No help from feds for idled salmon fishermen
David Whitney McClatchy News Service, 12/13/06
WASHINGTON Ė Congress adjourned over the
weekend without sending any disaster assistance to
commercial fisherman idled this year by the nearly
total closure of the salmon season off the
California and Oregon coasts.
But in what may be a precedent, it ordered federal
fishery managers to write a plan for the recovery
of the endangered coho salmon runs in the Klamath
River, the wellspring of problems that caused the
The salmon fishery was severely reduced this
spring because of forecasts that salmon would be
returning to spawn in the Klamath in numbers below
what is needed for healthy propagation.
Because itís impossible for fishermen to
distinguish between a Klamath River salmon and
fish from other rivers, the shortened commercial
season meant closures from Morro Bay along the
central California coast to the Columbia River.
The closures not only idled the salmon fleets but
the fuel dealers, ice providers and other
enterprises that serve the commercial boats.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared a
fishery failure in August because catches were
expected to tumble to 88 percent of average.
Later, Gutierrez appealed personally to Rep. Jerry
Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee, to include $60 million
in emergency assistance to the fishing industry.
That appeal followed letters by Oregon and
California governors and lawmakers, the California
Chamber of Commerce, the Klamath Water Users
Association and others asking for the emergency
aid this year.
But Congress adjourned last weekend without
passing a spending bill or including any money in
temporary measures to keep the government funded
through mid February.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said the emergency
aid fell victim to postelection politics, where
congressional leaders decided not to open the
temporary measure to disaster earmarks. Had they
done so for the fishermen, Thompson said, it would
have opened the floodgates on billions of dollars
in farm aid.
Thompson said it is unclear how early Congress
will be able to act next year.
That was worrisome to the Pacific Coast Federation
of Fishermenís Associations.
"We need some sort of supplemental disaster bill
early in the next Congress," said Glen Spain, the
federationís northwest regional director. "If this
has to go through the full process next year,
fishermen will go a full year without assistance.
The whole infrastructure already is in danger and
teetering on collapse."
More than 1,000 commercial fishing boats in the
two states depend upon the salmon season for much
of their income. Spain said they have been helped
in California by a good crab season, but not all
fishermen and businesses benefit from that.
Thompson said the 2007 commercial salmon season
could further compound the problems because runs
are also expected to remain low next year.
"The sad thing is, this was a manmade disaster,"
Federal management of the water in the Klamath
River has been blamed for the spread of parasites
that killed thousands of salmon in 2002 and 2003.
The one bit of good news for fishermen was the
inclusion of a provision in a federal fisheries
bill requiring the National Marine Fisheries
Service to complete in six months a recovery plan
for Klamath River coho salmon.
"Weíve never done that before," Thompson said. But
he said the coho was listed as endangered in 1997,
and still nothing has been done to protect the
fish as its numbers fall.
"They have got to figure out a better water
policy," Thompson said. The fisheries bill is on
its way to the White House for the presidentís