June 21, 2024

Salmon fishermen to see $20.6 million in relief funds – Times-Standard

Fishermen on the Klamath River are showns several years ago. The federal government announced more than $20 million in relief funds for salmon fishermen. (The Times-Standard file)

The federal government announced Thursday that $20.6 million in relief funds would be distributed in California for the fall 2023 salmon fishery resource disaster. This follows the cancellation of last year’s salmon season across the state after abysmal reports of Chinook populations in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers. Coupled with other fishing seasons cut short in Eureka, one charter fisherman characterized it as the worst fishing year in over a decade.

The funds, which a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news release said would be distributed across California in the coming months, will assist commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, charter businesses and subsistence users, plus fishery and restoration projects, job retraining and permit buybacks.

Tim Klassen, owner of Reel Steel in Eureka, said the early ending of the Pacific halibut season and shortened rockfish season along with the cancellation of the salmon season meant last year was the worst season in a long time for North Coast fishermen.

“We basically had nothing to fish for a large part of August and then September,” a time that normally is the main part of the season for Klassen, who takes people out to fish from Woodley Island.

Pergish Carlson, a Yurok fishing guide on the Klamath and one of the few who was on the river last year, said he saw about half the business as usual with the closure, instead doing catch-and-release fishing. He said that the effects of the closure impacter more than just the fishermen, noting tourists coming to fish spend money locally like at restaurants and gas stations, hotels.

“If there’s no fishing, everyone suffers from it, it ripples all the way down,” he said.

Due to historically low salmon spawns, no salmon was served at the Yurok Tribe’s 59th annual Klamath Salmon Festival in 2023.

U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said in a news release he plans to get to the bottom of why the $20.6 million fell short of the $45 million requested by lawmakers and the Governor in April 2023. The NOAA release said the funding was calculated from revenue loss information from the commercial, processor and charter sectors.

“While I am glad we were finally able to get some relief into the hands of folks who have been hit hardest by last year’s salmon fishery closure, it is grossly inadequate for addressing the severity of this disaster. We got this relief out the door faster than what’s standard in the federal government – but I know that’s not nearly quick enough for the needs of fishermen who depend on this money for their equipment, their operations, and their lives,” said Huffman in a prepared statement.

In an April news conference in San Francisco, Huffman called for the funds to be distributed quicker than in the past. A release noted he worked to pass the Fishery Resource Disasters Improvement Act that aims to streamline the process for declaring a federal fishery disaster and speed up relief, plus expands funds to charter fishing businesses and impacted tribes.

In previous years, federal aid had taken years to come to fishermen. Klassen said whenever the funds arrive, they’ll be helpful, but added “you need the money when you’re not fishing. That’s when you really need it.”

Carlson noted that it’s probably good the season was closed, that long-term believes there will be more fish. He also said that he expects the fish to rebound quicker than people think with the ongoing dam removal upriver on the Klamath, the largest dam-removal project in U.S. history, noting more habitat opening for salmon in tributaries.

“All those fish were prisoners that couldn’t get back to their homeland. They’re going to need some help — restoration or maybe hatcheries, eventually once you do a helping hand it’ll bounce back quickly,” he said.

Representatives from groups like the Golden State Salmon Association and the Pacific Fishery Management Council have pointed to agricultural diversions and drought causing the low salmon numbers. Governor Newsom, in a recent visit to Eureka, announced a salmon restoration plan that largely calls for dam removal including Scott Dam and replacement of the Cape Horn Dam along the Eel River but continues agricultural diversions, according to reporting from the Associated Press.

According to the NOAA release, Congress provided fishery resource disaster assistance funding in the 2022 and 2023 Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Acts. The release notes that fishing communities and individuals affected by the disaster should work with their state or other agencies as identified by the state, with more information about the determinations available at http://tinyurl.com/4r4n39dw.

Sage Alexander can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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