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Fisheries and resource officials meet

by Nathan Rushton, 9/9/2006, The Eureka Reporter

Following meetings by federal fisheries managers in July, several top state officials have now visited the area to meet with affected communities to learn firsthand how the nearly total closure of the region’s commercial salmon season has impacted the North Coast.

California State Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman and Ryan Broderick, director of the California Department of Fish and Game, met with area fishermen and county officials in a meeting at the county courthouse Friday to hear testimony from fishermen, tribal representatives, businesses and Del Norte County elected officials.

The federal government declared a fisheries failure last month as a result of the near closure of the commercial salmon season along California’s northern coast because of a low return of spawning salmon to the Klamath River, which it said has been impacted by drought conditions in recent years.

Arranged by Humboldt County Supervisors Jimmy Smith and Bonnie Neely, the meeting allowed affected residents to tell how the salmon season disaster, which is estimated to have caused $80 million in losses, impacted them personally.

“We are here to do some listening,” said Chrisman, according to a news release from Neely. “We are here to better understand the issue and we will continue to work on this serious issue.”

But what Broderick said the state needed was input on how to address the U.S. secretary of commerce’s declared fisheries failure.

“We wanted these representatives of the state here so they could talk with people in our community who are directly impacted,” Neely was quoted in a release from her campaign manager. “It is important that they hear first-hand accounts of how the loss of salmon has affected people’s livelihoods.”

In addition to discussions on how the salmon closure affected the fishermen and businesses along the coast, Smith said many comments predictably turned to the plummeting health of the Klamath River watershed and what could be done to restore it.

“Specifically in my request I asked that they support an unemployment program,” Smith said.

Aaron Newman, president of the Humboldt Fisherman’s Marketing Association, reached Friday after the meeting, said he thought state officials seemed sympathetic to fishermen’s needs.

“Basically, they realize that we are in a disaster situation and are not getting any opportunities for Pacific salmon fishing trawling,” Newman said. “The governor really seems willing to help us out.”

Newman said he wasn’t interested in the low-interest loans that have been made available through the state — a sentiment that has been echoed by many other fishermen — but indicated that an unemployment program would be a favorable option.

If the government can’t guarantee future salmon seasons, Newman said state officials shouldn’t offer fishermen loans as a remedy.

Newman, like other area fishermen, has looked elsewhere for fishing opportunities and spent some time in Alaska trawling for salmon.

However, Newman’s Alaska venture was short-lived and he said he wouldn’t return because expenses for the one week trip to and from Alaska were barely covered by the profits.

Asked whether he thought the plight of area fishermen was evident to the state, Newman said he thought it was.

“Everybody knows we are taking a heck of a hit,” Newman said.

A bill authored by Sen. Wes Chesbro that would have provided $26 million in direct aid and loans died in the Assembly last week, which shifts pressure to federal lawmakers to seek financial relief .

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