Help is on the way for West Coast salmon fishers - thanks to the Iraq war.

Tacked on to the request for additional funding for U.S. troops in the Middle East was a spending bill for other projects. This will provide $60.4 million to West Coast fishers - mostly in Oregon and California - hard hit by a downturn in catches and allocations.

The move was led by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, in concert with California congressmen.

"This is long overdue relief for Oregon's fishing families," said Wyden, D-Ore. "This funding will go a long way towards preventing a disastrous fishing season from becoming an even longer-term tragedy."

Sens. Smith and Wyden first requested and secured support in 2006. But all funding projects, known as earmarks, were stripped from final spending bills in December 2006 - delaying approval of the funding by nearly six months.

"The gears of government grind slowly, but relief is finally on its way to Oregon's coast and rural counties," said Smith, R-Ore. "Our salmon fishermen and rural counties are in a tough spot, and this money will go a long way towards easing the hardship."

Almost all the commercial salmon season last year off the coasts of Oregon and California was closed to protect poor runs in the Klamath River after so many fish died in 2002 and 2003.

Last year's commercial harvest was slashed to 88 percent of normal, idling commercial boats from Astoria to California's central coast.

After initially balking at issuing a disaster finding, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared one last August.

Congress adjourned late last fall after passing only temporary spending authority for most of the federal government, and when it returned to work in January under Democratic control, Congress passed only a pared-down funding bill for the rest of the 2007 fiscal year with no money for add-ons like salmon disaster assistance.

Initially, West Coast lawmakers won a provision on a war spending bill for the disaster assistance, but Bush vetoed that measure because it insisted on a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. That timetable was later abandoned, allowing last week's action.

Bush signed the Iraq War funding measure - with the fish aid add-on - at Camp David where he is spending part of the Memorial Day holiday.


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