Democrats Seek Disaster Declaration
by Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Democratic House members from California and Oregon called Thursday for disaster relief for salmon fishermen and others affected by sharp fishing reductions in the Klamath Basin.
"This will result in catastrophic economic losses for fishing families and for fishing dependent communities," said the letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez signed by California's 33 House Democrats, led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, along with Oregon's four-member Democratic delegation.
"The estimated loss to the West Coast commercial fishing fleet could, by conservative estimates, be tens of millions of dollars," the letter said.
California Department of Fish and Game biologists have said the likely cause of the low returns this year is the increasing numbers of young fish succumbing to parasites as they migrate to the ocean. Last month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council set ocean salmon fishing seasons sharply shorter than last year to be sure a mandated 35,000 Chinook return to the Klamath River to spawn.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that overseas ocean fishing, is looking at whether losses suffered by salmon fishermen qualify for a disaster declaration under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs ocean fishing. A disaster declaration would qualify fishermen and others for long-term, low-interest loans and other assistance programs.
The letter sent Thursday asks NOAA to speed its deliberations and declare a disaster by May 31. A NOAA spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.
Farmers, fishermen, Indian tribes and conservation groups in the Klamath Basin have been fighting over water since 2001, when the bureau cut off supplies to farms during a drought to meet Endangered Species Act mandates for fish. Irrigation was restored the following year, but more than 30,000 adult fish died after returning to the river and succumbing to gill rot diseases in low warm water conditions.
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