Farmers, fishermen discover common ground on
participants describe a 31/2-hour meeting as
“monumental” or “a hell of a meeting” and agree by
consensus that similar meetings must continue.
But that's what fishermen and visiting Klamath
County officials called the get-together at Coos
Bay City Hall on Wednesday night.
The discussion was about salmon and water, farms
and the Klamath River and the water is shared
between farmers, fish and wildlife on the
Oregon-California border country.
Commissioner John Griffith arranged the meeting.
He invited state legislators as well, making the
first tentative steps at understanding upriver
issues and downriver issues. Klamath County
Commissioner Bill Brown also attended.
There are far more similarities than differences,
Federal fishery managers slashed this year's
salmon season for commercial trollers, a result of
projected diminished returns of wild Klamath River
fall Chinook five years to the day after water was
shut off for farmers. In Southern Oregon, trollers
cannot fish at all this year. The industry is
waiting for a federal disaster declaration that
could open the way for federal aid.
We're waiting for something to happen, Griffith
said during opening introductions.
By the end of the meeting, that wasn't the case.
Sens. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay; and Doug
Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls; and Reps. Wayne
Krieger, R-Gold Beach, and Arnie Roblan, D-Coos
Bay, had solid ideas about how to proceed -
getting financial aid to trollers in the short
term and continuing to push Klamath River system
solutions in the long term.
Understanding the plight of both industries is a
critical first step, Roblan said.
“We can't lose this tradition,” he said.
Ransom put the Klamath Basin issue into
perspective by showing its change through history,
before and after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's
Klamath Project was initiated. The project, a
series of dams, storage areas and canals, is
responsible for water reclamation and irrigation
in the Klamath Basin.
And it's been the project that has created better
flows in some parts of the river, thereby
benefiting fish, as well as providing water for
hundreds of farmers in a dry, arid, region.
Most importantly, he said, the project, after 1911
or so, actually put more water in the Klamath
River. Farmers actually use only between 2 and 4
percent of the water that flows into the Klamath,
Ransom said, and that water is usually very warm.
“If not for the project, (the water) wouldn't be
there at all,” he said.
The project is estimated to be between 90- and
95-percent efficient, he said, with water being
re-used by farmers and wildlife up to seven times,
in some cases, before it leaves the system.
Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen
reiterated that point, noting that farmers have
participated in several new conservation
techniques following 2001, when the water was
turned off to the basin, and several years of
One of the issues is bureaucracy, Keppen said. In
2001, during the drought, one federal agency said
more water must be kept in Klamath Lake to protect
one species of Endangered Species Act-listed fish;
another federal agency said more water must be
released downstream to protect a different species
of ESA-listed fish. How is it possible to find a
balance under those conditions, he said.
Fishermen are in a similar situation.
There are healthy runs of salmon returning to
other rivers, but because they might catch a
Klamath River fish, they can't access the healthy
About 20 fishermen from Brookings to Newport were
in attendance, as well as one sport fisherman.
John Ward, president of the Association of
Northwest Steelheaders Southwest Chapter, said he
supports the commercial fleet.
“We want them back on the water. That's the best
solution to their problem,” Ward said.
He also commented on another issue: divisiveness.
Reports in the past have turned the water crisis
issue into a fishermen vs. farmers issue, or a
fishermen vs. tribes, or tribes vs. farmers issue.
There are so many sides to this situation that
blaming one another is not part of the solution,
several speakers said. Oftentimes, it's just
nature that introduces instability.
“I've been lobbied by so many environmental groups
to blame the farmers,” Ward said, “but we don't
want to get into that divide-and-conquer thing.”
Ward, like other fishermen, said the meeting was
Gold Beach fisherman Scott Boley recognized there
likely could be no silver bullet to fixing the
“The Klamath Basin farmers couldn't fix it if they
wanted to,” Boley said, noting that the whole
river system, all 250-plus miles of it and its
tributaries in both Oregon and California, not
just the upper Klamath Basin, must be considered.
The Klamath contingent also suggested ways the
fishermen could make their voices heard, such as
building political alliances, but one suggestion
stood out, supported by state legislators.
“Media coverage is essential,” Whitsett said.
That, more than most anything else will apply
political pressure, he said.
That gave the trollers something to think about,
though their main concern right now, is getting
Fisherman Rick Goche said by this time last year,
he'd grossed more than $20,000 salmon fishing.
This year, not a nickel. That's no way to pay
“We're desperate. We can't wait any longer,”
Charleston troller Jeff Reeves said.