Federal officials Thursday declared a
"commercial fishery failure" along a 700-mile
stretch of California and Oregon coastline,
triggering a process that will bring financial
aid to fishermen and communities ravaged by
the virtual shutdown of the commercial salmon
It is only the second time a fishery has been
so clearly stricken that the government has
deemed it a failure even before the season's
end, officials said.
Last month, the federal government made
salmon fishermen eligible for emergency loans
from the Small Business Administration — a
move that was criticized as inadequate by many
in the fishing community. Congress is
currently considering a $10-million
appropriation for communities hit by the
season's virtual shutdown, although one
Northern California congressman has estimated
the loss at more than $80 million.
Thursday's declaration by Secretary of
Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez is designed to
prompt speedy congressional approval of grants
to an industry whose revenues have plunged by
more than 80% since the season started in May,
according to Commerce officials.
Fishermen on Thursday said help can't arrive
The failure designation "acknowledges the
obvious," said Dave Bitts, 58, of
"This year has been a disaster," he said.
"I've had virtually no income from the salmon
fishery, and it's usually half or more of my
annual income. A lot of people — especially
younger people saddled with loans — are going
crazy trying to figure out how not to lose
In April, the government imposed severe
restrictions on salmon fishing from Oregon's
Point Falcon to Point Sur in California. At
issue were the plummeting numbers of salmon
swimming into the ocean from the
once-productive Klamath River, which empties
into the sea south of Crescent City, Calif.
Hundreds of thousands of young salmon have
been killed there by parasites, which,
according to some biologists, flourish because
of the dams that block the river's natural
currents and the irrigation that reduces its
Others aren't sure why the parasites thrive.
For the idled fishermen, the more immediate
question is how much aid Congress will deliver
after it receives formal requests from the
governors of California and Oregon. The
Commerce Department has pegged the loss of
revenue to the fishermen at $16 million, but
officials say an appropriation would also
include relief for dock operators, fish
processors, gas stations and other businesses
that rely on the salmon harvest.
"It's two years too late, but it's still good
to have," said Zeke Grader, executive director
of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's
Assns. "We warned them in July 2004 that there
was a problem at hand, but they chose to
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) said the
problems experienced by the fishermen in his
Northern California district have been
"Families have lost their homes," he said. He
also said he knows of fishermen desperate to
learn new trades who have been forced to drop
out of school for lack of cash.
Thompson has been pushing for an aid package
of about $81 million. On Thursday, he said
that figure might not be far from the amount
that will be requested by California Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Gov. Ted
In addition to helping the fishermen, he said,
Congress must also help the ailing Klamath
River. He and other critics blasted a 2002
Bush administration decision to channel more
of the Klamath's water to agriculture, saying
it made the salmon's survival more difficult.
Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) sounded the same
"Salmon fishermen were being unfairly
penalized for mishandling of the Klamath River
habitat," he said in a statement.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is a
member of the appropriations committee that
approved $10 million in aid last month. She
said the government's unusually swift
declaration "underscores the seriousness of
Since the early 1980s, the salmon fishery on
the West Coast has been deemed an economic
disaster at least twice.
Some in the industry fear that severe
restrictions on salmon catches will remain in
place next year as well.