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June 23, 2006
What's happened
May: The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board requested $2.2 million of state lottery proceeds for five projects that would employ fishermen in salmon research or restoration work.


Thursday: The General Government Subcommittee voted to approve the funds for fishermen. Part of the funding will be withheld until fishermen's interest level is assessed. In a surprise request, the state asked for $500,000 to give directly to salmon fishermen in need, with the possibility that another half a million be given to fishermen in September.


today: The Legislative Emergency Board is expected to approve the subcommittee's recommendation and move forward with the funding request.


in the next several months: Fishermen could begin working on the projects, which include assessing salmon stock, planting along stream banks, identifying barriers to fish passage and collect public input on salmon recovery plans.

Panel passes aid package for fishermen

A surprise request for direct assistance is part of relief plan

June 23, 2006

Bandon commercial fisherman Jim Gagnon said the state's latest efforts to help salmon fishermen deal with limited catches this season are "nice" but not likely to bring in substantial income.

Even with multimillion-dollar projects on the horizon for fishermen, Gagon said he will be lucky to make half his normal income fishing for salmon this year.

A subcommittee of the Legislative Emergency Board on Thursday approved a request for $2.2 million that will include hiring fishermen for streamside restoration projects, a salmon inventory and assessment research, and a project to identify fish barriers.

And in a second, unannounced agenda item, the subcommittee approved a $500,000 request to bail out fishermen who can't afford mortgage or insurance payments or necessary safety equipment for boats.

"That would definitely help. Anybody would be foolish to say 'no,'" Gagnon, 45, said about the direct assistance. "But I am not into handouts. I would rather be about catching fish and making a living."

Most of the Oregon Coast is off-limits for commercial salmon fishing to protect depleted stocks of Chinook salmon from the Klamath River.

Although coastal fishermen wondered whether the state's help would keep them in business, others wondered why the state didn't help other communities suffering economic losses because of endangered-species protection.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said the state didn't offer assistance to communities dealing with the decline in the timber industry.

"We are setting a very, very scary precedent," he said. "I think this is good politics, but we aren't helping anyone."

However, Smith approved the request along with the rest of the panel made up of five state legislators.

By offering $500,000 -- plus the possibility of another $500,000 in September -- the state can try to get federal money, said Katy Coba, the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which will administer the money.

The proposal for more state money stemmed from two salmon summits called by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Coba said.

State money can provide limited short-term relief to the coastal fishing industry, with the expectation of greater federal aid to come, Coba said.

Kulongoski asked legislative leaders for $2 million in direct aid to fishermen in a last-minute proposal submitted Wednesday. That was well after the Legislative Emergency Board agenda was set and after several dozen agenda items were evaluated by analysts from the executive and legislative branches. Kulongoski offered to put up $500,000 of the money from his discretionary pot of economic-development funds, normally used to provide incentives for companies to locate in Oregon.

The proposal won support from a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing the Oregon Coast.

On Wednesday night, negotiators for the governor and legislative leaders agreed to a slimmed-down aid package. The deal provided up to $1 million in direct aid to fishermen, and required measures to ensure the money is spent properly.

In April, Kulongoski declared a state of emergency for Oregon's counties affected by the closures. He's been unable to get a federal disaster declaration.

Jeff Feldner, a commercial fisherman in Newport, said he had hoped for a federal declaration, which would provide more assistance.

All commercial salmon fishing from Northern California to Florence is closed for the year, and some fishermen can't even afford the fuel to get north to fish, Feldner said. Just topping off the fuel in Feldner's boat recently cost him $1,400.

From Florence north to the Columbia River, there will be staggered openings with limits of 75 fish per week. Fishermen currently are getting about $3.50 or $4 per pound.

But Feldner has high hopes for a salmon research project. The project -- one of five proposed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board with $2.2 million from state lottery funding -- will employ fishermen to collect DNA samples and data about location and species while they are fishing for salmon.

About 50 vessels could receive a maximum of $1,500 per trip for this project.

Feldner said not only will the project help some fishermen bring in more money, but the research could help the salmon industry take a lead on management of the fishery.

Plus, it is the first time researchers would have "real-time" data about salmon stocks.

For other projects proposed for salmon fishermen, managers at the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board will have to gauge fishermen's interest levels before getting all of the funding.

For Gagnon, it's unlikely he would take one of those jobs.

"That's nice, but it will just keep the wolf away from the door," he said. "It would be my last resort. I could probably do something (else) that would make more money."

bcasper@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 589-6994; slaw@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6615




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