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Sunday, December 9, 2012 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.

Oregon approves gill-net ban on Columbia

By JONATHAN J. COOPER
The Associated Press

PORTLAND — The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Friday to ban the use of gill nets to catch fish on the main stem of the Columbia River, relegating the primary commercial-fishing tool to side channels and tributaries.

Washington's fish commission was scheduled to decide soon on similar rules, eliminating the centuries-old practice from both sides of the river.

The gill-net ban was pushed by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, who hopes to mediate a longstanding conflict between commercial and recreational fishers while transitioning to new methods of commercial fishing. Recreational fishers say gill nets are harmful to the recovery of endangered salmon.

The proposal has infuriated commercial fishers, who say it will be impossible for them to earn a living. They say the proposed new fishing gear won't work, and see the move as a ploy by recreational fishers to eliminate competition for strictly limited fish harvests.

"Main-stem fishing should not be taken away because greedy people want more," Matthew Evans, a gill-netter from Astoria, Ore., told the commission.

First used by Native Americans long before the Lewis and Clark expedition charted the Pacific Northwest, gill nets are still the primary method of commercial fishing on the Columbia. They snag fish by the gills. Critics say the nets are cruel to fish and kill thousands of endangered salmon.

"Protecting and enhancing our wild steelhead and salmon benefits commercial fishers, recreational anglers, the public at large, and most importantly, the fish," said Dave Schamp, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association's operations in Oregon.

Kitzhaber's proposal was advanced after Schamp's organization gathered signatures to ban gill nets altogether on the Oregon side of the river.

About 200 gill-netters are active on the Columbia, many of them from families that have been fishing commercially for generations.

Tribal fisheries are not affected by the proposed new rules.

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