December 06, 2006

Wyden slams Administrationproposal for salmon disaster relief

Senator has sought disaster assistance by blockingfisheries legislationand in repeated calls with Dept. of Commerce this year

Newport, OR - After meeting with commercial fishers in Newport to discuss the Administration's latest response to the salmon fishery crisis, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today blasted the Commerce Department for proposing Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to help salmon fishers instead of direct aid or a declaration of a commercial fishery failure.

"What our fishing communities needed to hear from the Secretary of Commerce is that real help is on the way now," Wyden said. "Instead, our fishers have been invited to take on more debt at a time when they're already on the financial brink."

According to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez's announcement last night, the SBA could provide low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans. However, according to fishers at Wyden's meeting in Newport and several Oregon banks contacted about the SBA loan proposal, SBA loans will not work for this type of disaster because many fishers — shut out of this fishing season, after a bad season last year — would not have the collateral, current income or a dependable income for the future in order to qualify for loans.

The Secretary announced his proposal for SBA loans in a conference call last night with Wyden, U.S. Senators Gordon Smith, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Governors Ted Kulongoski and Arnold Schwarzenegger and members of Oregon and California's House delegations. During that call, Wyden also pressed Gutierrez to contact the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, and ask for assistance in getting emergency disaster assistance funding through Congress; the Secretary agreed to call Cochran.

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed 90 percent of the fishery. The closure has already resulted in millions of dollars in losses to fishermen and communities dependent on the salmon industry. In response to Administration foot-dragging, Wyden temporarily blocked a major piece of fisheries legislation, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2005, until after his amendment making salmon fishermen eligible for disaster assistance was added to the bill. The inclusion of Wyden's amendment, if also adopted by the House, clears the way for the congressional delegation to pursue much-needed disaster aid.