Thirty-one California counties and two in Oregon now have low-interest federal loans to help small businesses impacted by the decision to cancel this year’s commercial Chinook salmon season.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council canceled the 2023 season in April, and the U.S. Small Business Administration declared disaster relief for those affected on November 29. This declaration enables the government to offer financial assistance to small businesses that have suffered economic hardships due to the season's cancellation. The closure of the salmon fishery was prompted by the decline in Chinook salmon populations. However, this is not the first year Chinook fishermen have struggled to get by.

According to an October 23 article from the Oregon Capital Chronicle, fishing regulators attributed the drop in population to poor habitat conditions and climate change near the California-Oregon border, where thousands of Chinook migrate from the ocean up rivers and streams to spawn.

Revenues have plummeted with the decline in the numbers of Chinook migrating up waterways, further affecting Northwest tribes in Oregon and thousands of families along the coast of the state and California. From 2018 to 2020, the Pacific Fishery Management Council imposed additional restrictions on the fishery due to the low numbers. Federal data indicates that from 2013 to 2017, the total commercial value of salmon caught in Oregon averaged more than $6 million per year, steadily dropping to $1.4 million in 2020, and has only slightly begun to recover.

In response to the disaster relief for 2018-2020, Oregon Senators Merkley and Ron Wyden stated in a press release that the “assistance is long overdue.” Fishermen also told the Capital Chronicle that they appreciate the aid, but the relief is coming years too late and likely won’t make them whole.

The loans are implemented to further assist fishermen along these parts of the West Coast with disaster relief. There are 4 percent interest rate loans for small business owners and 2.375 percent for private nonprofit organizations. According to Sonoma County officials, the loans will have terms of up to 30 years and are restricted to small businesses that can't offset the negative impacts of the closure without hardship.

“Small businesses in Sonoma County that rely on salmon fishing for their livelihood were devastated when the fishery was shut down,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the Sonoma Coast. “This disaster declaration will provide these local businesses with loans to help them recover.”

Small agricultural cooperatives, businesses involved in aquaculture, non-farm businesses, and most private nonprofits of any size may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet their operating expenses that would have been incurred if there were no disaster. The County of Sonoma states that the loans can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and bills that have not been paid because of the impact of the disaster.

Business owners can visit the California Small Business Development Center website for free recovery guidelines and to schedule an appointment for personalized counseling. SBA disaster loan repayment begins 12 months after the date of the first disbursement and will only accrue interest starting from that date. The deadline to apply is August 29, 2024.

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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