House OKs $2M for Salmon Fishermen After Tough Season

The House approved $2 million Wednesday for salmon fishermen suffering from a sharply curtailed fishing season because the government is more tightly limiting their catch.

The money is a fraction of the $81 million West Coast lawmakers want. But frustrated over the Bush administration's failure to declare a disaster to help the fishermen, lawmakers hope the vote will keep the door open to add more money later.

"It's a good down payment for the money we need. This gives our senators a large opening to fill out the funding," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

The measure is necessary "so we will be able to revisit and address the very real disaster that's happening on the coast of California and coast of Oregon — a disaster that's unfortunately been completely ignored by this administration," said Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of coastal Northern California. "Our failure to act would be nothing less than immoral."

Thompson's measure passed on voice vote as an amendment to an annual spending bill funding the departments of Justice, Commerce and State. The underlying bill was expected to pass by Thursday.

The amendment would move $2 million from the Commerce Department's administrative funds into the general fund of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help the fishermen.

Lawmakers hope they can add more money as the bill moves through the Senate and then to House-Senate negotiations.

The vote came the day after a tense meeting between lawmakers and top NOAA officials over the disaster declaration request. Lawmakers emerged angrily declaring they had been told there would be no decision on the disaster declaration until February — months after the fishing season ends.

In April, the Bush administration sharply restricted commercial salmon fishing to protect the dwindling population of the endangered Chinook salmon in the Klamath River.

Under the new rules, NOAA officials say they expect the fishing seasons will produce about 40 percent of the fish normally caught by salmon trollers on the West Coast. But salmon fishermen expect only 10 percent of the normal catch in the 700-mile stretch of Oregon and Northern California affected by the fishing restrictions.