The remaining $70 million in disaster relief for the West Coast salmon fishery is going out.
That will bring to $170 million the aid being distributed to salmon fishermen and related businesses as a result of last summer's collapse of California chinook and Oregon coho stocks.
Congress initially appropriated $170 million for salmon relief, but the Office of Management and Budget tried to hold back $70 million for another purpose.
NOAA Fisheries Service regional director Bob Lohn says Congress would not go along with the request, and now the money is going out.
The news was welcomed by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, who has been among those pressing for the money to be released.
In September, Baird and other Northwest lawmakers sent a letter the Office of Management and Budget demanding that the remaining $70 million be released. In total, Washington will receive about $22 million in federal disaster aid.
"The salmon fishing industry is vital to the economy of Southwest Washington, and to the Northwest as a whole. When it suffers, so does the rest of our economy. We've seen that over the past few months," said Baird. "Getting this aid to these commercial fishermen will not only help them survive during these tough economic times, but will help us all in the long run."
The collapse of Sacramento River Fall Chinook, combined with the poor status of Coho salmon from Oregon and Washington, led officials to close all commercial and sport Chinook ocean fishing off California and most of Oregon last spring. Only a small hatchery-origin recreational Coho fishery off central and southern Oregon remained open, which also affected Washington fishermen.
"This year thousands of salmon fishermen were told they couldn't go to work, and that they'd have to find another way to support their families. That is the definition of a financial disaster," said Baird. "It's unfortunate that it has taken almost six months to get this money released, but I'm glad that today we've finally been successful."
NOAA will provide the money to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission is distributing the money to fishermen and related businesses affected by this year's closure of the ocean salmon fishing season off California, Oregon, and Washington based on agreements with the three West Coast states.
So far, officials have sent aid to over 2,000 commercial fishermen with fishing permits. An additional 1,400 checks have been sent to businesses and others affected by the salmon closure. Businesses affected by the salmon closure can download application forms from the commission+s Web site at (www.psmfc.org)
Applicants must be licensed state permit holders or have purchased a state business license or permit in 2007.