WASHINGTON D.C. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Tuesday the groundfish disaster money that he, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Congresswoman Darlene Hooley, D-Salem, sought to help Oregon communities cope with the groundfish crisis will finally be released to Oregon.

Wyden held a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing last week to highlight the hardships faced by fishing communities on the Oregon coast and to press the administration to release the disaster money Wyden negotiated for Oregon in the summer of 2000.

Upon returning from the hearing, Wyden spoke with incoming Commerce Secretary Donald Evans on Friday urging him to immediately release the funds. Secretary Evans personally notified Wyden of the release of the funds in a phone call Tuesday morning.

I am disappointed that it took a congressional hearing just to release money Congress had already appropriated, but I am relieved that help is finally going to find its way to communities that have struggled as a result of the groundfish decline, said Wyden.

I am deeply appreciative of Secretary Evans willingness to hear me out and act within 72 hours to correct the situation. I am also pleased that Ms. Darm followed up on my request last week, he added.

At the Senate Commerce Committee field hearing he chaired in Newport last week, Wyden and Congresswoman Darlene Hooley pressed the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest regional director, Donna Darm, on the agencys failure to deliver the disaster money to Oregon coastal communities.

Wyden told Darm that seven months had elapsed since Congress had made the emergency appropriation, and Darm replied that grant proposals would be accepted by May.

Is it acceptable to take a year? Wyden asked. The U.S. Congress said it was a disaster.

A year does seem like a long time, Darm said.

With Tuesdays announcement, groundfish disaster funding has now been released contingent upon receipt and approval of Oregons final grant proposal detailing intended use of the funds.

In the past five years, landings of West Coast groundfish have dropped drastically and National Marine Fisheries Service has listed eight species as overfished, officials said. In 1999, the Pacific Fishery management Council imposed drastic cuts, ranging from 14 to 85 percent, depending on the species, on the amount of allowable groundfish harvest.

In January 2000, then-Commerce Secretary Daley declared the groundfish fishery a disaster. Wyden, Smith, Hooley and other members of the California, Washington and Oregon delegations then got $5 million approved for distressed communities on the West Coast.

In the summer of 2000, Wyden initiated negotiations with the other West Coast states to apportion the $5 million dollars, and he was successful in landing $1.75 million for Oregon, officials said.