A letter to Governor Kitzhaber – Why don’t the voters count?

An Open letter to Governor Kitzhaber,

You are making a grave mistake in your choice to deny access to gillnetters on the lower Columbia River. Have you forgotten so quickly that the people of the State of Oregon have spoken just a few short weeks ago when they voted NO! on Measure 81? How can you defy the choice of the people in this matter? The people of Oregon, the entire state from the most affected community of Astoria to the least affected of places like Bend and Grants Pass – the people understand the cultural significance of gillnetting on the lower Columbia River, why don’t you?

This ban has never been about saving salmon, as the same number of fish will be pulled from the river, the only difference now is it will be 100% the booty of sport fishermen who come to the area once a year versus the gillnetters who live in these communities year round, they shop in our stores and participate in our communities 365 days a year, not for a few weeks in August.

Do you not realize gillnetting on the lower Columbia river has been part of this community for 200 years? And even longer, by the native people who taught this trade to the European and pioneer settlers who founded this region. This is a cultural practice of these men and women and this community, and deserves to be protected and even cherished.  Does this mean the Native American people up river will soon be denied this same ability? It would seem they are your next logical target, get them off the river while you bring in privately owned casinos too – are we getting warm? After all it doesn’t seem to matter to you how the people vote.

No one cares more for the Columbia River and the fish that dwell within it than the gillnetters, they are the first defense against poaching and the first alert of problems in the water. They are conservationists by their very trade, as the health of the river and the fish in it are their livelihood.  Once a year sport fishermen are never going to have the same understanding if something is off in the rhythm of the river. Perhaps Governor, you are not aware that he gillnetters are the reason we have fish ladders on the dams up river. Gillnetters fought for the fish ladders without which there would be no salmon for anyone to catch, this was somehow overlooked in the design and building of the dams, but it was not overlooked by the fishermen who depended on the river to survive.

Do you not realize with the misguided stroke of your pen you have put some 200 small, family-owned businesses out of business? If by that same measure 200 businesses were eliminated from any other community it would be an outrage. Is that the goal? Has the plan all along been to remove entrepreneurship from the options of Columbia River area Oregonians? Is the goal to eliminate this form of independent business to make way for more minimum wage Walmart greeters? Gillnetting is one of the few industries the people of Clatsop County have that isn’t based on the mercy of tourism, which as wonderful as that is does little to create living wage jobs in a community.

Many of the gillnetters here on the Columbia River have done this for generations of their lineage, is it part of their identity, it is part of the fabric of the lower Columbia River community. These brave men and women gillnet on the lower Columbia River, also crab during that season, and typically do even more within this community to make ends meet. What happens to these families? Are you happy with the possibility that you are removing their ability to earn a living and will possibly put them on the mercy of already overloaded state social programs or that this new stress in their household will likely break up families and cause irreparable harm to the communities in which they live?

Is it your goal to create strife between the gillnetters and an entire community with sport fishermen? Let’s again look at the sport fishermen – they are already allocated 80% of the fishing on the lower Columbia River, why do they need it all? Sport fishermen are in it for the sport, for them it is as much about camaraderie, and vacationing as it is about fish, I would guess 50% of the fish caught by these sportsmen end up forgotten in their freezers for months until they finally go in the trash. The gillnetter on the other hand sells their fish to support their families, this in turn supports local restaurants who’s owners also have families (and much of the local restaurant business is about regional cuisine and that includes Columbia River salmon), it also affects the small canneries in the community and every business in the community, every school, and all of the people in the community.

Let me ask you Gov. Kitzhaber, how many gillnetters did you meet with before you made this life changing decision? How many gillnetting boats did you go out on to investigate the situation and the occupation? Finally, how many sport fishermen donated to your campaign?

The People of Oregon understand there is no logical reason to take the gillnetters off the river, that is why they voted against Measure 81. Perhaps there is some more sinister plan for the river – whether it be making room for pipelines, fracking, coal shipments or some other industrial endeavor that will render the lower Columbia River suitable ONLY for sport fishing, and not for actually eating the public resource of salmon from? Only you know the reason for the misguided decision, and the voters obviously do not count.  The voters will remember this when your reelection comes.


Shane and Amy Bugbee

Astoria TV

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