Thursday, January 20, 2000
By Associated Press For years, U.S. West Coast fishermen who suffered from sharp declines of ling cod, rockfish and other groundfish appealed for federal help.
Catches along the coast have gone from a 20-year average of 74,000 tons to less than 36,000 tons last year. This year, they are projected to be 27,000 tons.
Fishermen complained that they have been caught between a decline in available fish, on one hand, and government regulations that continually cut into profits, on the other.
On Wednesday, the federal government stepped in, declaring a fishery disaster for West Coast groundfish, a move that opens the way for future relief for fishermen.
"I'm glad something is coming about," said Steve Bodnar, executive director of the Coos Bay Trawlers Association. "Fishermen have been asking for years for something to be done besides more regulations causing them to throw fish overboard."
The value of groundfish landings has dropped from $90 million in 1994 to $50 million in 1999, according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets ocean fishing limits. The fishery failure declaration put the direct loss suffered by fishermen at $11 million.
"This determination is the first step in the process of securing funds from Congress to assist fishermen who have been hit hard in the past several years," U.S. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said.
The Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association is putting together a proposed relief package to present to a congressional delegation, said executive assistant Georgia York.
It might include buybacks of boats and permits, changes in regulations to let boats fish on more than one permit, better fish population research, employment of fishermen in research, help for fishermen who want to change careers and protection of shoreside facilities.
The federal government recently provided $25 million to buy back New England fishing boats after the collapse of the cod fishery in the Gulf of Maine, as well as economic relief for Northwest salmon.
Bodnar said $20 million could buy out the boats and permits of half the fleet of 240 boats fishing groundfish off California, Oregon and Washington, making it possible for the remaining boats to make a living.
Bob Eaton of the Pacific Marine Conservation Council in Astoria said it was important to produce a relief package fast.
"One of the things we found in salmon relief is it came so late people's boats were gone, businesses were gone, there was nothing left for folks by the time they got relief that could have helped them."
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