Gillnet fishing rules to remain amid court review

Gillnet fishing rules to remain amid court review
Gillnetters repair a net in Astoria, Ore., Sept. 7, 2012. The future of gillnet fishing on the Columbia River is now in the hands of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission after a measure to ban the practice failed on Election Day. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Court of Appeals will not put the state's new gillnet fishing rules on hold during a legal challenge.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted earlier this year to ban the use of gillnets to catch fish on the main stem of the Columbia River, relegating the commercial-fishing tool to side channels and tributaries.

Commercial fishermen Steve Fick and Jim Wells, both from Astoria, asked the court to review the validity of the new rules and to delay enforcement until the case is resolved.

Appellate Court Commissioner James Nass on Tuesday denied the motion to postpone the rules in a 22-page opinion. He said the fishermen failed to prove irreparable harm and are unlikely to prevail on most of the legal issues they raised.

"Any potential for harm that might exist can be further reduced by expediting this judicial review," Nass wrote. "Therefore, the court urges the parties to seek an extension of time to file a brief only if it is really necessary."

Wells did not return a phone message seeking comment, and Fick could not be located.

First used by Native American fishers, gillnets have long been the primary method of commercial fishing on the Columbia. They snag fish by the gills, preventing them from breaking free.

Critics say gillnets are harmful to salmon restoration because they kill many of the fish they catch but can't differentiate between endangered fish and targeted species.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber requested that rules be developed as a compromise after a group of environmentalists and recreational fishing interests prepared a ballot measure that would have banned gillnets altogether. Fish and wildlife commissions in Oregon and Washington approved the changes.

The new rules shift more salmon to recreational anglers, and Tuesday's opinion pleased their advocates.

"The commission rules are going to provide far better economics out of what is a very limited resource," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "And we can all rest knowing the protection of wild fish is enhanced."

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