Chetco 'bubble' seasons could be halved

BROOKINGS — A fall commercial season as well as a popular recreation season that both target chinook salmon bound for Southern Oregon's Chetco River could be halved amid concerns over low fish returns to the Chetco this year.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is proposing cutting the fall seasons in half to ensure an in-river fishing season and allowing enough chinook to spawn this year.

Historically, the recreational season off Brookings runs the first 11 days of October and is designed to have an angler catch of 600 adult chinook. A parallel commercial season in recent years operated with a 600-chinook quota.

This year's proposals call for the sport and commercial fisheries to each get 300 chinook, with the sport season either Oct. 4-8 or split over two weekends by being open Oct. 1-3 and Oct. 8-9. The proposed bag limits remain the same at up to two chinook a day, but only one can be wild.

The proposed cuts come as forecasts call for a return of 2,650 chinook, according to the ODFW. Last year, an estimated 4,900 chinook spawned in the Chetco after escaping ocean and in-river fishing seasons. 

"We definitely wanted to ratchet it back from the status quo," says Todd Confer, the ODFW's South Coast District biologist. "We're basically trying to make the cutbacks equitable."

The ODFW is taking written public comment on these so-called "bubble fisheries" through April 20. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission also will take public testimony at its meeting April 22 in Bandon before voting on the seasons.

They are referred to as bubble fisheries because the open water is shaped like a bubble around the river mouth so anglers target adults heading up that river to spawn that year.

A similar yet far less popular bubble fishery off the mouths of the Elk and Sixes rivers for recreational anglers remains unchanged.

The recreational season is proposed to run Nov. 1-30 with a two-chinook daily limit, but only one can be wild.

The Elk River commercial bubble season is proposed to run Oct. 15 to Nov. 30, with a landing and possession limit of 20 chinook per boat and a minimum chinook size of 26 inches.

The commission will meet at the Bandon Conference & Community Center, 1200 11th St. SW.

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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