In Passing Out Of Committee, Washington Nontribal Gillnet Phaseout Bill Reduced To Columbia

UPDATED, 3:17 P.M., FEB. 22, 2019 WITH A NEW PARAGRAPH FIVE WITH DETAILS ON THE SENATORS’ VOTE

Washington lawmakers reduced the scope of a bill phasing nontribal gillnets out of state waters, limiting it to the Columbia in passing it out of committee this afternoon just ahead of a crucial cutoff.

An amendment from prime sponsor Sen. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) also shortened the timeframe for implementing SB 5617‘s ban from 2023 to 2021 and trimmed the buyout phases from three to one.

A SCREEN SHOT FROM TVW SHOWS STATE SENATORS DURING TODAY’S COMMITTEE VOTES ON A BILL THAT WOULD PHASE OUT NONTRIBAL GILLNETTING IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (TVW)


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Pointing to the volume of public comment both for and against the original bill during a hearing before the Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) applauded her fellow senator for tweaking it and said it matched the policy WDFW already has in place for the big river.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) agreed, saying it was essentially codifying those rules, and called for a vote on Salomon’s amendment and then for a do-pass recommendation, both of which passed on a voice vote with only one nay heard on the TVW broadcast.

Legislative staff did not return a call inquiring about the vote tally, but subsequent to this story being published it has been posted on the legislature’s webpage that four recommended it pass (Sens. Van De Wege, Salomon, Rolfes and Judy Warnick), two against (Sens. John McCoy and Shelly Short) and one without recommendation (Sen. Jim Honeyford).

This was the last scheduled meeting for the committee before tomorrow’s first legislative cutoff deadline of the session, so it was do or die for the bill.

“This has a long way to go, and we have to stay focused and keep working all the way to the end of session,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who had been rallying support for it in recent days.

She was also among the 47 who signed in on the bill one way or the other at that hearing earlier this month, and says that even though it was amended, it still “fulfills a critical component of the Columbia River harvest reforms by calling for an end to mainstem nontreaty gillnetting and providing for a buyout.”

State fishery managers in Washington and Oregon had agreed to reform fisheries on the shared river, but that has been thrown into doubt in recent years, with the southern state backing away and some elements not being as effective as expected. A recent letter from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown seems to indicate she is still supportive of the changes championed by former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Others who spoke up in favor before the committee on Feb. 12 included George Harris of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, who said that conserving and protecting salmon for starving killer whales was important, as well as representatives from Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear, Clark-Skamania Flyfishers, Coastal Conservation Association and Zittel’s Marina near Olympia, among others.

But there was also considerable pushback from gillnetters, seafood processors and several tribal nations too.

Otis Hunsinger, a commercial fisherman, detailed how he tried to move his operations from the Columbia to Puget Sound to get away from the issues there but they were now following him.

“You think we’re not going to fight. We’re going to fight,” added John Hunsinger of Astoria, who argued it would take away jobs.

According to a fact sheet from NSIA, the only nontribal gillnet fishery on the Columbia focuses on fall Chinook and occurs above the Lewis River to avoid impacts on ESA-listed lower river tules.

In pointing to the bill’s 27 cosponsors — more than half the members of the state Senate — Hamilton said she was grateful “for their recognition that nontreaty gillnets are a problem for wild salmon and steelhead, for orca and for the economy, especially when there are alternatives.”

As amended, SB 5617 also directs WDFW to:

  • “Establish a selective gear incentive program that seeks to avoid harvest of non-target species”;
  • And “develop a fee for permits issued for the taking of salmon under the trial or experimental fishery permits.”

Hamilton said that she appreciated the committee’s work on the bill, as most introduced in the legislature don’t receive a hearing let alone pass out of their crucial first committee.

(Tomorrow, time permitting, the Olympia Outsider™ plans to provide an update on how things stand, including a recently introduced bill that would require WDFW to review the status of wolves in Washington and determine whether a change was warranted at the statewide and regional levels.)

“Finally, we thank all of the NSIA members who took the time to phone and write the committee emphasizing the importance of this bill for their employees, and thank our allies at Northwest Marine Trade Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, The Associations of Northwest Steelheaders, and the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association for doing the same. It takes a village, and NSIA businesses are thankful for these partnerships,” she said.

To become law, the bill must first pass its next Senate committee, the full chamber, the House and be signed into law by the governor.

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