Our View: Disaster relief necessary for salmon losses

January 09, 2007 12:00 am

Kudos to Rep. Mike Thompson and Sen. Barbara Boxer for making the local salmon fishing industry a priority. On the first day of the 110th Congress, they introduced companion $60.4 disaster relief bills in their respective houses.

It's a much needed relief to help many Del Norte and Curry county residents and businesses hurt during this nation's largest commercial salmon fishery disaster.

The relief would make amends for federal mismanagement of the Klamath River. Federal water policies led to the death of 80,000 adult salmon on the river in 2002. The deteriorating population caused the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to reduce the fishing seasons – by more than 90 percent for commercial fishermen last year alone. Preliminary reports indicate the commercial salmon season will be have to be reduced this year, too.

Even if federal policy were not to blame, there is no disagreement that a disaster has occurred. Indeed, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared a fishery disaster last August. Because of that, more than 1,000 commercial salmon fishermen in California and Oregon lost the season and a major means of their livelihood. Indeed, curtailing the salmon season cost about $60 million to the regional economy. Any other natural disaster – a tornado or earthquake, for example – would warrant disaster relief.

Does the bill have a chance of passing? Similar appropriations efforts weren't successful last session, despite being supported by the governors of Washington, Oregon and California, our county boards of supervisors, the Klamath Water Users Association and the California Chamber of Commerce. Fortunately, a number of local lawmakers are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. And most telling, Ann Warden, communications director for Thompson, said Thursday that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is "very aware" of the plight of West Coast fishermen. Pelosi, we should note, was supportive of Thompson's salmon disaster relief during the 109th Congress.

Perhaps the 110th Congress will distinguish itself by making a decision based on what moves the nation forward. Approving relief for local salmon fishermen would be a big step forward locally.

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