By Betsy Emery, Advocacy and Campaign Manager
Last updated: February 22, 2021
T he Oregon state legislative session began last month, and it is already shaping up to be a busy year. Our Board of Directors has identified an ambitious list of bills to track during the 2021 legislative session, so we need your help!
Given the economic impacts of COVID-19, departmental budgets are likely to remain flat and we suspect there will be a general hesitancy for bills with large price tags. However, we hope to see budget conversations regarding support for fish and wildlife conservation, management, and enforcement, including hatchery production and repairs to hatcheries impacted by wildfires.
With the shift to online legislating, it’s never been easier to participate in the political process and stand up for the causes you believe in. The Oregon Legislative Information System is an online hub for everything happening in Salem. You can track bills, see where they are in the legislative process, attend public hearings, and provide testimony on behalf of the fishing community. As our priority bills go to hearing, we’ll be sending out action alerts so you can weigh-in to advocate for salmon and steelhead. Action alerts take 10 minutes or less to complete, and they connect you directly to your legislators for maximum impact!
SB 320 would authorize group fishing licenses for non-profits serving veterans. If passed, it would ease the financial burden on non-profits providing veterans with treatment, inclusion, and community through recreational angling and reduce the barrier to entry for individual veterans. Programs like these are vital to helping service members heal and transition back into civilian life in Oregon. Board Members Tim Lenihan and Bob Oleson have been fighting for this authorization for three years, and despite 100% bipartisan support in the Senate Veterans and Senate Natural Resources committees last year, the bill was not put to vote before the end of the session. The Senate Veteran’s Committee introduced an amended version this session.
On February 9, Tim Lenihan testified on behalf of this bill at the Senate Committee meeting on Veteran’s and Emergency Preparedness. 129 people responded to our action alert, sending 516 emails in support of the bill to Senators serving on the Committee. During the hearing, Chair Manning, Jr. (D-07) and Senator Patterson (D-10) expressed support for the bill and the need for accessible programming to help those who serve our nation. We will be working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to develop an amended version of the bill, which the Committee will discuss at an upcoming work session.
The Columbia River Endorsement, an additional $9.75 fee on Columbia River recreational angling, was enacted as a key component of the joint bi-state Columbia River Fisheries Policy Reform package approved by Oregon and Washington in 2013. The Reform package was adopted by both states to resolve persistent conflicts and provide stability for non-treaty fisheries management in the lower mainstem Columbia River.
Northwest Steelheaders supported instituting the endorsement fee on top of our usual recreational license fees, because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife explicitly stated that the endorsement funds would support “the transition to eliminate non-tribal commercial gill nets on the lower mainstem Columbia River and provide additional salmon and steelhead for sport fishing.”
Unfortunately, while significant progress has been made, including the removal of non-treaty gillnets during spring and summer seasons, as well as prioritized allocations to recreational fisheries, the Reform package has not been fully implemented. Moreover, there have been repeated attempts to undermine the Reforms, most recently by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Accordingly, we cannot support the current version: SB 59. We would like to see SB 59 amended to temporarily extend the endorsement fee while ensuring that the current Oregon administrative rules concerning lower Columbia River non-treaty salmon fisheries management will not be revised to expand the use of gillnets or reduce current recreational allocations, and that these management measures will be effectively employed on the Columbia River.
On February 8th, Northwest Steelheaders, along with the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Coastal Conservation Alliance, and Trout Unlimited, provided testimony regarding SB 59 at the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery hearing. All of these testimonies centered around the need for any renewal of this fee to be (a) temporary and (b) legislatively tied to implementing the original 2013 Columbia River Reforms. Chair Golden (D-03) acknowledged the need for these considerations to be included in an amended version of the bill.
Senator Federick (D-22) introduced SB 592 to ban using lead weights for commercial or recreational angling and hunting, making it a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $6,250 fine. Lead can be a significant environmental pollutant when it is present in high concentrations. There is science linking lead shot to impacts in waterfowl and other birds, and some studies indicate that lead can be problematic for fish when ingested. However, Northwest Steelheaders believes that SB 592 is premature in banning lead weights and tackle outright. We need a better scientific understanding of the sources and amounts of lead pollution in our waterways, as well as whether the impacts are attributable to fishing tackle, in order to identify what measures may be necessary and effective in reducing detrimental impacts to fish and wildlife. We welcome the opportunity to work with the legislature and ODFW to explore this issue further.
We are tracking this bill as it heads to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery.
Currently, Oregon law requires that stream barriers in salmon habitat include fish passage to minimize any impacts to our at-risk runs. HB 2610 would weaken these essential protections. If enacted, the bill would allow the Fish and Wildlife Commission to exempt fish passage requirements for repairing or replacing stream barriers that are less than eight feet tall, such as culverts and tide gates, or if providing fish passage would increase the total cost of the project by more than 10%. The proposed bill goes one step further to eliminate the requirement for the Commission to periodically review criteria for fish passage waivers, eliminating the opportunity to continually review and assess fish passage needs throughout the State as our salmon and steelhead populations respond to climate and habitat changes.
We are tracking this bill as it moves to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources for a hearing. This Committee consists of Chair Witt (D-31) and Vice-Chairs Breese-Iverson (R-55) and Hudson (D-49), as well as Senators Cate (R-17), Marsh (D-05), McLain (D-29), Post (D-25), Reardon (D-48), Brock Smith (R-01), and Williams (D-52).
Senator Riley has routinely introduced SB 301 to ban non-treaty gill net and tangle net fishing, which we support wholeheartedly. In addition to banning non-treaty use of these non-selective gears, it would establish a Gillnet Transition Fund to reimburse existing gillnet permit holders as a result of the ban.
We are tracking this bill closely. Given Washington’s recent decision to reinstate non-treaty gill net use in the lower mainstem Columbia, as well as the Columbia River endorsement fee legislation, we suspect this bill will receive a hearing in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery at some point during the session.
If you have any questions about our legislative priorities, or if you're interested in submitting testimony, please contact Betsy Emery at email@example.com.