Oregon and California’s four senators, all Democrats, stepped up the pressure on the Trump administration Wednesday to approve disaster assistance for salmon fishermen along 200 miles of coastline.
In April, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages coastal salmon seasons, recommended closing coastal and commercial salmon fishing entirely along an area equal to roughly half of Oregon’s coastline. Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Jerry Brown of California requested emergency funding relief in May, to no avail.
The fall chinook fun on the Klamath is the biggest and is important for recreational and tribal fisherman as well as commercial fisheries. The Yurok tribe, which has preference along the waterway, also had its allocation severely curtailed this year, to roughly 650 fish. Management officials estimated returning salmon to be roughly 12,000.
Oregon has had success in securing emergency assistance for salmon fishery disasters under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Emergency funds were approved in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and their California counterparts, Sens. Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris, sent a letter Wednesday to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division urging action before the end of 2017.
“In both of our states, closed or curtailed salmon fishing seasons have resulted in severe economic hardship felt throughout the seafood supply chain,” the senators said. “Working waterfronts have been unable to address basic repairs and upkeep. Seafood processing jobs have been lost. Fishermen have left the industry, unable to make a living on the water. These additive effects have resulted in a weakening of our coastal communities which, if not provided for, may be lost.”
The 2017 closure comes on the heels of a poor 2016 fishing season on the Klamath River, which winds its way from Southeast Oregon until it meets the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.
California officials estimate a $2.5 million revenue hit for its fishermen.
In an interview this past June, Pacific Fishery Management Council Deputy Director Mike Burner said poor ocean conditions were the main driver behind the fishery closure
But drought conditions and other factors like several dams on the Klamath River also pose a challenge. Three dams on the river are slated to be removed by 2020.
Burner said the conditions – and the fishery – go through cycles. As recently as 2012, the fishery projected 1.6 million fall chinook, but those projected returning spawners was one of the lowest on records earlier this year.
If approved, disaster funds could help compensate fishermen for lost revenue in 2016 and 2017 as well as provide job training, low interest loans and offer research assistance to help study the Klamath fishery.