“One thing I learned is not to mess with salmon stuff. The salmon get what they want around here,” one of my colleagues in Congress from the East Coast was recently lamenting, referencing how fiercely and vocally I fight for fish when I’m working in Congress.
But we’re from salmon country. We understand what’s at stake on the Columbia River.
For those concerned about the future of fishing in Southwest Washington, my message is this: Don’t quit yet; there is hope. Yes, it’s discouraging to see the majority of fish you land with bite marks in their beautiful gills, or a 15-year old sturgeon’s stomach gouged open by sea lions. I hear the worry in the grandfathers’ voices fearing their grandkids won’t have any salmon left to catch. But together, we can preserve our salmon runs for our grandkids and their grandkids.
My campaign opponent recently questioned my commitment on these pages so I want to set the record straight: I’m proud to make salmon and fish restoration what I’m known for in Congress, and I’m eager to keep pushing solutions that will make recovery a reality.
Sea lions are one of the biggest threats to the future of salmon here. After my predecessors spent years trying to address sea lion predation – efforts that I admire — I successfully led a broad, bipartisan bill through the U.S. House to more effectively remove the worst offending animals. Now, I’m working tirelessly with Sen. Cantwell to do the same in the Senate so we can get this bill signed into law. It’s not every day that Eastern Washington Republicans agree with Puget Sound Democrats on how to protect endangered species — but we managed to do that, gaining unanimous support from Washington’s congressional delegation.
But we cannot let up now.
Doing what’s necessary to preserve salmon means showing leadership and working across the aisle. It doesn’t mean using slippery, partisan attacks like my opponent did when she criticized me for supporting something she called the “Salmon Extinction Bill.” I’ll give her marks for creativity, but the bill I supported does the opposite of her claim; it extends an Obama Administration-approved, collaborative management plan of the Columbia River hydropower system formulated by local scientists and fishery managers. While it was proven to not harm fish, it would save Pacific Northwest ratepayers $40 million.
Speaking of collaboration, the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery has operated under a successful tri-state model that was set to expire in 2016. I again joined with Sen. Cantwell to permanently extend this vital fishery management agreement, keeping our Dungeness crab fishery sustainable and supporting the 60,955 maritime jobs in Washington. Such an agreement should serve as a model for fisheries around the country.
My opponent called for few actual solutions in her article, but the ones she listed — I’m already doing. As the senior appropriator from Washington, I’ve fought to include funding for hatcheries maintained in Southwest Washington, to make sure our ports and harbors are properly dredged and to guarantee that our shellfish growers have the resources they need to fight threats like ocean acidification. This funding must continue for the future of our fisheries, and you have my commitment that I’ll always make sure tax dollars return to Pacific County for their protection.
There’s more to do, and we certainly have our work cut out for us. But as long as I represent this region in Congress, I’ll fight to allow residents and local small businesses to keep doing what they love: fishing an abundant and sustainable population of salmon for generations to come.
Jaime Herrera Beutler has represented Washington’s Third Congressional District since 2011.