With a historic salmon fishing ban keeping the West Coast fleet tied up at the docks, a top Bush administration official Thursday declared a fishery failure that could allow the industry to land a $60-million federal bailout.
Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez's announcement comes amid what he called "the unprecedented collapse" of the salmon population off California and Oregon.
By proclaiming a salmon fishery failure for waters off the two states, Gutierrez gives Congress a green light to consider a bailout of the West's fishing industry for the second time in the last three years.
Congress approved more than $60 million in aid after salmon runs crashed in 2006 on the Klamath River and commercial fishing was restricted.
This year, recreational and commercial salmon fishing are banned because of a historically low return of fall-run Chinook to the Sacramento River, normally the most productive spawning ground in the West. Officials estimate the lost season will once again cost the industry at least $60 million.
-- Eric Bailey