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Salmon money in limbo

World File Photos National Marine Fisheries Service Director Bill Hogarth, right; U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.; and U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary David Sampson talk with fishermen assembled at D-Dock in Charleston on Aug. 10, announcing that that Commerce Department has declared the commercial salmon season a failure. Months later, emergency funding remains in doubt.

The small Elk River state fishery for Chinook salmon near Port Orford is ongoing, but federal funding for West Coast commercial trollers is stalled, tangled in a mix of existing government budget bills and an uncertain political future.

This summer, during the height of the federal salmon closure and the determination of a failed Klamath River fall Chinook fishery, a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill included $2 million in aid to fishermen. It passed the House in June. Subsequently, it was sent to the Senate and Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., raise the aid amount to $10 million. It never passed the Senate.

Under normal circumstances, the Senate would pass the bill and the Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2007 would be taken up during a conference committee between the two houses prior to the end of the government's fiscal year.


But this isn't any normal year.

Since October, the government has been operating on a continuing resolution - a time during which agencies are funded at minimal levels so the government can continue to function.

It included no funding for the salmon industry, since the current budget included no disaster money.

Two other changes threw monkeywrenches into the works: The elections switched the leadership in both the House and the Senate to the Democrats and a new session of Congress will start Jan.1.

In essence, existing appropriations bills likely will be changed or scrapped altogether and started over from scratch in January.

Congress must decide next week whether to push through full appropriations bills or pass another continuing resolution to get through the holidays.

A 2006 Oregon commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishery season-end briefing report, put together by The Research Group for the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, shows just how bad the season was.


“Ocean (commercial) salmon harvest volume in 2006 was the second worst year since 1971 - only exceeded by the 1994 season when the north of Cape Falcon area was closed,” the report said.

Even better-than-average prices to fishermen of around $5 a pound for salmon could not offset the lack of fish.

“However, average troll Chinook prices this year jumped 68 percent over last year, raising total harvest value to be the fourth worst since 1971,” the report added.

No matter what happens, the salmon industry - and Klamath Basin farmers - are continuing to push for relief and, in some cases, an increase of funding now that new data has been tallied as to the extent of the economic damage to the industry and coastal communities.

“The impact has spread to other businesses that rely on commercial fishing as well as those frequented by fishers and their families,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., wrote in testimony before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about dams on the Klamath River. “All told, the states of Oregon and California estimate the direct damage to commercial fishers and the downstream impacts in communities at more than $60 million.”

That number came up again, when Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Greg Addington sent letters to House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

“We are writing to request your support for $60.4 million in disaster assistance for the Pacific coast salmon fishery,” Addington wrote Friday. “We understand the strain of natural resource conflicts and we feel that a comprehensive solution to the basis's problems is the only way forward. In that spirit, we support assistance to those communities hurt by the fish harvest restrictions.”

Just about any funding would be welcome as utility bills, rent, loan payments and medical bills begin piling up, fishermen say. Many trollers now are waiting for the second round of state disaster checks to arrive in their mailboxes or for the commercial crab season to begin.

“I know they're antsy,” Oregon Salmon Commission Administrator Nancy Fitzpatrick said. “They're concerned. They would like something, but it's all on hold.

“Unfortunately, the (personal) bills are not on hold,” Fitzpatrick said. “They keep coming.”

Trollers intend to hold congressmen to the promises they made this summer to help the industry. At the same time, staffers are working hard to deal with a multitude of bills during the final days of the 109th Congress.

“Sen. Wyden is committed to finding funding for salmon relief,” Wyden spokesman Geoff Stuckart said Friday. “He knows that folks on the coast are hurting and he will continue to look for ways to get funds appropriated.”

Stuckart also said all the senators on the coast are very concerned about the issue and plan to work in a bipartisan manner to make funding available.

Yet as time goes on, the frustration levels rise.

Charleston troller Rick Goche testified before the FERC panel on Wednesday, too, and like other fishermen who made statements about the dams, also commented on the need for federal help.

“Let us fish, pay us not to fish or buy us out,” he said.

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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