Three Hundred Protesters in Astoria
by Peter Sleeth
Chinook - Federal threats of severe restrictions or a closure draw 300 people to Astoria's waterfront
ASTORIA -- Facing the potential of unprecedented shutdowns of salmon fishing on the Pacific coast, fishing interests from California to Alaska rallied Thursday in Astoria to oppose fishery policies of the Bush administration.
Dining on grilled salmon and the red meat of political rhetoric, about 300 people gathered on a plaza near the docks under a blanket of gray skies. With a mirrorlike Columbia River in the background, U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., vowed to collect dead salmon from fishermen for delivery this summer at federal offices in Seattle if West Coast salmon seasons are closed.
"If they dare to close our salmon season, we will leave the dead fish at the doors where they belong," Wu said to a cheering crowd.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council is meeting in 10 days to decide whether to shut down the commercial and possibly the recreational salmon season from the northern Oregon coastline to Monterey, Calif. The reason for the shutdown is a perilous drop in returning fall chinook salmon to the Klamath River in Northern California, but restrictions on salmon fishing from the Columbia River north also loom, along with more cutbacks along the Columbia River itself.
An amalgam of fishing families, politicians and environmentalists flocked to the rally. Many of the men who operate commercial salmon trawlers say they face ruin if they lose an entire season . The crabbing season began late this year, with a poor catch, stressing already tight revenues for the fishing fleet.
"I don't know, I'll have to try to chase tuna or keep crabbing," Don Burrus of Newport said. "I can maybe hold my head above water."
Burrus said he has spent years fishing the Oregon coast and Alaska, only to run headlong into some of the hardest times fishermen have faced in Oregon. He brought along his wife and teenage daughter Thursday to lend their support.
Speakers called for the removal of dams on the Salmon and Klamath rivers, and a reduction in irrigation allotments to farmers. Zeke Grader of the San Francisco-based Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations said his 1,500 members are primarily commercial trawlers who face ruin by federal policy in the Klamath Basin. He blamed low river flows from too much irrigation and dams without fish ladders.
"What's the Bush administration's reaction? Close the fishery," he said. "These are the people that brought us (the response to Hurricane) Katrina. Go figure."
The Bush administration has made it clear that it wants to restrict fishing to try to help revive failing stocks of wild salmon in the Columbia River. In a speech in January in Portland, a senior official with the administration, James Connaughton, told scientists that outdated hatchery programs and harvesting of wild salmon must slow. "We cannot improperly hatch, and we cannot carelessly catch, the wild salmon back to recovery," he said. Those words alarmed those in the fishing community, who worry they will be put out of business.
Chris Rampley, 33, of Newport said he got into the commercial salmon fishing business three years ago, investing thousands of dollars in his 34-foot boat. He is concerned today that he will not be able to survive cutbacks. Further, he said, too many fishermen are going to be forced 200 miles out to sea in the hunt for tuna. Most salmon boats are not equipped for that deepwater fishing, he said. They will face mortal danger, and some will probably sink, he said.
"Fishermen will not be coming back," he said.
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