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Fishing: Salmon trollers unhappy with state aid payments

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

THE COAST — It’s been a disastrous season for Oregon’s commercial salmon trollers. The National Marine Fisheries earlier this year closed 700 miles of Oregon and California coastline to protect decimated wild runs of Klamath River fall Chinook. What wasn’t protected were the pocketbooks of those who make their living off the salmon. The revenue lost to Oregon and California fishermen has been estimated at $16 million.

So when the state announced it had $500,000 in direct aid for Oregon trollers — hard cash to pay the bills — it was welcome news, even though the amount paled next to the losses being suffered.

But when the checks were handed out in late August, many in the fleet were disappointed and angry. Out of 360 who applied, 283 salmon trollers received checks ranging from $75 to $7,500, depending on the amount of salmon caught either in 2003, 2004 or 2005, and qualified expenses. Most of the trollers were expecting a more equitable distribution of about $1,600 apiece.

“We didn’t gain that much financial relief,” says Jeff Reeves, a Charleston-based fisherman and vice chairman of the Oregon Salmon Commission, which helped set the guidelines for disbursement.

He added that no one expected a big payout. “We weren’t expecting this program to cure us, just to be a leg up.” Most fishermen do not qualify for state unemployment benefits.

The Department of Agriculture awarded the funds based on guidelines worked out with the commission. But Reeves, who says he received a $3,300 check, said much of the commission’s input seemed to have been ignored.

“There’s a lot of animosity in the fleet over the discrepancies. Our input got lost in making those decisions,” says Reeves, who hopes the next round of payments goes to those who didn’t get much the first time.

Lauren Henderson, assistant director of the Department of Agriculture, says another $500,000 was requested from the Legislative E-Board in September. He hopes those payments, if approved, can be made to trollers by the end of October, adding that his office will recommend that the already-gathered information from the current applicants be used to speed up decisions on who gets the aid.

“Equitable is in the eyes of the beholder,” he says about the complaints. “This wasn’t for all fishermen, just the salmon fishermen. It was weighted that way. All 283 [who received a check] were different stories, and we read every one of them.”

The first round of funding, which came from the governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund, was meant to be a bridge to federal help. A bipartisan, bi-state coalition won a federal declaration of “fishery failure” in August, which covers the commercial salmon industry in Oregon and California.

— Robin Doussard

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