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Fishermen not the only ones feeling the pinch without a salmon season

World Photo by Susan Chambers Charleston salmon troller Jeff Reeves, right, holds a cracker for his grandson, Preston, 1, on Friday, in Coos Bay. Reeves said he was babysitting Preston, something he usually wouldn’t be doing this time of year — normally he’d be fishing. This year, though, there is no season on the South Coast and he is preparing to go to Newport to fish in June.

Many salmon fishermen feel as if they're getting the cold shoulder - and it's not because of the imminent ice plant closure in Charleston (see sidebar).

Commercial fisherman Scott Cook simplifies it: “Frustration,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has yet to declare the fishery a failure and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski hasn't yet sent a letter to President Bush requesting that he, too, declare the fishery a disaster.


Kulongoski's office said the letter is in the works and that it will be revealed at the next salmon summit, scheduled June 2 in Newport.

But in the meantime, fishermen are worried.

Charleston troller Jeff Reeves, also a member of the Oregon Salmon Commission, said he's received letters and questions from fellow fishermen asking, “Do I declare bankruptcy?”

Still other fishermen are getting late notices from utility companies and the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay in the mail.

Gear stores such as Englund Marine Supply have spools of trolling wire on the floor, waiting to be sold. Walls of lures, spoons and flashers, all used during normal commercial fishing seasons to attract Chinook, fill the pegs on the wall. During any other season, the floor would be clear and most of the lures would be gone.

Consumers, too, are feeling the pinch.

Many seafood counters don't have fresh wild Chinook or what is available is frozen steaks and filets from the 2005 season, selling at higher prices than they have in the past.



But there is some good news on the horizon.

Limited season

Chuck's Seafood in Charleston said it will take advantage of the opening of a limited salmon season in June. Trollers will be able to fish, north of Florence, four 4-day openings in June; three 3-day openings in July; one 3-day opening in August, and about two weeks each in September and October. Salmon will be trucked down.

At the same time, some local boats will travel north to take advantage of the openers. Reeves already is getting his boat ready to go, though he was spending time Friday babysitting his 1-year-old grandson, Preston - instead of working on his boat.

“Everybody's going to Newport,” Cook said.

Due to last year's short season, when three months in the summer were closed to fishing, he put off some maintenance on his boat, the Dina Maria, Cook said. He's had to forgo most maintenance this year, too, an annual cost that usually runs about $10,000.

Next year, he said, it will probably cost him closer to $40,000 to $50,000.

Options available

State agencies are working on ways to help fishermen at Kulongoski's request in March to determine ways to support the fishery.

But the effort is going very slowly, fishermen said.

One of the options is to hire fishermen for work in the woods on habitat enhancement.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board on Friday filed a $2.2 million request with the emergency board, a 17-member joint House and Senate Committee with the authority to release money from the state's emergency fund when the Legislature isn't in session.

The money, if approved at the E-board's June 22-23 meeting, would employ displaced fishermen to enhance habitat and also to do ocean research, OWEB Executive Director Tom Byler said Friday.

The ocean work would provide fishermen participating in the limited season more money, Byler said. The project would coordinate Oregon State University researchers with salmon trollers to collect data to monitor salmon movements in the ocean.

“It would give us a better understanding of what's happening out in the water with the fish,” Byler said.

The ocean work could benefit long-term management, Byler said, and the income would benefit fishermen in the short term.

Both projects hinge on two things: Will the money be available and will fishermen want to do it?

There already is some interest, even though the jobs require a few qualifications.

About a dozen fishermen have expressed interest, said Coos Watershed Association Executive Director Jon Souder.

“Our intent, at least, is to get a program available to people this summer so they can start paying their bills,” Souder said. “We know they can do good work. We've had them before.”

Bills piling up

Several fishermen, including Cook, received bills from the port indicating overdue moorage - something that's concerned Cook since he's always been able to pay his annual moorage in June.

But this year, it's tough.

So the port is stepping up.

“We're deferring annual moorage payments for the salmon fleet,” Charleston Harbormaster Don Yost said, noting that about 100 fishermen could be eligible.

The requirements are simple, he said: The troller must have fished for salmon in the last two years and be current with the annual moorage payments and interest.

An average annual moorage rate for a 40-foot commercial boat runs about $1,000, Yost said.

Applications for deferred payment are available in the port office in Charleston.

“There are probably about 10 guys already that are signed up, Yost said.

Boat moorage isn't the only concern, though. Sure, the boat is a fisherman's home away from home, but rent and mortgage payments also are coming due for many fishermen.

In partnership with the Oregon Housing and Community Services, Southwestern Oregon Community Action is trying to help out.

Robert More, the director of Housing and Emergency Services for Southwestern Oregon Community Action, is putting together a proposal in preparation for the June 2 salmon summit.

“That's what we're working on,” More said, but the agency still is gathering information.

“It would be helpful if we'd have had a chance to find out from the fishing community before this ... a little more information about the target population, the size of it, what their needs are,” More said. “We're in the preparatory stages of what we can do to help.”

Help from the farmers

Outside of official channels, Klamath Basin farmers, too, are helping out.

The Klamath Relief Fund, a fund started a few years ago to help farmers, has been reactivated - but this time to help fishermen.

“These hard-working individuals have much in common with the farmers and ranchers of the Klamath Basin. It is clear that they would much rather work than receive financial assistance,” a flyer from the fund reads.

Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen said the FFA board authorized him to do what he could to help fishermen, after a joint fishermen-farmers meeting in Coos Bay in early May.

The fund most likely would help fishermen with what needs to be paid the most, not direct payments to the fishermen, Keppen said in an e-mail. A liferaft re-pack or a mortgage payment, for example.

Is it enough?

It's more than two months into what would normally be a salmon season.

E-board money may be available for watershed work and South Coast representatives, Sen. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, also are working on ideas, Reeves and Cook both said.

But no resolution from the federal government is having a bigger effect.

Without a Commerce Department declaration of a fishery failure under Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, little or no federal funding will be available. With no declaration from the president, no emergency unemployment funds can be released, nor can Federal Emergency Management Administration help be made available.

“It's good and bad,” Cook said.

The fishermen who take advantage of the jobs on land won't be able to keep up with their boat work. And if there is retraining available to trollers, that just takes fishermen out of the fleet at a time when the fleet is looking for young fishermen to carry on the tradition.

“That's just kind of alarming,” Cook said.

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

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