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Feds' fish aid plans pending

Amber Nobe Headlight-Herald Staff 5/6/08

WEST COAST - If the $500,000 in aid to be distributed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office didn't sound like much to Oregon salmon fishers who have been left without a season, the figure $45 million may be more appealing.

That's how much the Governor's Office has estimated the state will lose because of the closed season. The number includes not just commercial fishers but processors, sport anglers and charters and all support business, from retail shops to gas stations.

And that's how much Oregon's congressional delegation is seeking from colleagues in the Senate and House, along with $208 million for California and $36 million for Washington.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez declared a commercial fishery failure for the West Coast salmon fishery on Thursday, May 1, because of historically low salmon returns.

That same day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service issued regulations to officially close or severely limit recreational and commercial salmon fishing on the West Coast based on earlier recommendation from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

With these official declarations, Congress can now appropriate money for the three West Coast states suffering from the unprecedented closure.

The questions now include exactly how much Oregon can expect, and when.

NOAA offered an economic analysis last week that projects a loss of $60 million in personal income impacts associated with commercial processing and commercial and recreational trip expenditures for all three state. That number is significantly lower than the $290 million put forth by Oregon, California and Washington's governors. That's because the estimate does not reflect the effect on businesses that provide major equipment to processors, major boat repair services or sell boats to recreational fishermen, or any of the other support businesses the states have taken into account.

Oregon's Congressional delegation is already pursuing two funding bills for disaster aid. The Farm Bill, which could come to the floor in the next few weeks, includes $170 million specifically for aid to the West Coast.

There is also the Iraq war supplemental funding bill, expected to reach the floor even before the Farm Bill, possibly this week. The delegation is working to include domestic emergency aid in the bill despite President Bush's wishes that it only address the war, according to Sen. Gordon Smith's office. The total amount of aid to be included in this bill has not yet been decided.

No one seems to know when Oregonians can expect to see a check from the federal government arrive in their mailboxes. After the less-extensive 2006 fishery closure, it took more than a year. Considering the much quicker response on all sides this year, many expect that timeline to be shortened, though it all depends on what and when funding bills are passed. The process may be modeled after that in 2006, though it will have to be altered to include recreational fishermen and perhaps support businesses as well. Oregon's delegation said it will continue to pursue other funding options as more legislation comes up.

Jim Coon, who fishes for salmon out of Garibaldi, received federal aid after the 2006 fishery failure and plans to apply for aid again if he qualifies. "It was quite a while later, but it was nice to get it," he said of the check.

That year, fishermen could be eligible to receive the equivalent of the amount earned in their best year between 2002 and 2006, up to $75,000. Coon said some fishers didn't qualify for the aid because of certain technicalities, but overall he thought people were satisfied with the help given.

For more information about the NOAA economic analysis, visit the archived story linked below.

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