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By Michael Dembrow
Dembrow, D-Portland, is the state senator representing District 23 in the Oregon Legislature.
Sportfishing is a tie that binds. It can bridge the urban-rural divide, business and conservation interests, Republicans and Democrats. People everywhere love to fish.
But fishing is only possible when there are abundant fish in our rivers. That’s why we need Oregon’s members of Congress to make sure there is funding next year for the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund.
Congress established this recovery fund in 2000 to help support restoration of the streams, creeks, rivers and wetlands that salmon and steelhead need to thrive. Salmon recovery is important to Oregon. More than half a million people fish in Oregon each year, spending $1.4 billion per year and sustaining nearly 13,000 jobs, according to the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
This year, Columbia River salmon returns are shockingly low. Most predictions for adult salmon and steelhead returns are at just half the 10-year average. Spring, summer, and fall fishing will be extremely limited, with more fisheries closed than open. Summer chinook fishing below Bonneville Dam will be prohibited this year for the first time since 2002. It’s one of the worst seasons since the 1990s, and the effect on local businesses and economies will be significant.
What can we do? We start by refusing to stop the work that’s already been done and remains in progress. For the third year in a row, the Trump Administration is zeroing out funding for this program in its proposed budget. We urge Congress to restore funding to the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund.
The state also contributes to this vital salmon recovery work. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board was first funded with salmon recovery fund money in 2000 to distribute recovery fund money to local watershed councils, conservation districts, and other groups working on the ground and in the rivers to restore salmon and steelhead habitat.
Since then, the enhancement board has spent about $200 million in recovery fund money to restore salmon habitats in Oregon, according to its 2019 grant application to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The board has also smartly leveraged federal money with state lottery dollars, as well as proceeds from salmon license plates, to bring the full amount distributed to $566 million.
That’s big money in Oregon, particularly in the rural communities where many of these restoration projects take place. Axing the fund eliminates more than a quarter of Oregon’s annual budget for habitat restoration.
Here in Oregon, that money has helped restore, create, or protect 650,000 acres of salmon habitat and opened nearly 8,000 miles of streams to spawning fish, according to the grant application. Oregon has a proven and effective system for getting these projects done, and the numbers show it.
We can’t stop now. It’s going to take time, effort and sustained investment for salmon and steelhead populations to recover. We’re confident that Oregon’s congressional delegation will do what it takes to make sure this funding is maintained so Oregon can get back to work – and go fishing.