Advocacy report on Ballot Measure 81 versus the Bi State Reforms
Where were we prior to the launch of Ballot Measure 81?
For decades sport fishing groups and fish advocates had tried to change the use of gillnets as a harvest method by non-tribal commercial fishermen in the lower Columbia River.
Various working groups were formed by the DFWs and worked together to find a solution. The gillnet lobby’s friends in the ODFW Commission and legislature blocked and even took more away from sport fishers and refused to consider any shift away from gillnets.
Bills were introduced to allow selective commercial fishing gear without changing allocations but were blocked by the gillnetter’s friends in the legislature. Multiple legislative efforts to move gillnets off the lower Columbia were thwarted. And it was clear that without a ballot initiative, we would never move gillnets off the lower Columbia River.
Why did CCA launch a ballot initiative in the first place?
Gillnets are designed to trap fish by holding them behind the gills until they suffocate and die. Commercial fishing on the Columbia is a reality that keeps the consumer and general public invested in salmon and salmon recovery. Some efforts had tried to eliminate commercial fishing on the Columbia River. Polling tells you quickly that is not feasible and would eliminate a vital stakeholder in salmon production and recovery. The one that pays the most to keep salmon in the river.
Over 90% of salmon caught in the Columbia River were caught in “non-selective” fisheries. Meaning no effort to separate fish for harvest from wild and endangered fish. Summer Chinook, Fall Chinook and Coho were 100% catch and kill fisheries. Once water in the Columbia warms, gillnets kill salmon and steelhead in a matter of minutes.
DFW records show at a majority of sturgeon were caught in “salmon fisheries” and some “sturgeon fisheries” produced more salmon than sturgeon. During observed Summer Chinook gillnet seasons often more non-target fish were caught than the target species.
Gillnets had historically fished at night with little enforcement and no by-catch reporting requirements.
Gillnets that were lost in wingdams and other snags in the river became “ghost nets” that continued killing fish for decades. There was and still is no reporting requirement for non-tribal gillnetters that lose their nets in the Columbia River.
A ballot measure that would make gillnets illegal, while allowing a commercial fishery to continue with fish friendly gear capable of releasing wild and non-target fish unharmed made sense for the fishery and made sense to the public.
What did CCA do to launch a successful ballot initiative?
The first thing CCA realized is that if the issue didn’t make sense to the average voter who does not fish, we wouldn’t win. Banning commercial fishing in the Columbia River would never sell to the public. And honestly, eliminating the consumer as a stakeholder in Columbia River Salmon we have always considered to be a failing proposition for future fisheries and salmon recovery. Polls bear that out clearly.
There is no second place when you launch a ballot initiative. You don’t go down that road unless you are prepared to win and know you can win.
Even if it were possible to get every sport fisher in the state to agree. That wouldn’t move the needle come election day.
The first step in any successful ballot initiative is to have a good “certified ballot title”. That is like a headline in a newspaper. It is the sentence or two a voter will read before making their decision and every word is vital. Long before most folks knew there was a ballot initiative in the works, CCA went through the legal efforts to gain a clear Certified Ballot Title through an involved legal process. Efforts by the gillnetters lawyers to fight the ballot title language were eventually overcome.
Even getting the word “gillnet” in the title was a legal battle. The gillnetters strategy was to delay us to the point we wouldn’t have time to gather enough signatures to place it on the fall ballot.
Once a “clean” ballot title was obtained, we were able to hire one of the best campaign managers in the state. One that could take the message of the destructive use of gillnets to the Oregon public. And the campaign began.
What was the Stop Gillnets Now Coalition?
The Stop Gillnets Now Coalition (SGN) was the name chosen by our campaign professionals for the campaign. Our coalition partners included some not so typical allies in what had traditionally been a fight between fish advocates and the gillnetters. The main groups in the coalition had the financial backing and the ability to help be a strong ally in a campaign. The type of allies that would reach average, non-fishing Oregonians.
Funding for the campaign was completely separate from CCA-OR funding. No membership fees or banquet revenue was used. SGN was funded completely by donations from individuals and groups within the coalition.
At what point did the Governor intervene and why?
In June of 2012, signature gathering was nearing completion. CCA volunteers and professional signature gatherers had worked together to produce more than enough certified signatures to place ballot measure 81 on the ballot in November of 2012.
There is no way we can speak for the Governor on his decision to intervene, but it’s safe to say that this was a very well designed, well-funded, well planned campaign with the right people running it. The right groups behind it and the polling that was done made it clear that it was likely to pass. If it were not for Measure 81’s likelihood of success, we don’t believe the Governor would have intervened. But that can only be opinion.
Governor Kitzhaber asked CCA and campaign leadership to meet with him to discuss the issue. He outlined his plan to reshape the lower Columbia Fisheries. We were adamant that any solution needed to include the elimination of gillnets, even if after a transition period, as long as it wasn’t too long.
The Governor’s solution included many things that were not possible to as via ballot initiative. Ballot initiatives need to be simple and clear. The new reforms included prioritizing “selective recreational fishing” as the management priority for the Lower Columbia River. It also included enhanced terminal fisheries off the mainstem of the Columbia where gillnets would still be allowed. Allocations of available fish in the mainstem would be shifted from gillnetters to sport fishers over a transition period to show clearly that the Lower Columbia River’s priority would indeed be selective recreational angling moving forward.
What were the main differences between what M-81 did and what the Governor was offering?
- Made gillnets illegal in all Oregon waters (no effect on WA)
- Allowed the use of seines and other selective commercial fishing gear
- No allocation shifts from commercial to sport anglers
- No change in management priority for the Lower Columbia River
- Would have allowed non-tribal commercial fleet to fish side by side with sport anglers using selective gear
- Would have locked current allocations in statute so that recreational priority could never be established without legislative change.
The Bi-State Reforms Originally Proposed by Governor Kitzhaber
- Adopted by both DFW commissions becoming rule in both OR and WA
- Changes the management priority of the Lower Columbia River mainstem to “prioritize selective recreational angling” substantially increasing sport allocation of available fish.
- Focusses commercial harvest in Select Areas where gillnet use will still be allowed.
- Only allows mainstem commercial fishery with alternative selective gear after recreational fishery goals have been met.
- Increases fish production in these select areas, some of which is done by transferring hatchery fish from tributaries. Some of those plantings were in jeopardy of being lost due to lawsuits and noncompliance with federal laws.
- Transitions gillnets off the mainstem during a three-year period ending in 2017
- Codified by the OR legislature in Senate Bill 830
- SB 830 establishes a $9.75 fee paid by recreational anglers fishing Columbia Basin waters in OR to help fund the transition of non-tribal commercial gill nets out of the mainstem Columbia River into enhanced off-channel areas, freeing up additional salmon and steelhead for sport fishing. No angler dollars are planned for commercial buyouts, purchase of alternative gear, or other reimbursements to commercial fishermen.
- SB 830 deposits money from the endorsement in a Columbia River Fisheries Enhancement Fund to help enhance fisheries, optimize the economic benefits of fisheries and advance native fish conservation. The fee will sunset in 2021
- SB 830 also created a separate Columbia River Fisheries Transition Fund to provide financial assistance to individual commercial fishermen affected by the new law – including the potential purchase of alternative gear. This fund received state general funds appropriated by the Legislature and does not use any money from the endorsement fund.
What took place between the time the Governor announced his plan and CCA’s decision to not run a “yes on M-81” campaign?
Governor Kitzhaber announced his plan via letter to the Chair of the ODFW Commission on August 9th, 2012. For the following 2 days “Gillnets on the lower Columbia River” were front page news in the Oregonian and other newspapers around the state. With the message that “the years of fighting was over…. Governor Kitzhaber had a solution that would end the battles” (paraphrase).
At that point in time M-81 was registered for the ballot. An action that cannot be undone. One of the assurances we had been given was that the State of Washington was ready to go along with the reforms. That is a very big deal to get the policy set in both states. Especially if you consider that was one of the gillnetters biggest arguments to changing laws in Oregon.
A great assurance, but we needed proof. For the next month or so, the SGN coalition and CCA worked with our allies in Washington State to check on the validity of that statement. And to check the best we could to be sure the Governor’s proposal would be adopted by both DFWs. We watched as the working groups and time schedules were set in both states.
How was the decision reached to halt the campaign and put full effort into backing the bi-state plan?
Part of what makes CCA a different group is we take the wants and needs of our members and our fisheries then consult the best political staff we can hire, and then we listen to their advice.
The feeling of our major coalition partners was that we had already won. Public opinion was that the Governor had a solution that worked for sport and commercial fishing and was good for the fish. On August 28th, some groups in our coalition broke with SGN and filed “No on M-81” arguments in the voter’s pamphlet. Not that we couldn’t proceed without them, but that would be used against us in a campaign. CCA-OR weighed the best choice for actually delivering the policy of elimination of non-tribal gillnets from the lower Columbia River and improving conditions for our fish and fisheries.
Following the advice of our professional staff, after hours of deliberation on September 9th, 2012, the CCA-OR state board, made up of representatives from every chapter of CCA-OR decided to drop the yes on M-81 campaign and put our full effort behind supporting the Bi-State reforms for the lower Columbia River. The vote was unanimous.
What happened during the bi-state negotiations and how did it deviate from the Governor’s plan?
At the time the work groups were being established there were a number of proposals on the table from the gillnetters. Most viewed as punitive by CCA.
To the general public, if we were reforming fisheries to benefit fish. Barbless hooks made sense. There had been pressure on OR from WA for prior years to go to a barbless hook regulation. Unfortunately, Oregon had been barbless in previous years and judged that it not only didn’t improve release mortality, but in some cases made it worse. But again, the “optics” of reforming fisheries for lower release mortalities made the barbless hook rule tough to fight. The WDFW Commission made it clear they wanted the barbless hook rule and were determined to get it.
CCA testified that “if we are to shift to barbless hooks, show the benefit to lowering release mortalities in these fisheries, then apply that benefit to sport fishing release mortalities”. But as you know, we got barbless hooks and no reduction in mortality rates.
There were a number of proposals from the gillnetters that never got very far. One was for a 5 fish per year personal limit on Spring Chinook.
Even though it was not part of the reforms adopted by WDFW and ODFW the Young’s Bay closure area we still see as punitive and plan to fight that. Part of the reforms are increased production of fish destined for the Young’s Bay terminal fishery. Additional Select Area Brights. The fee being charged to sport anglers starting in 2014 for fishing the Columbia River basin pays for this additional production. If more fish need to make it back to Young’s Bay, why not just make that many more fish?
A new fishery for tangle nets on fall coho was part of the proposals by staff during the work group process. We still view tangle nets as small mesh gillnets. We have been meeting with staff from both states and monitoring this “new” fishery closely. We resisted allowing this fishery, but still had to judge the benefits of removing gillnets from the mainstem and the other benefits of the overall reforms.
Another thing that makes CCA different is the involvement and engagement of our members. Hundreds of CCA members showed up at each of these meetings making it clear that the time to get gillnets off the lower Columbia River was now and encourage both DFW commissions to adopt the new reforms.
Which they did.
Once both DFW’s adopted the new policy, why did the gillnetters sue?
As before, the gillnetters have delayed and fought every attempt to move gillnets out of the lower Columbia River. We expected them to use every legal option possible and they have.
They sued to “stay” the reforms in both Oregon and Washington.
They challenged some procedural issues in the Oregon ruling.
One of their points is that in Oregon, gillnets were by state law the only allowable method for taking salmon for non-tribal commercial fishermen in the lower Columbia River.
On June 6th, 2013, the ODFW Commission took another vote on adopting the new reforms for the Columbia River. The vote was following hours of testimony reminiscent of the past decades of the same arguments heard over and over.
The ODFW Commission re-affirmed the new reforms by vote. This action eliminated some of the legal challenges of procedural issues that were part of the gillnetter’s lawsuit. And disposed of the stay of the rules adopted in December by adopting new rules.
Of course, the gillnetters began the process of legal challenge of the newly re-adopted rules.
What was CCA’s response to the legal challenges?
CCA being a national organization with a history of making needed reforms to benefit fish and fisheries expected the legal challenges and immediately “became a party to the lawsuit” on behalf of each state’s DFWs.
Meaning that we hired the best legal staff to work with the state agencies. To help with the legal defense and to have the right to approve or disapprove any agreements made.
A much more expensive option than just filing a brief, but these reforms are too important to not see through to completion.
What was Senate Bill 830 and why was it important?
Senate Bill 830 was required because decades before the gillnetters had passed a law stating that non-fixed gillnets were the only legal method allowed for non-tribal commercial fishing in the lower Columbia River.
The selective fishing gear required in Governor Kitzhaber’s proposal was not a legal for use by the non-tribal commercial fishermen in Oregon.
Also funding for the new reforms required legislative approval. About 2/3 of the funding for the transition was made up of General Funds. About 1/3 would be generated by a new $9.75 endorsement paid by sport fishers to fish the rivers and streams that feed into the Columbia River. The same waters that will benefit from the removal of gillnets, and the prioritizing of selective recreational angling. While no one likes a new fee. Washington has had a Columbia River endorsement of a similar amount for the past 3 years. Showing the legislators that recreational anglers were willing to pay for the benefits helped to pass this vital legislation.
Without passage of Senate Bill 830 the legal challenges would be hard to overcome, and the work of the Bi-state agreement could be blocked.
What was CCA’s involvement in SB-830?
Governor Kitzhaber followed through on his commitment in pushing for passage of these historic reforms and even made an appearance explaining the importance of this bill in testimony at the bill opening in the senate. A rare and noticeable endorsement during a legislative session.
Obviously CCA and other groups lobbyists got to work on presenting the case for why these reforms were necessary to legislators.
The bill needed to be moved through various committees in both the senate and then the house to pass. The legislative session was extended and took place over the 4th of July holiday weekend. At each step, our grassroots model of member involvement was evident. If legislators on certain committees were seen as holding up the progress, they quickly received calls and emails from their constituents encouraging passage of this historic bill. Legislators mentioned afterward that they were impressed that CCA members knew the session was still on, and at what stage the bill was progressing and why. This is a very good example of CCA’s model involving professional political staff working with our volunteer members to get results.
No one can discount the value of Governor Kitzhaber’s involvement in moving these reforms through the various blocks that were put in its way.
Senate Bill 830 was the very last policy bill passed through the 2013 legislature and passed by a 2/1 margin. To get this sort of margin the new reforms, legislators that had historically not supported “fish bills” came along and endorsed these new policies.
Truly a historic event in prioritizing our fishery resources. CCA had arrived as an organization that plays to win, follows the rules and can get things done legislatively in Oregon.
What is the latest status of the legal challenges in OR and WA?
In August of this 2016 the Thurston County Superior Court dismissed the gillnetter’s lawsuit in Washington. But of course, that ruling has been appealed by the gillnetters.
In mid-October 2013 The Oregon State Court of Appeals denied the gillnetter’s motion for stay of the rules adopted by the ODFW Commission last June. And further commented that their claims of “irreparable economic harm” “were not compelling”. That decision to deny the stay was also appealed by the gillnetters.
CCA continues to employ a top grade legal team to represent the interests of sport fishermen and our fish resources in assuring these reforms stay on track. And at this time, there is every reason to believe they will.
Where do we go from here?
Since Governor Kitzhaber introduced his proposal for reforming Lower Columbia River fisheries. There has been some “mission creep” and softening up of his directives.
Including introduction of a new “Tangle net” fishery for coho in the fall.
Punitive policies to affect recreational anglers including barbless hook use with no corresponding mortality rate reduction. Varying opinions of what a “Recreational Priority” will look like in application. Fees paid by recreational anglers meant to benefit recreational fisheries that could benefit our fisheries for years to come, or not.
In these and many more instances vigilance, involvement and participation by CCA members, volunteers and staff during the transition time and beyond will be vital to continue to shape our fisheries.
We are moving in to the transition phase of the reforms and selective recreational angling will be the management priority of the Lower Columbia River. Recreational anglers will have a larger share of available fish than at any time before in Oregon history. Gillnets are on schedule to be transitioned off of the Columbia River mainstem. Selective commercial fisheries capable of live release of wild and endangered fish are being developed and implemented.
CCA has proven that we can accomplish the big things that many said we never could. CCA has proven we can pass critical legislation and get things done for our fish and fisheries in the political arena. But there is still work to be done, and honestly there always will be.
CCA’s grassroots involvement, and the ability to influence the formation and implementation of policy are more important than ever.
Together we have proven that when CCA follows its model of engaging grassroots members and volunteers combined with professional staff, we can give conservation minded recreational anglers a strong voice to influence policies critical to the health and future of our fisheries.