Congressmen Schrader and DeFazio Fight for Oregon Fishers

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By Congressman Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-05) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-04) led the Oregon Democratic congressional delegation today in sending a letter to Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke, urging him to provide an extension of the 2008 salmon disaster so that the unspent $50 million from last year’s appropriation can be distributed expeditiously.  The request comes on the heels of the recommendation on Wednesday by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to close the commercial salmon fishery in California and Oregon south of Cape Falcon again this year.

“Fishing is an integral part of the culture, community and economy of our coast,” said Schrader.  “Today’s decision will be devastating to thousands of local families and small business owners.  We need to work together to find a long-term solution to the continued issues on the Sacramento River.  In the meantime, our coastal communities need assistance now.  They can’t afford to see this assistance caught up in bureaucratic red tape.”

“The Council’s long-awaited recommendation comes as a huge blow to the fishing industry in my district and across the Pacific Northwest.  It is imperative that Secretary Locke extend the 2008 disaster and release the remaining $50 million in funds so that our fishing communities can weather this storm,” DeFazio said.  “Short-term assistance is critical so that folks can make boat payments, insurance payments, mortgage payments and keep food on the table in this already struggling economy.”

The PFMC recommendation to the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) to curtail the commercial and recreational salmon fishing season in Oregon is due to the continued decline in salmon returning to the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers, which typically make a significant contribution to the Oregon fishery.  Unfortunately, since these depleted stocks will be co-mingled with other stocks, the entire season must be closed.  Usually, the salmon season runs from May 1 through October 31.  Before 2006, more than 800,000 Chinook salmon were caught annually during this season, but the number of returning salmon has dropped precipitously in recent years and the California and Oregon fisheries have experienced closures the last three years.  NMFS must decide whether to approve the Council’s recommendation by May 1.

The letter is below:

The Honorable Gary Locke
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Locke:

We are very concerned about the projected low returns of fall run Chinook salmon to the Sacramento River system and request your immediate personal attention to this issue.

The 2006 commercial salmon fishing season collapsed due to poor Chinook salmon returns on the Klamath River.  The 2008 commercial salmon season was even worse than 2006 because of near record low returns of salmon on the Sacramento River, and preliminary reports from the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) predict another very poor return of Sacramento fall Chinook for 2009.

Sacramento River salmon are caught in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia and are considered the ‘driver’ of commercial salmon fisheries off the Pacific Coast.  The unprecedented collapse of the Sacramento River Chinook salmon stocks is devastating to the commercial salmon fishing fleet and related businesses along the entire west coast of the continental United States.

For 2008, NOAA estimated that the loss of the commercial and recreational harvest would result in a $60 million loss in personal income, not including the additional impact to the retail sector, including equipment to processors, boat repair and sales.  South of Cape Falcon, a complete closure of the commercial fishing season will result in a $21 million loss in commercial ex-vessel revenues alone.

It is important that the Department take immediate steps to help fishers and local communities that depend on the commercial and recreational salmon fishing industry.  Specifically, now that the Pacific Fisheries Management Council has made its recommendation for the 2009 ocean salmon season we request you move quickly to provide an extension of the 2008 disaster so that the unspent money from last year’s appropriation can be distributed expeditiously.

In addition, we ask that when you make your determination of how the remaining funds are to be distributed that those decisions are not based upon last year’s request, but that the money is reallocated between the affected states based on current need so that all communities that rely on the salmon season receive some disaster assistance.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to your response and stand ready to assist in any way.