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Locke a Fishy Choice for Commerce

by Joel Connelly
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 23, 2009

As U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the 1920's, Herbert Hoover (or "Hoobert Heever" as a radio announcer once introduced him) used his high-profile post as a launching pad to the presidency, doing things like assuming command of response to the 1927 Mississippi Valley flood.

The post is much lower profile of late. Can you name a recent Secretary of Commerce? The only one I can think of was Maurice Stans, who became bag man in President Nixon's 1972 campaign.

But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., cites a lately acquired responsibility: The Secretary of Commerce is in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which in turn bosses federal policy on oceans and fisheries.

"I kind of like a commerce secretary who knows fish," Cantwell said late Monday.

Locke did one major good deed for the environment in the late 1990's, and it did involve salmon.

The U.S. and Canada were at odds for about four years over the Pacific Salmon Treaty. At one point, Canada's fisheries minister slapped a "licensing fee" on Yank fishing boats headed up the Inside Passage to Alaska. On another occasion, fishing boats in Prince Rupert blockaded the Alaska ferry "Malaspina."

As the controversy droned on, Locke met with Canada's then-Fisheries Minister David Anderson, a member of parliament from Victoria.

The men discovered similarities. Both married and began families late in life. Both were tired of grandstanding by rival fishermen. And both men loathed British Columbia's then-Premier Glen Clark.

Out of this came a deal in which both Anderson and Locke took risks.

Anderson stopped sport fishing off Vancouver Island for endangered Puget Sound-bound chinook and coho salmon. The coho, in particular, are a sport fish prized for testing a fisherman's skill.

In turn, Locke stopped U.S. fishermen on Puget Sound from catching the early Stewart River sockeye salmon run.

The Stewart-bound fish faced a migration of nearly 900 miles up the Fraser River and into the Stewart-Nechako River system.

An early season heat wave had pushed up river temperatures. Locke's action allowed just enough salmon to reach their spawning habitat, assuring survival of the run. Anderson gave vital breathing space to endangered runs of such rivers as the Skagit and Nooksack.

The deal was negotiated behind Glen Clark's back, and the British Columbia premier was excluded from its announcement.

If Locke becomes America's informal fisheries secretary, it's good news for endangered oceans and West Coast salmon.

Cantwell sees another advantage.

She is pushing for a U.S.-China accord on developing renewable technologies. At present, however, tariffs of between 5 and 35 percent impede trade in renewable energy technologies.

"I am excited about that aspect of the (Locke) appointment," said Cantwell.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked at length about energy cooperation in her weekend visit to China.

Joel Connelly
Locke a Fishy Choice for Commerce
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 23, 2009

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