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Fishermen rally; salmon ruling due on Thursday

AP Photo Bill Waterhouse joins more than 200 other sport and commercial fishermen and supporters, protesting the proposed closure of salmon fishing off the Oregon and California coasts, during a rally in Sacramento on Tuesday. A final decision on the season is expected on Thursday.

SACRAMENTO - The political heat rose a notch Tuesday, when hundreds of sport fishermen rallied at a federal fisheries management meeting to protest proposals to curtail or eliminate Chinook fishing along most of the Oregon and Northern California coasts.

Members of the largest saltwater angling association in Northern California, the Coastside Fishing Club, carried picket signs and crowded into meeting rooms and hallways at the Doubletree Hotel as rain poured outside. Two police cars also patrolled the parking lot or were parked outside.

Inside, the Pacific Fishery Management Council was making its first attempt of the week to design a season around an option that mandates no season at all.


That option, a closure, was the preferred option of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that must ultimately approve the council's decision. Even though there were two other options that allowed some fishing, those didn't meet scientific standards, a guidance letter from the agency said.

The restrictions are aimed at protecting fall Chinook salmon on Northern California's Klamath River, where water diversions for agriculture in recent years have led to low water levels, poor water quality and dwindling numbers of spawning fish.

“This year the fish numbers aren't looking too good,” said Todd Ungerecht, a senior policy adviser at the fisheries service. “If we were to allow a regular harvesting season, it would put further strain on the salmon at a time when we have to be really careful there are adequate numbers to spawn and replenish.”

Also on Tuesday, several lawmakers, including four of Oregon's five congressional representatives, signed a letter that requested the National Marine Fisheries Service immediately declare the fishery a failure if the council decides on a complete closure. The economic analysis can wait, the letter said, because congressional representatives will have to move quickly in order to get any funds to the communities that need them.

“First, you should immediately declare the salmon fishery a disaster and provide us with an initial estimate of the direct compensation costs to fishers and deckhands,” the letter said. “You should then begin analysis of community economic impacts associated with peripheral industries such as retail and lodging. These peripheral industries are vital to the economic and social health of our coastal communities and should not be ignored. However, we recognize that quantifying these impacts will require more time and analysis by your agency.”

In a separate letter on March 31, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said he empathizes with fishermen who could be affected by the closure and also urged the council to design seasons that will lessen the blow to sport and commercial fishermen.

But he also criticized the council and said that low flows on the Klamath have little to do with this year's situation.


“I simply don't accept the assertions made that the federal government's management of water flows in the Klamath River is the primary reason for dwindling fall Chinook salmon numbers. It is inconceivable to me that family farmers and ranchers, who use less than 4 percent of Klamath River flows, are somehow responsible for the potential closure of this commercial salmon fishery .”

The council will again take up salmon issues on Thursday, when it expects another few hundred fishermen, commercial trollers this time, to rally.

California fisherman Dave Bitts will be among them. The longtime fisherman, a member of the Klamath Fisheries Management Council and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations' expert on the Klamath, said in a press release that fishing on Klamath stocks this year likely wouldn't hurt fish population in the long run.

“Through the emergency rule, we would tap into 10 percent of the available biomass of this year's Sacramento salmon run with very little Klamath impact. The easy question to ask is: Is saving an extra 3,000 Klamath salmon worth putting the whole coast out of business? The answer is NO.”

- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

(Susan Chambers writes on fisheries issues for The World. She is in Sacramento covering the meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.)




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

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