Groundfish observer program called crucial for cutting wasteful bycatchCongress has approved $100 million for West Coast groundfish and salmon recovery efforts.

The spending package includes $1.5 million for the Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory. OSU will receive nearly $11 million in federal dollars for research.

"This will allow us to stay in a very competitive and productive mode," said Jae Park, a professor at the seafood lab in Astoria. "We will continue to search for new findings and new solutions, particularly for Oregon industry."

Oregon will receive a significant portion of the money for groundfish projects, which was included in the omnibus spending measure that will now be signed into law by the president.

"Oregon's fishing communities are part of our heritage and an important part of our state's economic future," said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "This investment will help preserve that heritage for the years ahead."

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., also welcomed the move.

"Improving the ability of our fishing families and communities to better contribute to the state's general economy is essential," Smith said. "This bill is a great commitment to an integral Oregon industry."

The omnibus spending measure includes $5 million for management of the West Coast groundfish fishery, as well as money for two additional groundfish programs:

• $5 million for the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program. Supporters say this is an essential effort to help quantify total catch in the West Coast groundfish fishery. When West Coast fishers bring in too much bycatch - species of fish they don't intend to catch - the fishery can be shut down for a time, scientists say. These funds will pay for observers to gather more accurate data on bycatch amounts to prevent premature shutdowns of the fishery, which has been depressed in recent years.

• $1 million for West Coast Groundfish Cooperative Research. This has included fishers in stock surveys and fishery management. Fishers benefit from the use of their boats in this research, and the research is enhanced by the fishers' expertise, they say. These funds will support cooperative research projects to collect data for stock assessments and complement the current research being used for West Coast groundfish fisheries management.

The groundfish research funding represents an increase over previous years, and it will be critical to rebuilding fish stocks, according to Peter Huhtala of the Pacific Marine Conservation Council, an Astoria-based conservation group that pushed hard for the increase.

"We're totally pleased that the program is getting bolstered," said Huhtala. "It gives us information that will help us fish smarter. ... Better scientific understanding helps us come out of this groundfish crisis in a reasonable way."

Other programs in the omnibus bill include:

• $90 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, of which Oregon will receive $13,133,000 - These funds are used to support habitat restoration, data collection, evaluation and monitoring at the local watershed level - exercises that scientists say are critically important to salmon recovery and habitat restoration.

• $1.5 million for the Oregon Trawl Commission to help West Coast shrimp fishery more aggressively market their products and develop new markets.

Columbia River hatcheries will share more than $16.5 million for facility improvements, monitoring, and evaluation. These hatchery programs help support a $60 million recreational fishery in the Northwest. A portion of these funds will also be used to maintain and install fish screens throughout the Columbia Basin.

Wyden said the money for OSU is important.

"All industries benefit greatly from successful research and development, and so too do the areas that are home to those innovations," said Smith. "By promoting agricultural discovery and invention we can ensure Oregon is a future industry leader."

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