Fishing for Excuses

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The Bush Administration is fishing for excuses for how they have allowed the entire West Coast fishery to collapse at the expense of family fishermen and local businesses up and down the Pacific Coast.

I was so disappointed in the administration’s response to Congress’s investigation into the fisheries collapse. The Fisheries sub-committee of the House Natural Resources Committee held Oversight Hearing On The Management Of West Coast Salmon Fisheries’ on Thursday, May 15.

There were two panels, the first of which was made up of a member of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a Representative of the California Dept. of Fish and Game, Jack Williams, Senior Scientist for Trout Unlimited, and an outside consultant to Bonneville Power Administration. The second panel was made up of several commercial and recreational fishing people, and Jason Peltier, a former Administration appointee, and California water users association executive director.

Testimony was interesting, with the NMFS representative avoiding the tough discussion of how the 2004 Biological Opinion on salmon got changed. In fact, to my knowledge, there were no questions about this at all, and most of the answers were related to the new Biological Opinion coming out early next year. Fact is, had the 2004 opinion been release as the scientists wanted – jeopardy (trouble for fish) – it would have blocked increased water diversions from the California Bay-Delta. NMFS instead, had the opinion held up from release and sent to the SW Regional office where it was changed to no-jeopardy (no problem for fish). This allowed large increases in water diversions from the Delta, sucking up out-migrant salmon along with the water. Now, 4 years later, we are facing the first ever closure of the California and Oregon salmon fishing season.

Had it not been for Representative George Miller and other Members of Congress, the Bush Administration would not have to answer for their role in the collapse of the fishery. I would hope that Bush Administration wakes up before it is too late. People have been financially injured, tax money has been wasted ($170 million in relief going to commercial businesses, an expense that could have been avoided), people and families have been hurt (as testimony showed), and endangered species have been further pushed to the edge of extinction.

Mark Rockwell, California Field Representative

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