A Daily Astorian headline above a rockfish story recently asked "Is the end near?" The answer, we learned last week, is a qualified yes.

This may not be the apocalypse, but we can hear the dogs barking in apocalypse's yard.

Starting Sept. 1, Oregon and Washington trawlers will be barred from fishing in water depths between 600 and 1,500 feet. Next year, restrictions will take an even bigger bite out of annual commercial revenue of $153 million in Oregon and $77 million in Washington, a fair portion of that right here in Clatsop and Pacific counties.

In short order, the closure will tighten the noose on many fishermen and processors, already pressed to the limit by years of salmon restrictions. Foreclosures and bankruptcies become more likely, representing an awful toll of disappointment and broken dreams.

A once-promising new avenue for the sport charter fleet will be torn up. Avoiding accidental catch of the most threatened rockfish could mean effective closure of the entire area, in effect restricting recreational fishing to state waters within three miles of shore.

As displaced trawlers switch to near-shore waters and fisheries, additional competition for other scarce resources is certain. This is a particular concern for crabbers.

And if trawlers switch to deeper waters, they'll need to go as much as 20 to 40 miles offshore. This means additional expense and risk.

All this will send a slow-rippling tsunami through other segments of the local economy as jobs and spending related to commercial fishing dwindle: A crewman who won't be buying a new truck this year, a spouse who has to buy peanut butter instead of meat, a skipper who can't make his house payments.

This region has absorbed some hard punches in the past. Ultimately, it will survive this as well. With fewer viable industries, for a time there will be less money circulating through the community. That is never a good thing.

We cannot look forward to a quick turnaround in populations of threatened rockfish, some of which may take 50 years to recover.

Nor should we look for changes in federal law. While mismanagement and poor information brought us to this point, there are strong indications that this is a genuine biological crisis, not a contrived ploy by environmentalists and bureaucrats. No matter how much it hurts and how much we dislike the consequences, the end of fishing as we've known it is inevitable. Continuing to hammer species into extinction is not an option.

What will it take to make this right?

Federally funded license and boat buy-backs are a partial answer. Congress is showing support for this, though at only a fraction of the $250 million needed coastwide.

While mothballing boats may stave off some instances of personal disaster for affected fishermen, it won't do much to help communities like ours counteract loss of a major economic driver.

Our communities, our people, need more options. Cash-strapped state and federal agencies are unlikely to be much help, though tax incentives for employers and career retraining programs are worth seeking.

The real answers rest with us. We can be whining victims. Or we can figure out new ways to win. The choice is ours.

However difficult it may be, we must continue investing in our communities, our homes, our businesses, our streets, our schools. We must renew and strengthen our commitment to diversity, to the arts, to celebrating our past and imagining our future. We must continue to beautify our downtowns, preserving the good, encouraging property owners to correct the bad.

If we do all these things, economic success will be a natural consequence of living in an indescribably lovely place that is well managed by its own residents.

This is no distant dream. It is within our grasp.

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