Salmon fleets seek political help
By Susan Chambers April 10, 2008, The World, Coos Bay
“You take a Boeing or a Microsoft out of Seattle — that’s the kind of hit we’re taking,” said Butch Smith, owner of Co-Ho Charters out of Ilwaco, Wash., and chairman of the Salmon Advisory Subpanel. “This is devastation times two. Times three.”
Sport and commercial fishermen are facing a complete closure, at worst, and only limited days of fishing or non-retention fisheries at best. The Pacific Fishery Management Council and its subcommittees are wrestling with these decisions this week as it meets in Seattle.
The audience for the subpanel was different on Wednesday. Instead of fishermen, scientists or conservation groups, the audience comprised staff members from the offices of Washington lawmakers – and they were listening.
Members of the subpanel made it clear they were asking for: a Congressional investigation into why all three biological opinions related to the Columbia, Klamath and Sacramento rivers don’t stand up to judicial scrutiny. They asked for pressure to have this year’s salmon season declared a fishery failure and for federal appropriations for disaster funding for West Coast communities.
California salmon troller Duncan MacLean, one of seven trollers who visited lawmakers in Washington, D.C., recently, reiterated the need for an investigation.
“Political powers have taken over the process,” MacLean said.
National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinions for all three watersheds are repeatedly shot down in court, he said. Biological opinions are thick documents that detail how a manmade action — a dam or water diversion for instance — will affect certain species or habitats.
“It’s almost a standing joke — in this (fishing) community — as to how long the BiOps will last,” MacLean added.
Other fishermen concentrated on the impending disaster due primarily to the fewer returning fish to the Sacramento River, but also to other West Coast rivers, too.
“This year we have collapses up and down the coast,” Charleston troller and subpanel member Paul Heikkila said, and it will affect communities from Neah Bay (Washington) to Mexico.
Then he made a bold proposal — one that took into account what federal regulators have been dealing with in preparation for a fishery failure announcement: Should Washington be included? Stocks are down in northernmost state but the situation is not as clear-cut as it is in California and Oregon.
Expand any disaster relief program to include Washington and also the recreational fishery sector and related businesses, Heikkila said.
“It’s pretty easy to figure out the impacts when you zero out everything,” Heikkila said.
Lawmakers’ staff members countered with a reality check.
“Budgets are really tight,” said Clark Mather, the district director for Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who is on the House Appropriations Committee. “We have to fill a lot of holes. We have a lot of work to do.”
He said more money for habitat and hatchery work may be difficult to come by — several agencies’ budgets have been cut in recent years — but said lawmakers will “definitely track your disaster request.”
Heikkila said the fleet has just little more than a month to obtain a fishery failure declaration and request lawmakers propose legislation for disaster funding appropriations.
“The process is in place,” he said, referring to programs that have been divvying up funds to trollers and related businesses since the 2006 Klamath River failure.
The full council considered revisions to proposed seasons and sent those revisions out for further consideration to the scientists on the salmon technical team — but not before further discussion.
As on Tuesday, the talks centered around proposed genetic stock identification studies.
National Marine Fisheries Service representative to the council, Frank Lockhart, repeated again what he told the council in March and on Tuesday.
“Even allowing the GSI is a tough decision,” he said.
Scientists estimate even a non-retention study would impact between 500 and 1,000 Sacramento fall Chinook. Is it worth the risk, Lockhart asked.
The study would provide stock structure and distribution information, he said, and continue a time series already started two years ago.
“However, the benefits are not short-term,” Lockhart said. “The study won’t give us information that will help us next year.”
At the same time, “not doing it this year could endanger the utility of those studies,” he added.
The council plans to make a final determination on 2008 seasons today.