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  The Oregonian 6/3/06

Kulongoski tells trollers he's working on aid

Salmon - The governor says pleas to Congress and the administration disaster help are getting no response
 
PETER SLEETH

NEWPORT -- Gov. Ted Kulongoski appealed to President Bush Friday, asking for a major disaster to be declared along the Oregon Coast due to a partial shutdown of the commercial salmon fishing season.

The governor's request is one of many coming from his office and Oregon's Congressional delegation in recent months, seeking money to pay fishermen. All so far have gone unanswered.

In a town hall meeting here, Kulongoski asked an audience of about 100 local politicians and fishermen how long the commercial trollers might need help.

"I need to know whether this is going to be a long-term strategy," he said.

The answer: Poor returns to the Klamath River stock of fall Chinook salmon could continue through 2008, meaning long-term financial aid may be needed to keep the fishing fleet alive. Kulongoski said he would factor any future needs into the state budget for 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the governor faces a stiff fight in the November election.

Trollers from central California to northern Oregon are being forced to drastically reduce their catch along a 700-mile stretch of coast so that fishery managers can protect dwindling runs of Klamath River salmon. Because Klamath River salmon can be found in the ocean north and south of the mouth of the river in Northern California, fishery experts have reduced all fishing to minimize the catch of Klamath salmon.

Three bills have been introduced in Congress asking for more than $80 million to pay fishermen for their losses. None have yet had any success. Similar appeals for a declaration of a commercial fishing failure to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez have not been answered. Kulongoski's plea to President Bush on Friday was sent in a letter through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Kulongoski told his audience Friday that he would support asking the state's Legislative Emergency Board for $2 million to begin assisting fishermen. The board meets later this month in Salem.

How much help Oregon's commercial salmon fleet needs is a matter of debate. As part of Congressional legislation, the governor's office has identified $20 million in needs but in Kulongoski's letter to President Bush Friday, he identified $32.2 million in losses.

Independent and federal economists interviewed by The Oregonian have come up with a much lower figure -- less than $12 million.

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Even as the governor met with officials in Newport's city hall, salmon fishermen along the waterfront were preparing their boats for the start of the commercial trolling season. While the recreational fishing season is continuing largely intact, the commercial fishermen will get to fish just 16 days in June, along with a smattering of days in July and August. Traditionally, the commercial season extends from March 15 to Oct. 31.

Jeff Reeves, a former commercial fisherman from Charleston, on the southern Oregon coast, told the governor that despite Kulongoski's efforts and those of other politicians, he and his family were still in great jeopardy.

"We've gotten nothing so far as of today," Reeves said, calling most state programs a "baby bandage."

Reeves said his 23-year-old son would be heading north to Newport on Saturday to fish in approved waters for salmon. His son, he said, fishes alone and is facing rough weather in the narrow window of time during which he is allowed to haul in chinook salmon.

"I'm very worried about him," he said. "I'm going to have a knot in my stomach bigger than normal."

Kulongoski echoed many fishermen who believe the commercial fishing industry could fail if the problems on the Klamath River are not resolved. The problems on the river include four dams that do not allow any fish passage and upstream withdrawals of water for irrigation that leave low water flows, which in turn help breed disease in warm stagnant waters in the lower river.

Solutions to those problems will take years if not decades to remedy, experts agree. In the interim, members of the commercial fishing fleet are hoping a healthy catch this summer combined with high prices for their salmon will nurse them through another year.

Paul Heikkila, a Coos County fishermen and former extension agent for Oregon State University, told the governor his grandfather had first commercially fished out of Astoria in 1906. This year, Heikkila said, he wants that tradition to continue.

"If I don't catch a salmon this year, it will be the first time in my family in 100 years," he said.

 

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