As the sun sets on a Sunday night, gill netter Gary Johnson unfurls a 1200-foot long net from a drum on his gill net boat.
The buoys that keep the net afloat thump against the railing of the boat as they drop one by one into the Columbia River.
Weights pull the mesh down to the river bottom as Johnson stretches the net across most of the river channel near St. Helens.
He waits 45 minutes for fish to swim into the net. Then he reels it in. His first catch is a wild fish from a healthy run swimming back to the Hanford reach of the Columbia.
“There you go,” he says. “There it is. That’s an upriver bright.
That’s the target. Look how bright that is. That’s probably a 19 pound fish.”
Johnson’s net can’t tell the difference between a protected wild salmon and this upriver bright that he’s supposed to catch. It snags them both. And by the time the fish are pulled on board the boat, there’s a good chance the protected fish would die if it were released back into the river.
Critics of gill netting say that’s a problem.
“I think gill nets have been a controversial issue for years,” says Heath Heikkila, who represents a sportfishing group called the Coastal Conservation Association.
The CCA is one of the groups that got Measure 81 on the ballot. They say gill nets have too much impact on threatened and endangered fish.
Continue Reading on OPB, where this story first appeared.
(Read more from Cassandra Profita on Ecotrope, where she blogs about nature and community.)
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