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Bush Tries to Raid Salmon Disaster Funds

by DAN BACHER

West Coast Representatives and leaders of fishing groups are outraged by an attempt by the White House to yank $70 million in disaster funding from commercial and recreational fishermen in order to pay for the census.

The Bush Administration’s Office of Management & Budget (OMD) on Monday, June 9 sent a proposal to Congress to amend the President’s budget to take $70 million of the $180 million that West Coast Representatives put into the farm bill for disaster assistance for fishermen devastated by fishing closures off the coast of California and Oregon and in Central Valley rivers.

West Coast Democrats reacted to the proposal by sending an angry letter to President Bush calling his proposal to take the disaster funding from fishermen in order to pay for a failed contract to the Harris Corporation assigned to do the 2010 Census as “unconscionable.”

“This proposal is especially egregious when you consider that your administration’s water policies on all of the Pacific Northwest’s major salmon rivers are the reason this disaster funding is needed in the first place,” the letter said.

The Representatives noted that three different courts have found the administration’s water plans for the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia/Snake Rivers to be illegal and in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“These failed policies have resulted in over 80,000 dead adult salmon in the Klamath River, record low returns to the Sacramento and Columbia/Snake River systems, two fishery disaster declarations issued by the Secretary of Commerce and two years of fishing closures impacting thousands of families and small business,” the letter continued. “The states of California, Oregon and Washington estimated this year’s closure alone will have a $290 million impact on these fishing communities. Scientists expect similar low returns to the Sacramento next year and another closed season for most of the West Coast.”

Representatives Mike Thompson, Peter DeFazio, Darlene Hooley, Anna Eshoo, Jim McDermott, Brian Baird, Doris Matsui, Lois Capps, Lynn Woolsey, Earl Blumenauer, David Wu, Rick Larson, Sam Farr and Jay Inslee signed the letter.

“To suggest that the money to pay for this contract mistake is diverted from emergency disaster payments is yet another blow delivered by your administration to the fishing families and small businesses in the Pacific Northwest,” they stated. “It is a clear sign that your administration is not committed to protecting these river systems and has no interest in helping the fishing communities and economies reliant on them.”

Dick Pool, president of Pro-Troll Fishing Products and coordinator of Water for Fish (www.water4fish.org), said news of the attempted raid of the disaster relief was “very distressing considering the devastating financial impact that the salmon fishing closure is having on the recreational and commercial fishing industries of California.”

“I’m not surprised to see Bush trying to take away needed money from our community,” said Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Fisherman’s Association and coordinator of the SalmonAid Festival that took place in Oakland on May 31 and June 1. “Through his actions over the last few years, he has told us time and again that we don’t matter to him. What would you expect from a man who wants to declare dams as natural structures and lets rivers run dry? That he would allow a dime to find it’s way into the pockets of hard working people who oppose these dams, diversions and pollution of our waters?”

The Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations continue to blame “ocean conditions” for the sudden and unprecedented collapse of Sacramento River fall run chinook salmon, while a broad coalition of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes and conservationists contends that increased water exports from the California Delta and declining water quality play a major role in the collapse. The Central Valley fall chinook population has declined from over 800,000 fish in 2002 to under 60,000 this year.

The decline of the Central Vallley fall run chinook parallels the collapse of four pelagic (open water) species – delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass and threadfin shad – in recent years. A panel of state and federal scientists has pinpointed changes in water exports as the number one reason for the collapse, followed by toxics and invasive species.

More recently, two studies conducted by Richard Dugdale, a San Francisco State University oceanographer, contend that ammonia from Sacramento’s treated sewage discharge may be killing Delta smelt and other species (Stockton Record, June 11).

Fortunately, it is unlikely that the White House will be able to push his proposal through Congress, based on strong opposition from both Democrats and Republicans.

“This request is a slap in the face to the scores of salmon fishermen in Oregon who are struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the largest salmon closure in West Coast history,” said Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-Oregon). “Rest assured there will be a strong bipartisan effort to ensure that these cuts don’t go through.”

DAN BACHER can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com

 

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Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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