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Talks follow fishery failure proclamation

By Susan Chambers, TheWorldLink.Com
August 11, 2006


World Photo by Susan Chambers U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, left, and salmon troller Jeff Reeves lead other fishermen and government officials down D-Dock in Charleston on Thursday. Smith, U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary David Sampson and National Marine Fisheries Service Director Bill Hogarth met with fishermen to formally declare the salmon season a fisheries failure and to tour the docks to see first-hand the effects of this last year's and this year's sharply curtailed fishing seasons.

CHARLESTON - The weather couldn't have been better.

Political weather, that is.

D-Dock in Charleston carried more political clout per foot of dock space on Thursday than it likely ever has.

U.S. Commerce Department Deputy Secretary David Sampson, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.; and National Marine Fisheries Service Director Bill Hogarth met with local fishermen to announce that indeed, the commercial salmon fishery has been declared an economic failure under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Later, they talked with fishermen and farmers about the Klamath River and salmon.

Sampson said that recent data-gathering efforts have shown that this year's season is one of the worst on record. It was closed in the extreme southern part of Oregon and northern part of California and open on only very limited days in the rest of the West Coast to protect natural Klamath fall Chinook runs.

Salmon deliveries are down by 88 percent of the average of the last five years, Sampson said, and the value is down by about the same amount.

Many fishermen went about their daily work of getting ready for tuna fishing or just fixing their vessels, but a few gathered to see what the fuss was about. In the background, others filleted albacore and a sea lion circled in the waters under the dock.

Quite a few fishermen were hopeful this declaration would provide more relief than California and Oregon's efforts. A few salmon trollers who live in one state but make most of their money from salmon in the other have fallen through the cracks for state aid eligibility.

But that's likely to change now.

It's up to lawmakers and governors to keep up the pressure, Sampson said, to get federal money included in appropriations bills.

“I want to assure you our engagement does not end today,” Sampson said.

To date, the U.S. Senate has agreed to $10 million in aid, however, funding is not final. Senators Smith and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., plan to continue working to reconcile the Senate bill with a House of Representatives version that includes $2 million in funding to support the salmon fishermen and impacted businesses.

And they're going to push for more, they said.

That's where the second half of Thursday's event came into play.

The Charleston Marina RV Park recreation room, that in past meetings has been filled on one side of the room with federal officials and on the other side with angry commercial fishing constituents, was set up differently on Thursday afternoon.

It was much like a reunion of old friends.

Smith set up the forum as a starting point to address the long-term Klamath Basin issues.

Many of the representatives already knew one another. Fisherman Jim Moore was a farmer in the Klamath area at one time and knew many of the representatives from the Klamath Basin.

“I want to make sure you're included,” Smith said of the fishermen and farmers.

The best policies come from the people who are affected most by them, he said.

Both farmers and fishermen said that the perception in the past has been that the groups are at odds. That's not true, they said.

“We want you guys out on the water catching fish,” Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Greg Addington said. “And we want to farm.”

Both groups identified regulatory inflexibility as a one of the biggest problems.

Coincidentally, on the days Oregon fishermen were allowed to fish, tide and weather conditions weren't conducive to fishing and many fishermen couldn't even cross the bar. There were no alternative days to fish incorporated into the plan.

On the other hand, farmers are hamstrung with rules that say water must be retained in Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered sucker fish, while at the same time another regulation says water must be released from the lake into the river so that coho can survive.

Both groups face no-win situations, they said.

Fishermen and farmers said more science could help in both cases - and already there is existing and emerging science that should be incorporated into current water and fisheries management plans, they said.

In Oregon, some fishermen are participating in salmon genetic studies that give researchers much more information than they've had in the past. With a little effort, said Gold Beach fisherman Scott Boley, that kind of data could be useful for real-time management.

Hogarth said he does have a proposal for that kind of work on his desk.

“It does have a lot of promise,” he said.

Inland, farmers already are putting together conservation ideas themselves and trying to use better science for water management.

Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen said a National Academy of Science study a few years ago is gathering dust. Ideas in that report should be used, but it should also go one step further if those ideas are to be implemented.

“Fishermen need to be at the table,” he said.

Though the ideas set forth on Thursday were general in nature, it at least continued the dialogue between water users and salmon trollers. It also provided Washington, D.C., officials something to bank on when they return and seek support for additional funding.

“We believe the ultimate solutions are stakeholder-developed solutions,” Sampson said.

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