Chinook benchmarks set in ODFW management plan

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday adopted a fall chinook management plan for the Rogue River that seeks to ensure that the basin's most robust salmon run remains that way.

Required by Oregon's native fish policies, the new plan creates no changes to the status quo when it comes to fish protection or angling. But it sets minimum "in-river run standards" that could trigger changes to protect the nearly all-wild run of the basin's largest salmon should populations dip.

The plan sets benchmarks for a desired number of chinook and for a minimum level of returns that would trigger measures to conserve the run.

The plan defines the run's "desired status" as a running 10-year average of just less than 58,000 chinook returning to the basin. The current 10-year average for the basin is more than 97,000 chinook. The run's estimate has been below that desired status line only once — during the drought-ravaged run of 1991.

That's far different than the basin's Spring Chinook Management Plan, which was crafted last decade amid depressed runs. Those numbers triggered cutbacks in the quantity of wild spring chinook caught and kept by anglers.

Unlike the spring chinook plan, the fall chinook plan has been crafted not in the midst of a salmon crisis, but with averting one in mind.

While adopting the plan, the commission stopped short of formally incorporating cormorant and sea-lion hazing plans as requested by some anglers.

The plan does not preclude cormorant hazing in the lower Rogue to protect out-migrating chinook smolts nor does it change the current practice of hazing sea lions that steal fall chinook off anglers' lines in the estuary during fall fishing periods.

The cormorants that flock to the lower Rogue in the fall target spring chinook hatchery smolts, and sea-lion hazing helps anglers but doesn't affect wild fall chinook management, so they were left out of the plan, says Todd Confer, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who helped write the plan.

Some members of a public-advisory group that helped ODFW craft the plan sought to have those hazing actions incorporated in the plan.

While ODFW biologists support the hazing programs, "from a policy perspective, we're not sure it's appropriate to incorporate those actions into the plan," Confer said.

The plan identifies five independent Rogue populations of chinook, including the Upper, Middle and Lower Rogue, and the Applegate and Illinois rivers. A separate coastal stratum is composed of the Chetco, Winchuck and Pistol rivers and Hunter Creek.

Under the alternative adopted by the commission, state biologists will rely on habitat enhancement and reducing hatchery fish introductions as the main tools for improving the fall chinook run. The emphasis will be on enhancing wild fish populations while maintaining current fishing opportunities as much as possible, according to the plan.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or

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