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Two new bills could provide federal relief to California

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff Article Last Updated: 01/08/2007 08:50:26 AM PST

The Daily Journal In the first two days of the new legislative session, two companion bills were introduced, that if passed, would provide federal disaster relief to California and Oregon's fishing industry.

The legislation -- SB 145 authored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and HR 234 authored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) -- would authorize the appropriation of $60.4 million for fisherman, tribes and businesses impacted by the commercial fishery failure declared in August 2006 by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

"It is our responsibility to do everything we can to help the thousands of families and businesses that are suffering from the largest commercial salmon fishery disaster in our nation's history," Thompson said. "The devastating impact this disaster has had on California's North Coast has been obvious for years, and it is time we help bring this important industry back to life."

According to Thompson, the fisheries disaster was due in large part to poor federal management of the Klamath River, which caused 80,000 adult salmon to die in 2002. Since then, the salmon population has continued to deteriorate, forcing the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to reduce the fishing seasons in 2005 and 2006. As a

result, the commercial fishing season was cut by more than 90 percent in 2006, costing fishing families and associated fishing businesses more than $60 million. "Our coastal communities have already waited too long to get the disaster relief they need as a result of this administration's mismanagement of the Klamath River," Boxer said. "By introducing this legislation on the first day of Congress, we are letting our communities and families know that getting them financial assistance is a top priority this year."

There is also an expectation that the commercial salmon season will be significantly reduced in 2007, Thompson said.

"We can not allow one disastrous salmon season to turn into a long-term tragedy, yet that is what will happen if we don't take immediate action," Sen. Rod Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-authored Boxer's bill, said. "Our fishing and coastal communities are counting on Washington, D.C. to survive. We must not let them down."

"Getting our fisherman and salmon businesses back on their feet is a top priority for me and my colleagues from California and Oregon," Thompson, whose legislation was co-authored by 11 other representatives, said. "But it is also important that we stay focused on restoring the salmon population in the Klamath basin so this disaster does not continue into the future."

In December, the House and Senate passed a bill setting a six-month deadline for a finalized comprehensive recovery plan for salmon on the Klamath River. The provision was included in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act at the request of Thompson and Boxer. It is the first time Congress has ever required the implementation of a recovery plan.

"I look forward to monitoring the government's progress," Thompson said.

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