The Small Business Administration, armed with an opinion from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has reversed itself and declared that West Coast states harmed by the effects of the tropical currents called "El Nino" will be able to qualify for cut-rate disaster loans from the agency.

The SBA earlier had refused to offer the loans because the "evidence presented to SBA about the phenomenon . . . did not meet SBA's definition of a disaster -- a single, sudden physical event of a catastrophic nature," SBA Administrator James C. Sanders said.

But in a recent letter to Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), Sanders said that, based on information from NOAA, the agency has decided that the event was "a sudden and unique disruption in the ecological system of the Pacific Ocean which resulted in catastrophic consequences" for fishermen. The SBA has now asked the governors of California, Oregon and Washington to resubmit their requests that their their coastal areas be declared a disaster area.

Last month, the SBA had said that if the Pacific Fisheries Management Council agreed that there had been an "economic disruption," fishermen would be eligible for 8 percent regular loans. Loans under the disaster loan program are made at 4 percent.