Image from NOAA
It's all a matter of perspective. While it may seem like a small -- laughably small even -- amount of money when compared to the massive $700 billion Treasury Secretary Paulson desperately wants to unload on Wall Street, $70 million is simply too much to ask for when it comes to salmon disaster relief, as The Fish Sniffer's (yes, that's the newspaper's name) Dan Bacher found out. As you'll recall, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, faced with a drastic decline in the Central Valley's salmon population, voted a few months ago to recommend the closure of fishing operations -- prompting Governor Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.
California state officials estimated that the drastic move would cost the state upwards of $255 million and roughly 2,263 jobs. Oregon, which was also hard-hit by the salmon fishery closures, also expects significant revenue and job losses. To help alleviate the states' pain, the Bush administration announced that it would provide $170 million in relief funding for affected fishermen and businesses. At least that's what it said at the time. $170 million: too much. $700 billion: just right.
It turns out $170 million was too much for the administration to swallow -- never mind the record sums it's been doling out left and right to save wealthy investment bankers and Wall Street traders. You see, just because Bush professes to care about America's working class doesn't mean he actually has to prove it.
As Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced in a prepared statement: ""The salmon fishery has been a mainstay of the West Coast's ocean fishing revenues for many years. This year's closure left thousands of fishermen and dependent businesses struggling to make ends meet." And that's why we're only giving them $100 million.
The total amount of monetary damages resulting from the closures is estimated to lie around $290 million. While a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries insisted the remaining $70 million will become available "later" in the year once the initial $100 million is spent, there is some evidence to suggest otherwise.
Remaining $70 million could be used to pay "an incompetent defense contractor" to handle the Census
A budget request released by the Office of Management and Budget in June recommended that the extra $70 million be diverted to pay for the 2010 Census' cost over-runs. Peter DeFazio (D-California) accused the Bush administration of "trying to steal $70 million from salmon fishermen and give it to an incompetent defense contractor."
Rep. DeFazio, along with eleven other members of Congress, wrote a stinging letter to the president last week urging him to provide the remaining $70 million (you can read the entire letter at the bottom of Bacher's piece):
"Playing games with the livelihood of fishers across the Pacific Northwest is yet another sign that the Bush administration has no commitment to protect our valuable river systems, and no interest in helping the fishing communities and economies that rely on them," the letter stated. "It is also completely unacceptable. We insist that you comply with congressional intent and immediately release the full $170 million in federal disaster aid for Pacific Northwest fishers."
The roles of the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations in precipitating this crisis
Would it surprise you to hear that the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations have blamed this crisis on poor "ocean conditions" and not on some of their own failed policies (heaven forbid)? Bacher explains:
The Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations claim "ocean conditions" are responsible for the collapse, but all of the available evidence demonstrates that it is water policies that favor agribusiness and corporate water developers over fish, the environment and local communities that caused the dramatic decline. The collapse undoubtedly occurred because of record water exports from the California Delta by the state and federal projects to drainage-impaired land in the San Joaquin Valley during the years returning salmon were supposed to go to sea. For example, 2005 was a record export year with 6.4 million acre-feet of water diverted from the estuary.
It is believed many salmon never made it out of the Bay-Delta estuary, but were instead chopped up in the Delta pumps, disoriented and stranded in dead end sloughs because of reverse flows caused by pumping, and deprived of forage. At the same time, the state of California failed to put its hatchery salmon into salt water acclimation pens, as they had done previously, during 2005 and 2006. This resulted in increasing loss of salmon to predators when the stunned salmon were released into San Pablo Bay.
Remember: If you're the Bush administration, it doesn't pay to tell the truth.
More about fisheries collapses
::Catch-Share System Could Save World’s Fisheries From Collapse
::Overfishing Update: Endangered Atlantic Bluefin on the Menu at Nobu in London, EU to Reconsider Fishing Common Policy