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Commerce Secretary Declares West Coast Fishery Failure; Opens Door for Disaster Relief
 May 02, 2008   Columbia Basin FWS Bulletin
With the "backbone of the West Coast salmon industry" broken, the federal government declared a commercial fishery failure on Thursday, which opens the door for Congress to appropriate money to alleviate predicted financial hardships.

The direct hit from a virtual closure of the 2008 salmon troll fishery off the California, Oregon and Washington coasts is an anticipated loss of $22 million in commercial ex-vessel revenues. That would be a decline of 90 percent from the recent five-year average.

The loss in personal income overall in commercial and recreational fisheries is estimated to be $60 million, according to economic analysis produced by the NOAA Fisheries Service using data compiled by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez made the disaster declaration based on what are expected to be historically low salmon returns, particularly of fall chinook salmon to California's Sacramento River system. The Sacramento stock has traditionally provided the lion's share of the ocean chinook harvest.

At the same time NOAA Fisheries issued regulations to close or severely limit recreational and commercial salmon fishing in the swath of water from 3 to 200 miles off the states' coastline. The regulations formalize recommendations made by the PFMC in mid-April.

"The unprecedented collapse of the salmon population will hit fishermen, their families, and fishing communities hard, and that is why we have moved quickly to declare a fishery disaster," Gutierrez said. "Our scientists are working to better understand the effects that ocean changes have on salmon populations. We are also working closely with fishing communities to improve salmon habitat in river systems to support sustainable fishing."

"This declaration moves us one step closer to securing the help the people in our fishing communities desperately need," said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongsoki, who requested the declaration. "I am pleased with Secretary Gutierrez's quick response to our call for federal assistance, and I will continue to work with the Oregon congressional delegation to ensure adequate financial relief is available for our communities."

The declarations provide Congress significant leverage to appropriate disaster relief funds for Oregon, Washington and California, Kulongoski said.

Kulongoski and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Chris Gregoire of Washington last week sent a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking Congress to begin working on securing emergency appropriations for ocean salmon fishermen and related businesses that will be affected by the expected closure of much of the West Coast commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishing season.

The state of Oregon has estimated the financial loss to Oregon commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishermen and related businesses to be $44.9 million, including the loss of 763 jobs. That estimate goes beyond immediate effects on the industry itself. For all three states, the total economic loss is expected to be $290 million and 4,200 jobs.

Hundreds of thousands of fall chinook salmon typically return to the Sacramento River every year to spawn. This year, scientists estimate that fewer than 60,000 adult chinook will make it back.

"This is far below what is needed to sustain the population and we have decided to shut down the commercial ocean salmon fishery for all of California and most of Oregon to aid their recovery," said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries Service acting assistant administrator. "It's a tough decision, but the condition of the salmon fishery forces us to close most of it to ensure healthy runs of this valuable fish in the future."

Although the reasons for the sudden decline of the fishery are not completely understood, NOAA scientists suggest that changes in ocean conditions, including unfavorable shifts in ocean temperature and food sources for juvenile salmon, likely caused poor survival of salmon that would have comprised this year's fishery.

Loss of freshwater habitat for salmon spawning, rearing, and migration to the ocean is a chronic problem that has made salmon populations more susceptible to the occasional poor ocean conditions, according to NOAA. NOAA will undertake a thorough examination of the causes.

Coho salmon stocks off Washington and northern Oregon, while in slightly better shape, are still far below normal, and there will be substantially curtailed commercial fishing off those areas as well. A small recreational fishery off Oregon's northern coast and targeted on hatchery-produced coho salmon will be allowed.

The area north of northern Oregon's Cape Falcon is expected to lose a about $1 million in ex-vessel revenues, the money paid to trollers for their catch. That's a 38 percent decrease from the five-year average. Even with a large jump in the price of fish the fishery would still suffer significant losses, according to the NOAA analysis.

South of Cape Falcon the loss is expected to be $21 million in ex-vessel revenues -- a 100 percent decrease from the average.

The ex-vessel losses do not take into account other economic losses suffered as a result of the commercial closure. It is estimated that $3 million in income will be generated in coastal communities' related industries such as processing plants, suppliers and vessel owners and their crews at the 2008 harvest levels. That compares to an average of $39 million per year.

Restricted sport fisheries will impact the charter fleet and businesses that serve anglers. It is anticipated that angler trips will fall from an average of 346,000 during the 2003-2007 period to 47,000 this year. The amount of personal income generated by the sport fishery has averaged about $28 million. The amount forecast for 2008 is $4 million, according to the NOAA analysis.

The regulations adopted are the most restrictive salmon fisheries in the history for the West Coast, in response to the unprecedented collapse of the Sacramento River fall chinook and the exceptionally poor status of coho salmon from Oregon and Washington.

The rules adopted include a complete closure of commercial and sport chinook fisheries off California and most of Oregon and allowed only a 9,000-fish quota for a fishery targeting hatchery coho off central Oregon's coast. Salmon fisheries off California and Oregon typically have been large -- involving seasons that span from May 1 to Oct. 31 and averaged over 800,000 chinook caught per year from 2000 to 2005.

Fisheries north of Cape Falcon to the Canadian line will also be severely restricted. Although chinook quotas in this area are similar to 2007 and chinook stocks are generally more abundant than the southern stocks, depressed natural coho stocks are constraining access of commercial fisheries to chinook stocks.

Sport fisheries, many of which depend primarily on coho, are even more restricted. Coho quotas are less than 20 percent of the 2007 season for non-Indian fisheries and about 50 percent of 2007 levels for treaty-Indian fisheries.

Under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Commerce secretary can declare a commercial fishery failure if requested to do so by a governor, or at the secretary's discretion. The secretary must determine that the commercial fishery failure resulted from a fishery resource disaster due to natural causes, man-made causes beyond the control of fishery managers, or undetermined causes.

Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden pushed for $60.4 million in disaster relief for West Coast salmon fishermen last year after commercial salmon fishing was all but eliminated along 700 miles of Oregon and California coastline in 2006. Smith and Wyden, along with senators from California and Washington, are urging the inclusion of funding in a supplemental appropriations bill expected to be debated in Congress this month.

"A season without work is devastating for families who are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table," Smith said. "Given skyrocketing gas and food prices, getting aid to these fishing communities quickly is critical. It's a matter of survival. This declaration allows us to begin pushing for funds immediately."

"This declaration by NOAA, which comes on a day that should mark the opening of salmon season on the Oregon Coast, is a crucial first step in providing disaster assistance to a fishing industry being devastated by yet another salmon closure," said Wyden. "We need to move quickly to get financial help to fishermen who I know would much rather be on the ocean today catching salmon than seeing their boats tied to a dock."

For an economic analysis of the West Coast salmon fishery and other information go to http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Salmon-Harvest-Hatcheries/Salmon-Fishery-Management/Salmon-Fishery-08.cfm

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