Coastal chinook fishing may be cut

Recreational and commercial fishing for chinook salmon could be lost off the Southern Oregon and Northern California coasts again this summer amid another grim forecast for Sacramento River salmon.

Improved, yet still poor, returns of chinook bound for the Sacramento could again drag down fishing opportunities in this region, where last year no chinook fishing was allowed in the ocean for the first time in history.

Released Wednesday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council's salmon abundance forecast estimates that about twice as many fish this year are expected to be bound for the Sacramento than returned last year.

But the estimated 122,196 fish forecast for the Sacramento would only return if all ocean fishing were banned for chinook, and it would still place returns at the bottom end of the range of spawners targeted by the PFMC, council documents show.

However, about 81,000 fall chinook are bound for the Klamath River, almost twice that of last year and well above the so-called "escapement" floor level of 35,000 adult chinook, the report states.

Since those fish intermingle with other chinook stocks along Northern California and most of Oregon, managing for the Sacramento's escapement drives sport and commercial seasons to protect the weaker Sacramento stock.

Last year, that meant no chinook fishing all spring and summer from Cape Falcon south to Mexico.

Short October and November sport and commercial fishing seasons were allowed off the mouths of the Chetco and Elk rivers, targeting chinook headed up those rivers to spawn.

Todd Confer, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Gold Beach, said he hopes the forecast includes "a little bit of wiggle room" to open a short recreational season around Labor Day off the mouth of the Chetco at Brookings, where a large derby is held that weekend.

"I certainly would like that flexibility," Confer said. "That would be significant to the local economy."

The council, which advises the Department of Commerce on fishing issues, will set season options and has scheduled hearings on those options March 30 in Coos Bay and March 31 in Eureka, Calif.

The council was scheduled to set this year's seasons during its meeting April 4-9 in Millbrae, Calif.

Wednesday's report was met grimly in Brookings, where Sporthaven Marina owner Mike Ramsay estimated he lost $50,000 gross earnings from the chinook closure last year.

"It's killing everybody here," Ramsay said. "We can't rely on just salmon. People have to diversify."

But not all of the forecast was so grim.

Returns of young "jack" salmon to the Klamath in 2008 were the second highest since 1986, possibly foreshadowing a brighter future.

Counts of these 2-year-old jacks often are used to help forecast future returns of adult fish. Most of the jacks mature at ages 3, 4 and 5 years.

The salmon picture also was more optimistic north of Cape Falcon, according to the report. That includes the Columbia River, where returns of hatchery-bred coho salmon total more than 1 million fish this year, the document states.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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