Commerce Department to Consider West Coast Salmon Disaster

March 24, 2008

The Bush administration said it recognizes the seriousness of the potential shutdown of ocean salmon fishing off Oregon and California this year and will consider as soon as possible whether to declare a federal fisheries failure.

“We will work with the governors of California and Oregon to gather the necessary information and make a determination regarding a commercial fishery failure declaration,” Ann Marie Hauser, press secretary to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, said in an e-mail. “We are committed to doing this as soon as possible.”

Federal fisheries managers are considering closing ocean salmon fishing off Oregon and California this year to protect struggling chinook salmon stocks from California’s Sacramento River Basin. Lawmakers from Oregon and California sent Gutierrez a letter earlier this month asking him to quickly declare a federal fisheries failure.

The declaration is necessary before Congress can provide assistance for struggling salmon fishermen and related businesses.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he talked to Gutierrez on the phone and was told that NOAA Fisheries Service, the federal agency that overseas salmon restoration, was looking into whether it had the authority to make a fishery disaster declaration before the season has started.

“I wanted to convey the urgency I’ve heard from town meetings around the state,” Wyden said. “I want to see if we get a jump start and get the heavy lifting in terms of data and information they need off earlier — get it done earlier. I think it’s clear what we’re looking at.”

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will decide what to do with the season in April. It is considering three options, from a bare bones season to no fishing at all off Oregon and California.

Federal fisheries failures are normally considered after the end of a fishing season, when detailed economic data is available, but after severe cutbacks in the 2006 salmon season off Oregon and California to protect struggling Klamath River stocks, members of Congress were able to convince Gutierrez to act earlier.

After the failure was declared in August 2006, Congress appropriated $60 million in aid. It was distributed in the summer of 2007.

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