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House bill would spend $60 million for salmon disaster

03/14/2007 By MATTHEW DALY, KGW, NW News Channel 8

West Coast lawmakers say they have secured more than $60 million in a House bill to help salmon fishermen hurt by a sharply curtailed fishing season.

Lawmakers from Oregon and California said Democratic leaders have agreed to put the money in an emergency war spending bill expected to reach the House floor late next week.

However, House Democrats planned to use the spending bill as a vehicle for controversial language demanding troop withdrawals for Iraq, so its fate is uncertain.

Still, West Coast lawmakers were pleased the money was included in the bill, which also includes $400 million for rural counties hard-hit by cutbacks in federal logging, as well as $20 million to help California citrus farmers hit by a January deep freeze that caused some $1.3 billion in crop losses.

The salmon money "is as solid as anything else in the emergency supplemental bill," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said Wednesday. "If the bill becomes law we finally begin offering relief for our fishers on the Oregon and Northern California coast."

Lawmakers have been pushing for the aid since last year, when federal officials imposed sharp cutbacks to protect struggling salmon returns on the Klamath River. The action by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration virtually eliminated the commercial salmon fishing season in a 700-mile stretch of Oregon and Northern California coastal waters.

West Coast salmon fishermen landed just 12 percent of their normal harvest because of the restrictions.

DeFazio said he and Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson of California, and David Wu and Darlene Hooley of Oregon have been beseeching House leaders for months for the fishing aid, which they called crucial to the region's economic survival.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., hailed the House action and said he and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would work with Senate leaders to include the aid in a Senate version of the bill, which is still under negotiation.

"Last year's closure was devastating to Oregon's salmon fishermen," Smith said in a statement. "We will do everything we can to secure this long-awaited funding."

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