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White House is 'Screwing Fishermen'

by Kate Ramsayer
The Daily Astorian, March 24, 2006

(Kate Ramsayer) Fishermen and salmon supporters listen to speakers at the Fishermen's Rally for Salmon Solutions in Astoria Thursday. Cutting fishermen's salmon catch is not the way to recover healthy salmon runs, commercial and recreational fishermen agreed at the Fishermen's Rally for Salmon Solutions Thursday in Astoria.

"Restricting fishing is not going to bring back the salmon," said Hobe Kytr of Salmon for All. "It's a smokescreen to focus on fishing restrictions and then ignore the hydropower system."

A couple hundred fishermen and politicians at the rally in front of the Columbia River Maritime Museum voiced opposition to the Bush administration's support for Northwest dams and policies that reduce fishing opportunities.

Studies have shown that the dams account for approximately 80 percent of salmon mortality in the Columbia River system, said Jim Wells, president of Salmon For All. Habitat loss accounts for another 15 percent, he said, and fishing of all kinds - tribal, commercial, and sport - makes up the remaining 5 percent of salmon deaths.

But the government's response is to promote ways to curb fisheries.

"It'll kill coastal communities like ours, it's not the way to do it," Wells said.

U.S. Rep. David Wu spoke to the assembled fishermen and warned the administration, and Bush's environment and natural resources advisor James Connaughton, not to cut into the salmon catch.

"What we don't need is some pencil-necked presidential science advisor come in here to build a wall between us and our river, between us and our fish," Wu said.

The salmon crisis is the result of the administration's mismanagement of upriver water resources, Wu said, but the response to fishermen has been "a sharp stick in the eye."

(Kate Ramsayer) Cutting commercial and recreational fishing isn't the way to bring back wild salmon populations, speakers told the crowd at the Fishermen's Rally for Salmon Solutions Thursday afternoon. "We are not going to take this, we are not going to accept this," he said.

He said that if the fisheries managers close the salmon season, fishermen should come back in August with a couple tons of dead salmon to dump at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regional headquarters in Seattle.

"If they dare to close our salmon season, we will lay the dead fish where they belong, at the doors of the people who made the bad water policy that caused the problem in the first place," Wu said.

State Rep. Brad Witt also sent a message to the federal administration, calling its policy for salmon recovery simplistic and misguided.

"We're not going to tolerate our fishing people, our heritage, being pushed off this river," Witt said. "I won't tolerate it, you won't tolerate it, and that's why we're here today. We're here to ask for help, not for destruction."

He asked the administration to work toward improving ocean conditions, the Columbia's estuary, upland spawning beds and passage for fish around the dams.

Representatives of fishing organizations spoke up as well.

Zeke Grader, of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said that the administration's "wrong-headed" policies call for "saving the dams, killing the fish and closing the fisheries."

"It's clear here that until we fix the problems of fish passage around the dams, and until we remove those four Snake River dams, things aren't going to get better," Grader said.

Looking at salmon from an angler's point of view, Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association said that people get excited by the chance to come to coastal communities to fish. Together they spend millions of dollars while they're here.

"And now our government is telling us they want to take this all away," Rees said. "They have the audacity to point the blame at harvest ... while hydropower quietly sends millions of juvenile salmon through the turbines in the name of progress."

It's vital that fishermen from along the coast unite to oppose the administration's policy, said Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. "The one thing we haven't tried is unity, and we must," she said.

"In a just world we would all be pursuing our livelihoods or our recreation," instead of making or listening to speeches, said Bruce Buckmaster. He said that there are "well-informed and powerful people" who know that cutting salmon catch won't help, but don't want "any solution that is politically or economically inconvenient."

Prior to the speakers, Joel Kawahara of the Washington Trollers Association said that the rally was a way to protest and publicize the federal government's anti-fishing policies.

"I want people to know how badly the Bush administration is screwing fishermen," he said. The rally is a watershed one, he said, in that it's bringing all kinds of fishermen together.

One of the many who attended was Bart Oja, a gillnetter from Astoria.

"The fish deserve water to be left in the river, that comes first," he said. He added that he hoped the rally would bring a change in policy and changes within the hydropower system, although he added that "it's easy to restrict harvest."

Still, as a fourth generation fisherman, he said that he is optimistic that future generations will be able to fish the river.

"I'm always hopeful. That's the nature of being a fisherman."

Kate Ramsayer
White House is 'Screwing Fishermen'
The Daily Astorian, March 24, 2006

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