Fishermen respond to Obama’s SOTU salmon joke

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When President Obama joked about the unwieldy regulatory system overseeing salmon fishing in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, some laughed, but members of the fishing community took notice — despite the fact that the regulatory departments Obama referenced in the speech are not on the top of their list of grievances with the government.

“There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy,” the president said Tuesday night. “Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermens’ Association, told The Daily Caller that he was a bit surprised and unsure of what to make of the president’s reference to salmon fishing. He was pleased, however, that Obama seemed to be aware of the industry, despite the fact that government policies have been harming the fishing business for multiple administrations.

“At least we’re on the president’s radar screen somewhere, if just as a little blip on the outer range,” Hudson said. “The president so far has not been friendly to our Salmon and Salmon fishermen, he has continued the same tired old policies of the Bush era that we’ve been fighting all along in the courts.”

Among the frustrations salmon fishermen have are policies that make competing extremely difficult.

“[Obama] is…implementing catch-share policies [wherein fishing operations are limited to the number of fish they are allowed to harvest] that will put an end to most small scale fishing operations that sustain our coastal economies — in favor of large corporate operated trawlers that will from now on work our coasts, swoop up 90% of the groundfish out there, leaving our local ports high and dry.”

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, told TheDC that the overlapping regulatory bodies are not the problem. There are other more pressing issues the administration should address, he said.

“The bigger problem for our salmon resource and its fishery has to do with the actions of some of the other agencies, including Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, that have worked to destroy our salmon runs, and consequently salmon jobs,” Grader said. “These include dams that impede fish passage and massive diversions, such as what we have in California that dry up streams or change the flows of rivers that have nearly wiped out some salmon runs, and closed fisheries.”

Most interesting to Hudson was the president’s throw-away reference to the complications of smoked salmon. A joke to a majority of listeners, he said, is actually very prohibitive to the industry.

“Regulations on fish processing are so prohibitively expensive, it’s impossible for me to can a few dozen cans of salmon for my farmer’s market stands — on the other hand we allow imports of processed fish from other countries that don’t have these same regulations our businesses face, which makes for a real uneven playing field.”

The taxes on fish have also been a thorn in the salmon industry’s side, making it even more difficult to compete with foreign importers, as domestic producers must pay landing taxes, while importers do not.

Grader said that he understands that the reason salmon fishing was even referenced was purely for humorous effect, but the real issues facing the industry are no laughing matter.

“[E]xplaining that scenario to a joint session of Congress — where members were trying to be on their best behavior for a change — would have been difficult and probably fallen flat as a joke,” he said.

Hudson was blunter, saying though he has been impressed with Obama as a leader, he has been sorely disappointed with Obama as a fisherman, despite Obama’s State of the Union joke.