Study: Coastal coho sustainable
By TAM MOORE Oregon Staff Writer
ASHLAND, Ore. – Oregon’s coastal coho salmon are a
sustainable population, probably in good enough
shape to come off the Endangered Species Act
protection they have been under for the past few
That’s the conclusion of a yearlong species
evaluation by Oregon Department of Fish and
Wildlife conducted using federal ESA standards.
ODFW took the wraps off its conclusions here Nov.
19 during the biannual Oregon Watershed
Enhancement Board conference.
“The preliminary finding is this ESU (ecologically
significant unit of coho) is viable. It is
sustainable,” said Jay Nichols.
He’s the biologist credited with coming up with
the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. The
state program turned loose private landowners,
government regulators and watershed activists to
focus first on coastal coho, then on all of the
Coho or silver salmon spend their first year in
fresh water before heading out to the ocean.
Unlike chinook salmon, which migrate seaward as
juveniles, coho are vulnerable to the range of
year-round water supply and quality problems in
their home basin.
In 1990, fewer than 20,000 wild coho returned for
spawning in the 19 largest Coast Range basins.
More than 240,000 returned in 2002, the peak of a
resurgence credited to favorable ocean conditions,
limited fishing in lean years and watershed
restoration projects by the hundreds.
Since 1997, according to preliminary data in the
study, over $107 million has poured into coastal
coho work. That funding is scattered from the
Necanicum River in Clatsop County to the Sixes
River on Oregon’s South Coast in Curry County. In
addition, regulators all but shut down the ocean
troll fishery and shrunk sports-fishing quotas to
take pressure off what had been a dwindling coho
“We were harvesting those fish at huge rates. If
we had not changed harvest, they probably would
not have come out of this,” said Ed Bowles, ODFW’s
Nichols, Bowles and others defended data in their
report before other biologists earlier in the
week. Then they brought the good news to the
watershed conference. The report has a long way to
go before it turns into delisting of the coho,
which were put on the threatened list under court
“It’s by no means a done deal,” Bowles said. “It
is still problematical” that data will lead to a
change in federal listing.
In December, a printed draft report goes to
Oregon’s Independent Multidisciplinary Science
Team for technical review. By midwinter it should
be in the hands of NOAA Fisheries, the National
Marine Fisheries Service, that has until June 2005
to say whether coastal coho should continue to
have federal protection.
But already Tom Byler, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s
natural resource adviser, is talking about using
the coho recovery story as leverage to get
“assurances” that cooperating landowners won’t run
afoul of the ESA. Oregon’s Board of Forestry has
yet to complete fine-tuning of its streamside
timber rules in salmon habitat, but that’s about
all that’s outstanding in the state’s first round
of actions promised under the Oregon Plan.
“You’ve got a purely voluntary based program with
financial incentives” for landowners, Bowles said.
“If you don’t back that up with assurances, there
will be no incentive.”
Mike Kehan, head of NOAA’s Portland office salmon
team, praised the ODFW work. He calls the agency
coho re-evaluation a “partnership” between state
and federal scientists and administrators.
NOAA, Kehan said, is “well on the way” to
developing a recovery plan for coastal coho. It is
also running a separate status report on the
Southern Oregon-Northern California coho
population that centers on the Rogue, Chetco,
Smith and Klamath rivers. It, too, is expected in
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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