Rogue wild spring chinook season won't expand

Sport anglers will not see an expansion of the season for keeping wild Rogue River spring chinook salmon after state fish-policy managers opted against adding a month to the harvest season on the lower and middle Rogue.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission denied a petition Dec. 8 by two Curry County sport-angling groups to start the season for keeping wild spring chinook May 1 instead of June 1 on the lower and middle Rogue and conduct a five-year study on the impacts.

Instead, the possibility of increasing wild fish harvest will be one of many issues tackled by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife during its ongoing review of the current Rogue River Spring Chinook Management Plan, due out next summer.

"We gave them a scientific proposal, and they gave nonscientific reasons not to do it, voting to wait for the review to be over," Steve Beyerlin, of the Gold Beach-based Curry Sport Fishing Association, one of the petitioners.

Beyerlin said the petition was necessary now because the department filed to conduct a five-year review as spelled out in the plan, but he said the issue likely is dead for now.

The commission voted 6-0 in denying the petition. Commissioner Jim Bittle of Central Point, who also is the president of Willie Boats, was absent during the discussion due to a family medical emergency and did not vote.

The plan sets the June 1 start to the wild-fish season to protect the early portion of the run from angler harvest. Until then, anglers rely on catching hatchery fish to keep, but catch rates on hatchery fish are much lower than on wild fish during that time, particularly in the lower Rogue bay.

The association and Oregon South Coast Fishermen, which are joined by retired ODFW biologist Tom Satterthwaite — one of the chief architects of that plan — argue that harvest rates on wild spring chinook are already well beneath plan limits.

They believe improved upper Rogue spawning habitat would do better at growing wild spring chinook numbers than just forcing anglers in May to keep only hatchery spring chinook, whose numbers have dwindled steadily.

However, ODFW biologists point out that return targets to the upper Rogue of wild spring chinook remain under levels that would trigger expanded angler harvest.

Wild spring chinook have been the fish most impacted by the placement and operation of Lost Creek dam, which eliminated about one-third of historical spring chinook spawning grounds.

The management plan was adopted in 2007 after lengthy input from a committee whose majority preferred the approach to boost habitat and lean less on anglers. When the plan was adopted, ODFW estimated that the Rogue's wild spring chinook population that spawned naturally averaged 7,600 fish over the previous 10 years.

In 2016, the 10-year running estimate was 8,960, an ODFW staff report states. The plan's desired level is a sustained 15,000 wild spring chinook reaching the upper Rogue where they spawn, the report states.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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