the film
Commentaries and editorials

NW Senators Want to Triple Federal Salmon Recovery Budget

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, June 6, 2002

A bill to boost West Coast salmon recovery spending to $350 million this year was aired in a Senate subcommittee hearing May 14 in Washington, DC, where reaction was generally positive. However, politicians may have to settle for considerably less since the Bush administration has budgeted only $90 million to fund recovery efforts for the coming fiscal year. If passed, the legislation would continue paying for recovery efforts that began with the renewal of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada in 1999.

The bill, S. 1825, calls for funding to be distributed equally among Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Idaho, with 15 percent going to West Coast tribes for restoration efforts. A similar bill passed by the House last year and sent to the Senate would have capped spending at $200 million annually through 2004. The bill reviewed by the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries calls for states to cough up 25 percent in matching funds.

The latest bill is being pushed hard by co-sponsors Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), who represent states that stand to reap millions more in recovery dollars than they now get. The proposal is also backed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

"Despite the fact that we saw more fish return to the Columbia Basin last year than in any year since 1938, we must continue our efforts to restore salmon in Oregon and throughout the West," Smith said. He noted that the bill would ensure that each state with threatened fish populations would get the money it needed to put restoration plans in place.

The bill would also include Idaho for the first time. Crapo testified that unless each state fully participated, the recovery actions in other states would be jeopardized. With the $350 million, state and tribal fish programs could buy fish screens, fix habitat, pay for more research and monitoring, improve harvest techniques, retrofit hatcheries, buy more water for fish, improve fish passage and control birds that eat salmon, he said.

Alaska Cites Confusion Over Priorities
But Alaska senator Ted Stevens (R) opposed funding all states' efforts equally "because different states have different problems." He said salmon fishing was much more important to Alaska than to the rest of the states combined. He said the bill confuses priorities developed out of the salmon treaty renewed between the United States and Canada with concerns about ESA-listed fish stocks in the Lower 48 states.

"Providing the same amount of money to each eligible state ignores the true nature of the problem," the Alaska senator added. He said funding for the Salmon Recovery Act has been related to fish production under the terms of the US-Canadian Pacific Salmon Treaty, not over concern for ESA-listed fish.

"The reason we put this funding in place was because Alaska agreed to forfeit fish and regulate the harvest of salmon in southeast Alaska at a rate no other state has done," Stevens said. "To begin allocating between states is entirely wrong and I will not support it the way it is."

Washington and Oregon have received $143 million out of the $258 million authorized under the Salmon Recovery Act since 2000, according to a Stevens' press release. Testimony by fisherman Bob Thorstensen, a member of the salmon treaty's northern panel, catalogued how the state had spent its share, funding new research programs and habitat conservation efforts, along with mitigating the economic effects of fishery restrictions on the fleet to boost chinook and coho returns in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. He also said some funding has paid for hatchery spending in his state.

Thorstensen said some of the money has even been spent to pay for marketing efforts to sell more fish. "Faced with significant harvest reductions under the Treaty," he said in written testimony, "Alaska seeks to gain more value from the limited harvest." The fisherman said the Senate bill didn't include language contained in the House version that would let Alaska use funds to mitigate the treaty impacts or get together with other states to cooperatively fund some restoration efforts.

Thorstensen's testimony also noted that the Senate bill would add "a cumbersome and unnecessary" peer review program, an element that Washington state had concerns about as well, according to remarks by Laura Johnson, executive director of Washington's Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Johnson said the added layer of review "will create delay and cost to our recovery participants. It is also not clear to us that the specific federal processes outlined in the measure will add accountability or criteria beyond that already included in the state's system." She suggested modifying the bill to avoid unnecessary duplication of plans and measures.

Washington representatives also expressed concern that the funding formula in the bill should not be a "disincentive" to state commitments, since considerable funding has already been generated at that level.

According to S. 1825, federal funds would only be authorized after the Secretary of Commerce approved a state's or tribe's annual salmon plan. The bill includes general guidelines that focus effort on ESA-listed fish and provide support for hatcheries that are used only to supplement wild runs.

Fishing groups from California to Washington supported both House and Senate bills, said Glen Spain, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. Spain stressed the need for getting improvements started. "Don't let the funding bog down in procedural complexities and side issues that, ultimately, are irrelevant," he said. Spain pointed out that Alaska, Oregon and Washington should have no trouble meeting minimal federal requirements for having workable salmon plans. But he noted that it might not be so easy for California. "Unfortunately, even today California has no statewide salmon and steelhead restoration plan, though several counties have combined to create a regional plan," he said.

Spain told the subcommittee that $350 million in annual funding for the next five years "is the correct amount," but that the funding should not be seen as replacing separate funding for Columbia River fish recovery or the CALFED process in northern California.

Economic Benefits of Salmon Harvest Pushed
Spain testified that the recovery goal should be described as the House bill defined it: protecting and restoring salmon and other aquatic species to "sustainable and harvestable levels." He said reinvestment in Northwest watersheds "makes economic sense," and cited a 1992 study by the Pacific Rivers Council which reported that as recently as 1988, the sport and commercial salmon industry "brought more than $1.2 billion to the West Coast economy outside of Alaska, supporting some 62,750 wage jobs. Though many of these jobs have now been lost or are at risk, a wise investment in this resource will now bring many of them back, helping to revitalize a whole region's coastal economy, and producing a multitude of other economic benefits for all."

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has pegged economic benefits at about one-fifth as much as the study Spain cited for 1988. More recently, the PFMC estimated that last year's banner salmon year was worth only about $66 million to the West Coast economy (in 2001 dollars) from sports and commercial ocean fishing.

The economic argument for salmon recovery may not hold much water these days, at least for commercial fishermen, due to the "paradigm shift" from the influx of farmed salmon to both domestic and world markets. Oregon-based seafood consultant Howard Johnson told NW Fishletter that his latest figures show farmed Atlantic salmon now account for 72 percent of sales of fresh and frozen salmon, and 86 percent of the fresh market alone. As for the future, he points to the struggle now faced by the Alaska salmon industry, which is trying to cope with the likelihood of more farmed salmon than ever on the horizon. Chile, said Johnson, has an entirely new region set aside for expanding its farmed salmon industry. In 20 years, Johnson said, there won't be any salmon fisheries as we know them now, "since it will just cost too much to chase fish."

Bill Rudolph
NW Senators Want to Triple Federal Salmon Recovery Budget
NW Fishletter, June 6, 2002

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation