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Fishermen want salmon plan now
By John Driscoll The Times-Standard

Fishermen and fishing businesses repeated their call to the federal government this week to begin preparing for a possible closure or restriction of salmon fishing next year due to past disease outbreaks on the Klamath River.

This fall's salmon run on the Klamath could be among the lowest on record. Since opportunities to fish for salmon up and down the West Coast are affected by the weak Klamath stocks, fish managers could be forced to close or clamp down on fishing to protect the salmon.

In the spring of 2002, as many as 200,000 juvenile salmon perished from diseases while they were migrating. Biologists won't know how much damage that did until the 2- and 3-year-old fish born that year return this fall, but the implications are grave.

Fish managers will determine in March how many -- if any -- salmon can be taken and still leave enough spawners to perpetuate the stocks.

Eureka commercial salmon fisherman Dave Bitts said commercial fishermen are trying to reduce their take of 4-year-old salmon by imposing a 28-inch limit and reducing the number of fish they take this year.

"Otherwise, there's not a whole lot we can do," Bitts said.

But the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and others are calling for the federal government to take responsibility for the fish kill. They want the Bush administration to develop either a disaster relief program or a means to allow fishermen to target more abundant stocks in 2005.

The federation wrote to the Bush administration in July asking it to begin planning for a possible fishery meltdown. To date there has been no reply.

It also wrote to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, asking the council to plan for the worst.

The council divvies up fish among commercial fishermen, tribes and sport fishermen each year.

"Planning for alternative fishing scenarios or designing a disaster relief program for the impacted fisheries takes time, and waiting until next March until addressing the matter would be highly irresponsible," wrote the federation's Zeke Grader.

Bitts said the problem is especially galling because most other West Coast rivers are producing well. On the Klamath, juvenile fish have been dying in recent years and the September 2002 fish kill claimed up to 68,000 salmon in an otherwise abundant run.

Bitts said he hopes a solution can be found that will allow fishing.

"I'd much rather fish the ocean than fish the mailbox," Bitts said.


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