Federal agency declares West Coast salmon fishery a disaster | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Federal agency declares West Coast salmon fishery a disaster

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press Writer

GRANTS PASS, Ore. ” Federal authorities have declared the West Coast ocean salmon fishery a failure, opening the way for Congress to appropriate economic disaster assistance for coastal communities in California, Oregon and Washington.

The declaration Thursday stems from the sudden collapse of the chinook salmon run in California’s Sacramento River, where the salmon return to spawn. Scientists are studying the causes of the collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.

Only 60,000 chinook are expected to return to the river this fall, about a third of the minimum set by fisheries managers for spawning the next generation. That compares with 775,000 that returned in 2002 when times were flush.

“This is a bleak year,” Jim Balsiger, acting assistant administrator of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, said at a news conference Thursday in Portland, Ore.

The fisheries service, the federal agency in charge of salmon management, estimated that the value of this year’s lost catch was $22 million and that direct income losses to sport and commercial fishing boats, processors, bait shops and other related businesses were $60 million in the three states.

The states’ governors, who requested the declaration, have estimated that those losses rise to $290 million as they ripple through the economy. California is seeking $208 million in disaster aid, Oregon $45 million and Washington $36 million.

“Certainly this has a dramatic effect on all the coastal fishing communities,” said Bob Lohn, Northwest regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries.

This marks the second year in the past three that a federal fishery failure has been declared for West Coast salmon, and last year’s catch was poor, despite liberal fishing seasons. Fishing cutbacks in 2006 because of the collapse of chinook run in the Klamath River, which straddles the Oregon-California line, caused a drop in catch value estimated at $16 million. Congress appropriated $60 million in disaster assistance that was distributed last year.

Fisherman Jeff Reeves said he was happy to hear of the latest declaration because disaster assistance from the 2006 season closure kept him from bankruptcy.

“Salmon was my moneymaker,” Reeves said from his boat off Charleston, Ore. “It just seems to be getting more and more difficult to stay in the fishing business.”

The Sacramento chinook run is the backbone of commercial fisheries off California and Oregon, where the Pacific Fishery Management Council last month recommended the first total shutdown in ocean salmon fishing. Poor returns along the coast left room for only vestigial sport and commercial fishing off Washington this year.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said members of Congress from the West Coast hoped to attach a disaster aid measure to the supplemental war funding bill expected to make it to the Senate floor in coming weeks, but the amount remains to be worked out.

He added that the White House has opposed attaching extra measures to the bill, but he was confident that Congress would approve aid before the end of the session.

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