CHARLESTON — Disaster checks for 2006
are barely in the bank and local salmon trollers already
are asking that the 2007 season also be declared a
“It turned out costing the fleet more money to have a
season with no fish than no season with fish,” commercial
fisherman Rick Goche said Thursday.
Fishermen were shocked when the season opened in April.
Many were expecting their lines would be vibrating with
fish after not being able to fish in 2006.
But were they ever in for a shock.
Catches were sporadic.
The fish were relatively small.
The catches, even smaller.
“Nobody could believe there were no fish,” Goche said.
The situation was so unbelievable that fishermen didn’t
give up. It’s not uncommon to find only few fish in April,
but later in the summer and fall, nothing changed.
They set to sea again and again, only to be disappointed.
“Everybody who went early on in the season were losing
money,” Goche said, “with very few exceptions.”
Goche lives in Coquille and fishes the Peso II out of
Charleston. His strategy was different. He chose to wait.
“The reports were so bad that I didn’t even wet a hook. I
just kept trying not to spend money until the tuna showed
up,” he said.
And it’s mostly tuna money carrying him through the
By the numbers
Fishermen find the numbers as hard evidence of what they
experienced on the ocean.
Preliminary figures from the Oregon Department of Fish and
Wildlife show that, indeed, the average income per vessel
was worse in 2007 than it was in 2006 — the year when
there was no season at all for commercial fishermen south
The department shows that more fishermen delivered salmon
this year — 424 — than in 2006, when only 358 boats
brought fish to the dock.
However, the total value to the fishermen for this year’s
season was only slightly higher: $2,704,296 vs. $2,701,269
— a difference of little more than $3,000.
“In that respect, those dollars, spread over more boats
and more effort, as far as the salmon troll fleet was
concerned, it was a costlier disaster than ’06,” Goche
He’s written e-mails to lawmakers and Oregon Gov. Ted
Kulongoski, requesting a disaster declaration — or, at the
very least, a meeting to discuss the matter.
Through Oct. 28, three days before the end of the season,
Oregon fishermen caught 34,729 Chinook coastwide. Last
year, 31,892 Chinook were caught, but only in the area
between Florence and the Washington border.
“The volume of fish was not there,” Charleston fisherman
Brendan Bates said.
Bates fishes the F/V Pacific Marit and depends on other
fisheries for a living. He’s now working on his crab gear,
like many other fishermen, anticipating the opening of the
Dungeness season in December. Some of his friends say his
boat caught more fish than most on the coast.
Still, it was below Bates’ personal expectations.
“It was bad,” Bates said. “It sounds like a disaster to
The 2006 disaster
The 2006 season, in which federal fisheries managers
closed much of the Southern Oregon Coast and Northern
California Coast to salmon fishing, was officially a
disaster. Fishermen also tried to have 2005, when June,
July and August on the South Coast were completely closed
to commercial fishermen, declared a disaster, to no avail.
But last year’s predicament was a political mess. The
complete closure was readily identified by lawmakers as a
problem. Congressmen in both states asked and asked again
for an official declaration from the U.S. Department of
Commerce. It finally came late in the year, but the next
hurdle was money.
At the end of 2006, no federal money was appropriated to
help trollers out of a bad spot. The state stepped up, but
it was only a stop-gap measure, enough to allow fishermen
to pay for some moorage, a cell phone bill, a liferaft
repack or a month or two of credit card bills.
It wasn’t until May of this year — thanks to a bill
appropriating funds for the Iraq War — that federal money
was made available.
President Bush signed the bill that made $60.4 million
available to salmon fishing businesses in Oregon and
California. Oregon’s share was about $24 million for
boats, gear shops, processors, etc.
The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission has
distributed about $9.8 million in disaster funds to Oregon
fishermen. About $462,000 has been doled out to processors
and $81,500 to related businesses, commission Executive
Director Randy Fisher said.
“We’ve set the world record in terms of getting federal
money out,” he said.
California fishermen have yet to see a dime. The
commission and the California Department of Fish and Game
had to work out some computer system details before funds
could start flowing south. Fisher said the glitches should
be worked out this week.
The Oregon salmon industry has until Dec. 31 to file for
“Oregon fishermen have been really good to work with,”
Fisher said fishermen may be facing an uphill battle when
it comes to getting this year declared a disaster.
“To me, the chances are so slim,” he said.
Passing muster with the public may be even more difficult.
Some critics see trollers driving late-model trucks and
taking vacations and ask what the money really went for.
“They got their salmon checks, paid their bills and parked
their boats,” Hallmark Fisheries Production Manager Scott
His concern is more about the greater industry: the
businesses, the deckhands, the gear stores and ice plants.
“That’s where the governor should start,” Adams said,
“with all the businesses in town.”
Some fishermen, though, are still struggling.
Jeff Reeves, one of the trollers who worked with lawmakers
last year, said his disaster check barely covered accrued
bills. He drives the same truck he has for a few years and
he has yet to get a new generator for his boat before crab
He plans to appeal the amount of his salmon check.
“In my opinion, this season is worse than 2006,” Reeves
Like Goche, he depended on better tuna fishing, spending
weeks at sea, farther offshore, instead of wasting fuel
trying to find the salmon.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management
Act was reauthorized in 2006 and amended to include the
Regional coastal Disaster Assistance, Transition and
Recovery Program, according to an Oct. 15 Congressional
Research Report for Congress on commercial fishery
“A catastrophic regional fishery disaster is defined as a
natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tsunami, or a
regulatory closure to protect human health or the marine
environment,” the report says. A declaration of a
commercial fishery failure by the U.S. secretary of
commerce under section 312(a) of the MSFCMA would qualify.
It goes on to say, “Salmon fisheries are sensitive to
natural changes in oceanic conditions; however, especially
for salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, salmon
abundance has also been affected by environmental
degradation resulting from dams, irrigation, grazing,
mining and forestry practices.”
And that is what trollers are hoping the governor,
lawmakers and the Secretary of Commerce will pay attention
Two years of regulatory closures followed by fewer fish
being caught should qualify, they say.
“Though the 2007 numbers ... are preliminary, the season
is long past and those numbers will change very little,”
Goche wrote to the governor’s office in an e-mail.
“They certainly will not change enough to show 2007 as
anything but another complete disaster for Oregon salmon