Our View: Reauthorized act offers bonus

December 26, 2006 11:00 pm

Though the lame duck 109th Congress adjourned without getting much done – it left most of the budget decisions up to incoming Democratic 110th Congress – it did manage to achieve one feat that directly affects us in Del Norte County: It reauthorized Washington's control over coastal fisheries.

Known as the the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act, the measure establishes the nation's jurisdiction over fisheries to 200 miles off the coasts, establishes eight regional fishery councils to recommend federal fishery management measures and sets standards of conduct for the nation's fisheries. Originally passed in 1976, it is reauthorized roughly every 10 years.

But 2006's reauthorization appeared to be in doubt for some time. Some congressmen didn't want to be accused of giving handouts in a lame duck session.

This time around, the reauthorization included language to enhance recovery of Klamath River salmon stocks, and to make fishermen hurt by salmon fishery closures during the 2006 season eligible for disaster relief. Local Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., played an instrumental in getting those measures into the bill.

Kudos to him. Those steps clearly were needed.

Federal mismanagement of the Klamath River largely is to blame for depleted stocks, and so Washington ought to own up to is responsibilities of correcting their mistakes. Indeed, though salmon stocks have been falling for decades, this marks the first time since 1986 that Congress moved ahead with Klamath restoration efforts.

And while closing salmon season was the right step to take for restoration of the fish population, leaving people to flounder after taking away their livelihood was wrong. Disaster relief is a small step in correcting that federal misstep. After all, Washington subsidizes farmers for voluntarily not growing crops so land can be in conservation areas; certainly Washington should pay fishermen after forcefully taking away the equivalent of their land and crop – the ocean and fish.

Managing our coasts requires an overarching management system that only the reauthorized act can provide. That it also corrects federal mistakes is a bonus.