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Hold on: West Coast fishermen need help
Sen. Ron Wyden should keep his grip on a fisheries bill until Congress approves aid to Pacific salmon fishermen
June 08, 2006  The Oregonian

S en. Ron Wyden has a hook in the jaw of the biggest ocean fisheries bill before Congress. The Oregon Democrat should not let it go until Congress and the Bush administration agree to aid West Coast fishermen.

Wyden has placed a "hold" on the bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the guiding law for U.S. offshore fishing. It is unfortunate that Wyden had to resort to blocking such important legislation, but it seemed there was no other way to get the Bush administration's attention to the crisis facing the West Coast salmon fishing industry.

Commercial salmon fishermen along more than 700 miles of Oregon and California coasts face a steeply curtailed season this spring and summer because of the collapse of the Klamath River's wild chinook run. It is clear that fishermen, fish processors and many associated businesses will suffer millions of dollars in losses, but so far appeals for federal help have been largely ignored.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has asked for a major disaster to be declared along the Oregon Coast. Oregon and California lawmakers have introduced three bills seeking money to aid the crippled fishing industry. It's also crucial that the White House and Congress invest some money to begin to fix the cause of the salmon crisis, the warm and polluted Klamath River.

So far, though, all the shouts for help from the West Coast have fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

Wyden has seized on a way to get some attention. He ought to hold on to Magnuson-Stevens for as long as it takes to get a disaster declaration and aid committed to the West Coast. It is far from business as usual for Pacific salmon fishermen and their families, and until they get help, it should not be business as usual for ocean fisheries anywhere else.

Yes, this country is at war, the rebuilding costs from Hurricane Katrina are huge, and the federal budget deficit already is enormous. But there is room in the federal budget for a modest package of aid to keep afloat a salmon fishing industry that is vital to many West Coast communities.

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