Wash. phasing out gillnet fishing on the Columbia

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Associated Press

Posted on January 13, 2013 at 11:03 AM

SEATTLE (AP) — The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Saturday to phase out gillnet fishing on the main stem of the Columbia River, relegating the primary commercial fishing tool to tributaries and bays.

Under the new policy, the use of gillnets will be phased out by 2017 in non-tribal fisheries on the Columbia Basin, below Bonneville Dam.

The policy includes commitments to increase the number of stocked fish from salmon hatcheries in areas off the main Columbia River channel to offset reductions to commercial fishing opportunities. It also calls for developing new selective gear for commercial fishing on the Columbia River.

A nine-member citizen panel voted unanimously for the change. Oregon adopted similar rules in December.

Recreational fishers say gillnets are harmful to the recovery of endangered salmon. But commercial fishers say it'll be impossible for them to earn a living by fishing only in the limited areas where they'll be allowed to use gillnets.

"A key goal of this policy is to maintain or increase the economic viability of both recreational and commercial fisheries," said state Department of Fish and Wildlife director Phil Anderson in a statement. "The timetable established in the policy depends on achieving that goal."

First used by Native American fishers long before the Lewis and Clark expedition charted the Pacific Northwest, gillnets are still the primary method of commercial fishing on the Columbia. They snag fish by the gills, preventing them from breaking free.

Critics say the nets are cruel to fish and kill thousands of endangered salmon.

The proposal has infuriated commercial fishers in Oregon and Washington. They believe there won't be enough room or fish in the new designated areas and they see the move as a ploy by recreational fishers to eliminate competition for strictly limited fish harvests.

The new rules also require anglers to use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia.

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