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Trollers renew push for federal aid


CHARLESTON - At the same time commercial salmon trollers were discussing the past - the season closure during the summer of 2006 - they also were making plans for the future.

Roughly 50 fishermen attended an Oregon Salmon Commission meeting in Charleston on Friday to recap the disbursement of state funds, talk about potential federal money and propose an option for a 2007 fishery.

Oregon Department of Agriculture Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs said the distribution of money from the state - $1 million total in direct aid to fishermen in two disbursements - was unprecedented.


He also acknowledged that getting that money to the fleet didn't go as simply as had been projected. Some of the problems during the first disbursement were alleviated during the second go-round, but there still were issues.

One was that the agency distributed all the money, leaving none left to provide for the 25 to 50 permit holders who appealed their disbursements. Another $50,000 likely would be needed to accurately compensate any successful appeals.

“It's not really a lot of money, compared to what you would have gotten if you had been allowed to fish,” Hobbs said.

Still, for the few fishermen who didn't receive a second check or who received very little state aid, it was small consolation.

Now the industry has its sights set on federal aid.

Federal funding

Hobbs said the consensus at the state is that the 2007 will be nearly as dire as this one.


“This isn't just a one-season problem,” he said.

That prompted several trollers to inquire about federal funding: Will there be any? they asked.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez declared the fishery a disaster in August, but budget bills that could approve any funds to the fleet were tied up through the end of the 109th Congress. Despite last-minute attempts by congressional delegations from California and Washington, no appropriations bills were passed before Congress adjourned in 2006.

But West Coast lawmakers already began once again to push for money shortly after returning to Washington, D.C., after the holidays.

In a bipartisan effort, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and several other representatives and senators introduced legislation in the House and Senate on Thursday that would provide $60.4 million in disaster aid for the commercial salmon fleet and communities. They also sent a letter to House and Senate leadership, requesting their assistance in getting the disaster aid via any legislative vehicle possible, according to a press release. Both Oregon senators, Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Gordon Smith, signed onto the Senate version.

“Issuing these disaster funds is a top priority for our constituents and is supported by the governors of Washington, Oregon and California, our county boards of supervisors, the Klamath Water Users Association and the California Chamber of Commerce,” the letter said. “We are also steadfastly committed to instituting comprehensive legislation that will restore the Klamath River basin so commercial salmon fishermen, tribes, farmers and related businesses do not have to suffer these types of disasters again.”

At the meeting in Charleston, it was clear what mattered most to fishermen: being able to pay their bills. After much discussion, the commission passed a resolution that requested fishermen be directly reimbursed for the amount of money they received during their best season out of the 2003, 2004, and 2005 fishing seasons.

The $60.4 million requested by lawmakers, according to the bill, would be made available to the fleet, ancillary businesses, processors, communities and Indian tribes, distributed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The chance of the bill actually going anywhere in Congress may be slim - or it may not.

“I think it's anybody's guess what's going to happen back there,” Hobbs said.

Looking forward

The season closure in 2006 took many fishermen by surprise. A number of them had invested thousands of dollars in their vessels and gear, preparing for the March 15 season opener that never came.

On Friday, trollers said, “Not again.”

Among the discussions about upcoming meetings that correspond with federal season planning, Pacific City troller and salmon commissioner Ray Monroe proposed asking the state to model a March-to-October season based on an all-waters state fishery when the federal waters were closed to commercial salmon trolling.

It would be different than the bubble fisheries the state tried to put in place this year as a way of mitigating the closure, he said. All state waters, out to 3 nautical miles, would be open under the proposal.

“I want to see what we can do,” Monroe said.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meets next week in Salem, where Monroe said he hopes to present his idea.

The audience paused to consider the idea.

Initially, some fishermen were opposed. They feared the feds would agree to a state-waters fishery instead of a federal fishery.

No, Monroe said, the state waters-only fishery would be in place if - and only if - the federal waters were closed, as they were this year.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists would have to plug all the data they have available into a model and see if it could work. Biologists have said in the past that terminal fisheries and state-waters fisheries often have very little impact on Klamath River fall Chinook - the very fish for which federal fishery managers were concerned about during 2006.

Slowly, other fishermen agreed.

“I'd like to know when the season's going to open,” Charleston troller Roger Pryce said, “or do I spend another $3,000 for nothing?”

Troller Henry deRonden-Pos warmed to the idea, too.

“It might get us crawling again,” deRonden-Pos said, emphasizing that at the very least, it could add to the state's database of fishery information. “We're probably not going to catch a lot of fish, but we might learn something.”

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