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Harvest restrictions leave Oregon fishermen in need of help


 Apr 24, 2006 Medford News
Oregon Department Of Agriculture Makes Plans To Help Coastal Salmon Fishing Industry

Salem, Oregon - This month's decision to severely limit the commercial Chinook salmon season for most of the Oregon Coast has prompted a multi-faceted response by state agencies. For its part, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has prepared a response plan that offers assistance in several key areas. Closing all or most of the Chinook salmon season will have a large impact on Oregon trollers. ODA's plan can at least provide some relief in the difficult months to come.

"We want to do what we can to mitigate the impact of harvest closures on our coastal economy," says ODA Director Katy Coba. "I have asked our staff to develop a sensible and doable plan that calls for creative ways to assist the fishing industry."

Two weeks ago, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) voted to either shut down or greatly curtail commercial salmon fishing along 700 miles of Oregon and California coastline to protect depleted stocks of chinook from the Klamath River. All commercial salmon fishing from Northern California to Florence on the Oregon Coast will be closed this year. From Florence north to the Columbia River, there will be staggered openings with limits of 75 fish per week. The PFMC also cut back recreational salmon fishing but not as severely.

Some estimates place the expected chinook salmon catch this season at only 10 percent of an average year's harvest.

ODA's plan to assist the salmon industry outlines four areas of focus. The first component of the plan calls for facilitating meetings between the coastal fishermen and Klamath Basin farmers to discuss concerns and provide an opportunity for dialogue. ODA is in a unique position of having relationships with both the fishing industry- through its marketing efforts- and the agricultural operations that have been a mainstay of the Klamath County economy.

"We don't want to get into a situation of finger pointing between the two groups," says ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs. "We need to look at solutions. We believe bringing these folks together in this kind of setting provides a good opportunity for cooperation."

Just what would be the end result of such meetings is anyone's guess right now. But ODA is working with Oregon State University Sea Grant and Extension to identify key individuals from both the coastal fishing and Klamath farming groups who should be at the table to explore common goals and understanding. While some blame Klamath irrigators for the demise of the salmon run, others point to over-harvest of the fish as the reason for the decline in stocks. The ODA-led meetings will not try to resolve the blame issue, but rather try to unify an effort to identify ways of improving salmon numbers.

A second component of the plan calls for ODA and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) to resurrect the "Hire the Fisher" Program of the 1990s, in which displaced fishermen are paid to work on land-based salmon habitat restoration projects along the coast. The program provided income to salmon harvesters back when coho salmon were in peril and the commercial season was greatly restricted. Fishers helped construct riparian fencing, plant trees to stabilize streambanks, and other effective projects that improved salmon habitat.

"ODA and OWEB will identify funding and work with stakeholders to implement the program that could put some people to work who otherwise would be unemployed because of the salmon closure," says Hobbs

Funding sources could possibly include OWEB and other programs that might funnel federal disaster dollars Oregon's way.

A third component of the ODA plan to aid the salmon industry this year is to develop messages that will help protect the existing market-share for Oregon troll chinook. Those messages could be delivered through paid advertising and editorial content in trade publications aimed at the retail/wholesale market. This is especially important given that consumers are now apt to pay more for troll-caught fish compared to the farm-raised salmon so common in today's retail outlets and restaurants.

"In the last couple of years, Oregon's salmon industry has made tremendous progress in establishing a niche within the wild salmon market," says Hobbs. "It's unfortunate that there will be a disruption in the supply this harvest season. But we strongly feel that these salmon will return in future years and we want to make sure the market position for wild Oregon salmon is protected."

Among the anticipated messages to be developed are the sustainable practices employed by Oregon trollers and the responsible stewardship demonstrated by the industry.

"Oregon fishermen are not going out and catching the last salmon," says Hobbs. "In fact, this closure is a reflection of the sustainable manner in which the fish are harvested. These salmon are being managed in an abundance of caution to assure sustainability. We believe these salmon will return. It is important for retailers, wholesalers, and consumers to realize that and come back to Oregon wild salmon when the fish come back."

The final component of the ODA plan is to make sure the Oregon Salmon Commission stays viable.

"We will ensure that administrative support is provided for the future operation of the commission if assessments cannot keep the offices open," says Hobbs

Commodity commissions collect producer assessments with funds used for promotion, education, and research. Oregon's seafood commodities played a vital role in successful Brand Oregon activities in recent years.

There is no doubt that the upcoming commercial salmon season- or the lack of one- will have a deep negative impact on an industry that has had its ups and downs the past several years. Whatever ODA and other state and federal agencies can do to soften the blow will be pursued this year and future years with vigor.

For more information, contact Dalton Hobbs at (503) 872-6600 or go to http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/about_us.shtml 

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