Chinook salmon ocean season makes return

Sport and commercial salmon fishermen who saw their seasons vanish last year are poised to return to the ocean off Southern Oregon this summer, thanks largely to a glut of Rogue River-bound salmon.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council laid out options Wednesday for sport and recreational chinook salmon fishing off Southern Oregon, and all sport options contain at least some summer fishing days to lure tourists to coastal communities that were hard-hit by last year’s closures.

The options call for recreational fishing in July and August, when the third-largest fall chinook return to the Rogue on record is expected to be swimming north into Southern Oregon waters.

“Whatever we have to do ... we will to take a shot at those (Rogue-bound) fish,” said Richard Heap, of Brookings, who is vice chairman of the PFMC’s salmon advisory subpanel.

Season options range from straight fishing seasons to one broken into three fishing sessions, and which option is chosen will depend on how many Sacramento River-bound chinook reach that river, Heap said.

More Sacramento chinook protections will mean less ocean-fishing, but at least it’s not a fully canceled summer like 2017, Heap said.

“It’s pretty uncertain what we’ll end up with at this point,” Heap said. “This has been the most difficult season-setting I’ve been involved with.”

The most liberal option calls for fishing to open May 19 and run through Aug. 26, allowing Memorial Day weekend fishing but closing before the popular Labor Day weekend.

The middle option calls for a split season, with the first part running June 1-17, then again July 1-15 and a third fishing session Aug. 4-12.

The most restrictive option calls for a straight season running May 19-July 4.

All three options call for a two-chinook daily limit and were crafted around estimates that 462,800 Rogue fall chinook are now in the ocean, which would be 216,000 more than last year.

Those fish entered the ocean during the drought years of 2014 and 2015, but they largely escaped low and warm summer flows thanks to supplemental water from Lost Creek and Applegate reservoirs.

In contrast, Sacramento-bound chinook smolts were hit hard by drought, triggering poor survival rates, with estimates of 229,400 Sacramento chinook in the ocean, down 1,300 from last year, PFMC statistics show.

The options call for no coho salmon fishing off Southern Oregon, but hatchery coho fishing would be allowed north of Humbug Mountain near Port Orford.

Two of the three commercial fishing options for Humbug Mountain to the California border call for separate clusters of fishing dates in June, July and August, with a collective quota of 2,200 chinook. The third option calls for a closed season identical to last year.

The council will take public comment on the options at three public meetings, including a 7 p.m. March 26 meeting at the Red Lion Hotel on Highway 101 in Coos Bay.

The council will make its final decision during meetings April 5-11 in Portland.

Rogue, Klamath and Sacramento salmon mill about together in the ocean, so seasons are crafted to protect the weakest of the stocks even if others are faring well.

The most liberal chinook season option for Southern Oregon was crafted to ensure 151,111 wild and hatchery fall chinook reach the Sacramento, according to PFMC drafts. The most restrictive season would see 180,093 escape fishing and reach the Sacramento, according to the PFMC.

Last year, the lowest-ever forecast for Klamath-bound 4-year-old chinook caused the lost season. This year’s estimate has 358,400 Klamath chinook in the ocean, an increase of 272,000 from last year.

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

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