Since You Asked: Salmon mortality

I've read about all the closures for salmon fishing and also about how you can't keep wild fish if you catch them. I've always wondered what the survival rate is for salmon that are hooked and then fight for their lives before being netted. Only after the fisherman has the fish secure and up close can he or she tell that it's a wild fish. By then it seems like so much damage has been done that the salmon is likely a goner anyway. So, what's the survival rate and do you have any tips for improving the odds of the fish surviving after you catch it?

— Lance J., Medford

Some of those fish will die, Lance, but the numbers aren't as high as you might think. And even better, proper practices in handling the fish will further reduce deaths among salmon released after getting caught.

It's called "hooking mortality," and it refers to fish that die after being hooked, played, netted and released.

In the Rogue River Spring Chinook Salmon Management Plan adopted last year, biologists estimate a 12 percent mortality rate for released fish, says Dan VanDyke, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who worked on the plan.

That number comes from a study on spring chinook in the Willamette River, VanDyke says. With no Rogue study, that's as close as it gets.

For wild spring chinook caught and released more than once, the mortality rate is probably closer to 17 percent, VanDyke says.

Since this year's wild spring chinook returns are down, all wild spring chinook must be released.

The best way to improve survival rates is to reduce handling as much as possible, keep your fingers out of the gills, keep the fish in the water while unhooking it, and cut the leader if getting the hook out causes more damage than just leaving it there. The hook will rust and fall out.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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