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 Aid for salmon trollers: $500,000

Lawmakers and state officials say a recent effort to secure funding for the commercial salmon industry is a lifeline. Fishermen say it's an anchor.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a press release Thursday he will release $500,000 from his Strategic Reserve Fund to help salmon trollers prevented from fishing a full season this year.

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem/Gervais/Woodburn, and Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, also agreed to have the Legislature's Emergency Board reserve a matching amount for fishermen, but that money won't be released until September.

“This crisis has inflicted financial hardship on fishing families, who - as small independent businesses - have limited eligibility for social services, such as unemployment compensation,” Kulongoski said in the press release.

The Emergency Board also is expected to approve today the allocation of $2.2 million to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for projects that will provide job opportunities to displaced fishermen and their families.

The initial $500,000 would be administered through the Oregon Department of Agriculture, to help qualifying fishermen pay bills associated with equipping, maintaining and operating their businesses and boats. The state expects between 400 and 500 commercial salmon permit holders in Oregon could benefit from the program.

It means about $1,000 to each fisherman - enough to pay one bill of many that are coming due, said Charleston troller Jeff Reeves.

The initial $500,000 is not enough, some fishermen said.

“It was a waste of my time,” Reeves said in a voicemail about his trip to Salem to make a pitch to the Emergency Board.

Fishermen have argued since March that assistance should be made in direct payments to the fleet and associated industries, but that begs the questions: How can funds be distributed fairly and equitably? And who makes that decision?



Salmon trollers are mostly smaller boats, about 40 feet or so in length. The bigger boats can fish rougher weather, but the small vessels often can't travel as far up or down the coast to find the Chinook when the season is open. Many of the boats also fish for other species, such as Dungeness crab, tuna or groundfish, but some don't.

“We're unique,” Reeves said, noting that the fishing industry is managed under so many different regulations, that there is no way to prepare for the quick changes, such as this year's cutbacks.

“We don't know if we'll be fishing or not,” Reeves said.

Those conditions, and the unique makeup of the industry make it difficult to make an accurate economic assessment of what losses could be.

Kulongoski's press release said the losses could be up to $32.2 million. The Pacific Fishery Management Council said that income from salmon fishing in 2006 is expected to be reduced by about 64 percent over 2005 income. National Marine Fisheries Service officials said this year's season will be about 40 percent of the usual commercial salmon harvest, but it doesn't match up with Charleston trollers who have zero opportunity to catch salmon this year.

Each boat and owner is an individual entity that fishes distinctly different patterns and manages its business differently. Boat owners also are payroll clerks, maintenance crews, delivery personnel, human resources managers and business managers all rolled into one simple term: fishermen.

During early salmon assistance discussions, some state officials said that perhaps some funds could be used to pay the moorage for boat owners.

And again, trollers said that direct payments would be best.

Bandon fisherman Scott Cook, for example, pays annual moorage at both Charleston and Coos Bay. Which moorage bill would get paid? Cook asked.

“It makes no sense,” Cook says. “One guy's bill is $500, another's is $750.”

Some fishermen aren't enamored with the prospective jobs-in-the-woods programs to do habitat restoration work, either, or, for those fishermen on the Central and North Coast, to work with scientists on the ocean.

The restoration work likely will accept a little more than a dozen fishermen. Reeves wants to know what will happen to benefit the other trollers.

Still, there are trollers interested in both programs.

Jon Souder, executive director of the Coos Watershed Association, said more than 30 fishermen already are signed up to do habitat restoration work and he expects more will add their names to the list. So far, nobody's asked fishermen to sign up for at-sea science work, he said, but that, too, is important work.

“The DNA work could help resolve this situation in future years,” he said.

- Staff Writer Susan Chambers can be reached by calling 269-1222, ext. 273; or by e-mailing schambers@theworldlink.com.




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

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