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 Oregon to provide $1 million to coastal fishermen
Regional dispute clouds distribution of disaster aid

The Associated Press and The Daily Astorian 6/25/06

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and legislative leaders said Thursday the state will provide $1 million to commercial salmon fishermen struggling because of a reduced fishing season.

Kulongoski plans to release $500,000 from his Strategic Reserve Fund shortly. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, agreed that the Legislature’s Emergency Board will reserve another $500,000 to be released in September.

Administered through the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the assistance program will help qualifying fishers pay bills associated with equipping, maintaining and operating their businesses and boats. About 500 fishermen could benefit.

Oregon commercial salmon fishermen face financial woes in the wake of a drastically shortened salmon season along a 700-mile stretch of Oregon and Northern California coastal waters announced by the federal government in April. The federal government took the action to protect struggling runs of Chinook salmon returning to the Klamath River in Northern California.

According to an economic analysis in May prepared for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the total potential loss to the Oregon fishing industry, individuals, and communities is approximately $32.2 million, along with approximately 700 full-time equivalent jobs.

“The 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.

Minnis concurred. “The impacts of this year’s curtailed salmon season will have economic repercussions beyond this season. We need to do what we can to make sure that fishermen, their families and the industries that support them are not forced out of business.”

In related action, West Coast salmon fishermen waiting for up to $80 million in disaster relief from a sharply curtailed fishing season are caught in a dispute between a regional fisheries office and the national headquarters.

A disaster recommendation from a regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service – which helps clear the way for the fishermen to receive aid – was overruled by officials at the agency’s suburban Washington headquarters.

A final decision is not expected until February, well past the end of the fishing season, said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who is furious over the delay.

Thompson, who represents California’s north coast, used an expletive as he accused officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of “lying” about the disaster declaration, which has been pending for nearly two months.

“I’ve got fishermen who are going to lose their boats, and bureaucrats who have never missed a paycheck are completely ignoring a real-life disaster,” Thompson said.

A spokesman for NOAA Fisheries acknowledged that a “decision memo” recommending a disaster declaration was sent last month by the agency’s Southwest regional office in California.

But the memo was sent back “because it was outside their scope,” NOAA spokesman Jeff Donald said Thursday.

Regional officials “are not the ones who make the decision, and they were asked to correct” the May 19 memo, Donald said. “It’s not the Southwest region’s decision to make. It’s the secretary’s,” he said, referring to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Donald denied Thompson’s claim that a decision has been put off until February, saying the agency is “trying to work through the process and trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.”

Thompson and other West Coast lawmakers have criticized Gutierrez for inaction, saying West Coast fishermen are losing millions of dollars while federal bureaucrats procrastinate.

Since April, when the Bush administration reduced the season, officials have said they are studying the issue, despite requests for help by Kulongoski and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The Department of Commerce hasn’t moved fast enough to declare a fisheries failure,” said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. “The bottom line is, we have fishermen without a fishing season, and our fishing communities need help.”

Smith and other West Coast senators worked to include a salmon disaster provision in a major fisheries bill approved this week. The bill, which reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, makes salmon fishermen in California and Oregon eligible for disaster assistance.

Smith has estimated economic losses in Oregon alone at more than $20 million, and Thompson said total losses could exceed $80 million.




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

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