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Droughts Leave California Fishermen Reeling

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Commercial salmon fishermen are struggling after several bad years of drought and a Bay Area congressman hopes to secure federal money for them.

Commercial salmon fishing season begins Tuesday and conditions are looking up along the coast.

Fishermen at Pier 45 in San Francisco are about to start bringing in this year's catch.

Larry Collins with the San Francisco Crab Boat Association said, "These last three, four years, I've never seen in my forty years, a collection of bad things happening, one after the other, after the other, after the other."

Salmon fishermen in California have had a rough couple of years. New predators in the bay and the drought hit the supply hard.

Salmon fisherman Barry Day said, "The biggest problem when you get a drought, okay, the water is low and the smolt -- the young ones -- coming down the river need a temperature, okay? And this water's been too hot for them so they're dying."

Three times in two years, the federal government has declared a disaster for California fishing.

But so far, there's been no money.

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) has been working to get the funding in this year's budget

Huffman said, "But the numbers aren't nearly enough. We've only got $20 million in the draft House Appropriations bill, and that's for the whole nation. We've got $100 million in disaster relief need in California alone."

If approved, the money would go directly to those who suffered losses.

Huffman said, "Some would go directly to fishermen, those who can document that they lost income because of the fishery disaster. But some would go to ancillary businesses - marinas, restaurants, and others - this all has to be documented and there's a process."

Even though they're in need of help, and this year's season will be short, they are itching to get back to work.

Collins said, "We have the most beautiful fish and we're really, really excited to start fishing tomorrow."

And they have a message for anyone who wants to help keep Bay Area fishing alive.

Day said, "Save these salmon. And come and eat them when I catch them. It's a pretty simple equation."

Rep. Huffman said that while there is only $20 million in the House budget, he is assured by senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, that when it gets to the Senate they will work hard to put additional money in their version of the budget.

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