Commercial salmon disaster funding awaiting congressional approval

When Washington’s congressional delegation pressured U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker into signing a disaster declaration for the state’s commercial salmon fishery, local fishermen were hopeful those funds would be making their way into local wallets by the middle of February.

However, bitter battles concerning President Trump’s cabinet nominees have dominated Congress for more than a month, and the funding will not be distributed until Congress approves the funding and designates an entity that will be in charge of doling out the relief money.

“My best guess is that until the turmoil in Congress settles down concerning President Trump’s cabinet nominations and Congress returns to a normal schedule, that’s where it will sit,” said Greg Mueller, president and executive director of the Washington Trollers Association.

When asked about the delay, a spokesperson for Sen. Maria Cantwell provided the following: “The fisheries declaration was needed in order for Congress to appropriate the money. As the budget and appropriations process begin later this year, Senator Cantwell will be requesting funding to ensure these communities receive support for projects such as fisheries recovery, job training, and infrastructure investments.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the 2015 coastal salmon season “experienced sudden and unexpected large decreases in fish stock biomass due to unusual ocean and climate conditions.” Nine fisheries were included, including Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay coho. After pressure from Washington’s congressional members, Pritzer signed the declaration Jan. 19. Once the funding gets final approval, commercial fishers and coastal communities that suffered financially during the poor season can apply for the funds, the amount of which is based on the money made during the best salmon season in the 10 years prior to the 2015 season.