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Payments leave some fishermen short

World Photo by Madeline Steege A small commercial fishing vessel ties up to the dock to use the public hoist in Charleston recently. Owners of many local salmon trollers are upset that some fishermen got bigger checks from the state than other fishermen received and they argue that the distribution of funds should have been more equitable.

CHARLESTON - Fishermen's concerns about balance in the distribution of state financial aid came to fruition over the weekend, as checks began showing up in mailboxes.

Salmon trollers left without any real season this year were hoping for state money to help pay bills until federal money - if it comes through - will be made available.

But for some, that didn't happen. Some who fish solely for salmon received only a couple hundred dollars or so. Others who receive income from sources other than fishing received more than $1,000.

Some fishermen received $7,500 - a staggering amount to most of the fleet, who assumed that everyone would get about $1,600.

“This is not the outcome we had hoped for,” Oregon Salmon Commission Administrator Nancy Fitzpatrick said Tuesday.

Port Orford fisherman Chris Aiello, whose check amounted to roughly $100, put it much more plainly: “It's insulting,” he said.

Once an initial $500,000 was made available from the governor's strategic reserve fund and approved by the Legislative Emergency Board in June, state agencies began working on a plan to make sure the money would get to those who needed it most, according to specific directions from the board.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture and a review committee of people familiar with the fishing industry were tasked to compile the applications and sort out the neediest folks.

It was a monumental task. Just the deliveries reported by fishermen varied from $200 to more than $100,000, said ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs.

“Given the enormous range of the requests, the statements of need Š it became difficult to determine something that would please everyone,” said Jay Rasmussen, an Oregon Sea Grant extension agent and a member of the review committee. “I thought that the Department of Agriculture took their role very responsibly and very seriously.”


That doesn't sit well with Jim Allen. The troller from Pacific City makes 90 percent of his income from salmon, he said, and the other 10 percent from working on dory boats that fish out of Pacific City.

His check was about $200.

“I'm not very happy at all,” he said, noting that another fisherman who gets most of his income from non-fishing work got more than $1,000.

The principle behind the detailed application process was flawed from the beginning, fishermen say. Knowing there wouldn't be much of a season this year, many of them put off repairs or spending money on their vessels. And putting off those repairs for another year just increases the need for more maintenance the following year.

Yet it was those very receipts that were required to be submitted with the application to the Department of Agriculture, on which the department based part of its funding decision.

“Salmon fishermen that had above a certain percentage of their income from salmon got a certain percentage of their receipts, up to $7,500,” Hobbs said.

Below that, it was a sliding scale, he said.

“Most of the fleet's thankful, but due to information obtained by people trained by the state to fill out the applications, most people didn't include enough valid receipts to get the bigger checks,” salmon commission member Jeff Reeves said.

Deciding on dividing

When the fleet first heard about the $500,000 being made available, salmon commissioners met to discuss what the fleet thought would be the best way to divvy it up.

Equally, fishermen said, and keep it simple: If you fished, you should get some of the money. Under the commission's plan, a minimum amount of landings would show whether a troller really fished or whether he fished just as a hobby.

But the state has to answer to legislators, Hobbs said, and things aren't always that simple, especially when it comes to using public money. The state is accountable to legislators and the public for distributing those dollars.

“There are stringent and tight controls on how these dollars from the reserve fund can be used,” said Hobbs. “It needs to be used to ensure jobs and that an industry is preserved.”

Still, that doesn't convince many trollers.

“It's obvious that, although there was an admirable effort to distribute these funds, the (state) took no guidance from industry,” Bandon troller Scott Cook said.

The process

One of the main questions from fishermen, though, is why the $7,500 upper cap?

The review committee came up with that number, Hobbs said, based on a combination of salmon landings, receipts submitted and a fisherman's percentage of income from salmon.

The committee determined that it didn't want any single fisherman to get more than 2 percent of the $500,000, Hobbs said, which would equal $10,000.

But at least six fishermen got $7,500, at least one in Charleston got $7,300, and another local troller got $5,000 - the total of which represents about 11 percent of the money available.

The review committee - made up of Rasmussen, from Sea Grant, state legislators, one county commissioner and representatives from several state agencies - met at least twice after the applications were returned.

The fleet assumed the committee would review each application, but that wasn't the case.

The ODA gathered the applications, entered the basic landings, receipts and percentage of income from salmon into a database, and distributed the overall data to the committee.

“I did not read every one,” Rasmussen said. “I randomly looked at a number of them.”

Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, also was on the review committee.

“We had requests for twice as much money as we had to give out,” she said, and it was the Department of Agriculture, not the reviewers, who set the upper limit of $7,500 and the lower limit of $75. The committee approved it, she said, recognizing that there had to be some criteria for qualification.

Boone said that she hopes that next time, if the E-board approves another $500,000 disbursal of funds in September, the process will be much simpler.

Hobbs said that given the information the state has now, the next go-round could be very different.

“It's absolutely critical that the salmon industry have their voices heard by the emergency board, by the coastal caucus, by the state agencies,” Hobbs said. “We're interested in hearing from the fleet Š so that this can be a much better process.”

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

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