other threats to the health of our fisheries.”

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