Rogue River is the West's bright spot for fall chinook

Rogue River is the West's bright spot for fall chinook

The Rogue River again may be one of only two Western Oregon rivers in which anglers can keep up to two wild fall chinook salmon per day as the state looks for ways to curb fishing pressure on depressed chinook stocks.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Todd Confer said Monday that he believes Rogue's wild fall chinook returned "bottomed out" last summer and is strong enough to repeat last year's limits of two wild chinook a day and up to 10 per year beginning Aug. 1.

"The Rogue is actually one of the bright spots on the coast," Confer said. "My expectation is we're looking at a regulation very similar to last year."

But streams like the Chetco, Elk, Sixes and Winchuck rivers of Curry County are likely a year away from showing that sort of rebound from low returns blamed largely on poor ocean conditions, Confer said.

Those rivers have chinook that tend to mature and return as 4-year-olds, while the Rogue sports more 3-year-olds, Confer said. That allows the Rogue's rebound to come a year earlier than the coastal streams.

For those and other similar streams, agency biologists are considering a repeat of last year's limit of one wild chinook a day and a season limit as low as three, Confer said. Last year's season limit for those streams was five wild chinook.

The agency also could close all but the lower 8 miles of the Chetco to fishing to allow for a fishery while creating some angling respite for this year's run, which is forecast for 900 wild chinook, Confer said.

Anglers who catch one wild chinook could still fish for fin-clipped hatchery chinook on streams like the Chetco and Elk, or for fin-clipped coho as part of the regular limits.

The limits, if approved, would come on the heels of a federal council decision to ban recreational ocean fishing for chinook in all but extreme Southern Oregon and Northern California during the week of Labor Day.

Ron Boyce, the ODFW's Ocean Salmon/Columbia River program manager who is heading the effort, said a similar process used to craft emergency regulations last year showed the public has no interest in shaving days off the fishing week.

Also, bait restrictions "aren't going to fly," Boyce said.

"There are only a few of those (restrictions) that will work and be supported by the public," Boyce said.

One that is receiving support is allowing anglers to keep some wild coho salmon in tidewater areas of the Coos, Coquille, Nehalem, and Yaquina basins. Agency forecasts are for a strong returns of fin-clipped as well as wild coho, which have been banned from angling in these and other basins since 1994.

Angling advocate Richard Heap of Brookings said he hopes the ODFW approaches the seasons with "a pretty light touch," especially on the Chetco.

With a forecast of only 900 wild chinook hitting the Chetco, the agency should consider ways to protect as many for spawning as possible, said Heap, a member of the group Oregon South Coast Fishermen Inc., which has not taken a stand on the seasons.

"If we're actually that low, we should think this over very carefully — maybe not fish at all," Heap said.

Confer said the Rogue's wild chinook run is forecast at 21,500 fish — up from an estimated 18,100 chinook last fall.

"That's plenty of fish to seed the system and provide a fishery," Confer said.

Boyce said improved ocean conditions and better returns of younger coho and chinook are evidence that the lagging salmon runs of recent years are rebounding.

"There are a lot of signals out there that things will be turning normal, or closer to normal, next year," Boyce said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, ore-mail

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