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Exclusive   A chat with the folks on the coast
The Klamath Courier has conversations with the coastal community
 

By Pat Ratliff, Klamath Courier April 12, 2006

COOS BAY - The coastal community; fishermen, fish processors, boat repair shops and almost every other business related to local economy are already beginning to feel the grasp of the 2006 salmon closure.  Like the Klamath Basin in 2001, the economic impact and the emotional devastation will last for years.  The rural coastal communities will suffer most, those south of Florence and north of San Francisco.  Those communities are less diversified and farther from populations of tourists.

Sometimes adversity brings out the best in people; necessity really is the mother of invention.

The Oregon community of Coos Bay and the associated communities of Bandon and North Bend have certainly had their share of adversity.  Despite a lack of industry representation, the people there have done their homework and are preparing to address a year of major economic depression.  Some of the affected people there recently sat down with the Klamath Courier to discuss the problems with the salmon shutoff and the damage to the communities.

The cause of this destruction and impact to the communities needs to be brought to light for others to begin to understand what is happening.

Last year, for example, approximately 53,000 fish entered the Klamath River.  There were 29,000 of what are called "natural spawners" and 24,000 marked hatchery fish.  All hatchery fish are not marked, so a large percentage of unmarked hatchery fish are now considered natural.

Of the 24,000 marked fish returning to the hatchery, unofficially, 5,000 of these were used for eggs for the hatchery.  The rest were killed and given to food banks, ground up for downstream nutrients etc. Why the remaining 19,000 salmon or a portion of them were not trucked back downriver to come up to spawn naturally (except for a clipped fin, which has nothing to do with spawning) as is done in other places is unknown. 

What is known is that the California Department of Fish and Game as early as 2003 was very short of money and was making cuts to the hatchery program at Iron Gate Hatchery.

As quoted in a December 23, 2003 edition of The Fish Sniffer, "We're broke," explained Sonke Masterup, interim director of the fish and game, "and we're trying to live within our means.  Unfortunately, the state hatchery program is a very expensive program to run."

The hatchery at Iron Gate appears to be running at 25-30 percent of capacity.  Running at 100 percent of capacity would have almost certainly ensured a full fishing season this year, as the only justification for the cut-off this year is 6000 fish short of the 35,000 minimum.

"They're trying to implement a wild fish policy." said James L. Moore, a Coos Bay commercial fisherman.

That wild fish policy is apparently in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens act but somehow is being implemented anyway, with disastrous results.

"Ten years ago they couldn't come up with a wild fish, so they came up with a "natural spawner," said Scott Cook, another Coos Bay fisherman, "we've forgotten about our obligations to society."

Those obligations include The Magnuson-Stevens act which calls for mitigation hatcheries, mitigation both for dams built upstream and for contributions from the fishing fleet for wartime security.

Many coastal fishermen blame the government agencies for a myriad of fishing problems.

"Fishermen pleaded with ODF&W to not plant warm water species in Ten Mile lake and others in the late 70's," said Punch Gearing, Coos Bay fisherman, "before, Ten Mile Creek was the best coho fishing in the West and they purposely ruined it."

Devastation is not just for the fishermen though, as almost all business on the coast will be greatly affected.

"We've already felt the effects," said Mark Fleck, manager of Englund Marine in Coos Bay, "they're usually fishing March 15th.  There's no maintenance, service or gear sales happening here at all, I'm sure we'll be down 40-50 percent.  We're going to be feeling the ripple for a long time."  The Coos Bay Englund Marine shop employs six people, but the company employs ninety in all.
 
 "I don't know how we (Englund Marine) can expect assistance," Fleck told the Klamath Courier, "the best assistance we could get would be to give these guys a season, or at least money to maintain their boats, most are old and in need of a lot of maintenance."

"I hope they close the season," Dan Morris, owner of Basin Tackle in Charleston said, "I have to buy inventory in January and pay in June, and we'll have to borrow money to pay for that.  Most owners didn't get enough money last year to do preventive maintenance.  If they open with a short season this year it will be very unsafe.  It will cut my throat as well, but it's best for everyone."

Dan had one more thought, commenting that this is not a result of overfishing and not caused by the fishermen.

"If we screw up, we pay a fine." Dan said, "Now, they screw up (government) and we still pay a fine."
 
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