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Chinook salmon season looks brighter, council says

2/16/2007 The Oregonian

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) After the commercial chinook salmon season turned into a disaster for Oregon fishermen last year, preseason estimates indicate there could be some improvement this year.

More than 500,000 Klamath River salmon are estimated to be in the ocean about five times the number last year.

"I think it is going to be better, at least in terms of opportunity," said Chuck Tracy with the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

It should mean more days on the water for fishermen, who last year were restricted to less than a month of fishing days in total.

"It's not going to be a good season; we're not going to be fishing wide open," said Kevin Bastien, a commercial troller out of Newport. "But we're going to have a little better season than last year."

Last year, the federal government allowed a limited ocean salmon season that saved most of the recreational fishing industry but severely restricted the commercial fleet from Northern California up most of the Oregon Coast.

The recreational fishing season is considered critical to the coastal economy. Visiting tourists fill hotels and restaurants when they come to charter fishing boats.

About 60,000 wild fish are expected to return to the Klamath river to spawn, well above the 35,000 returning salmon that biologists set as a minimum level. Last year that number was expected to drop to about 21,000 returning fish, but in fact turned out to be about 30,000 returning fish.

The bad news is most of the Klamath salmon this year are 3-year-olds and will be too small to catch and keep because they are under the 27-inch limit, Tracy said.

While Klamath River salmon will be smaller, it is salmon from the Sacramento River in California and the Columbia River that compose much of the catch off Oregon. If those fish are in abundance, and big enough, it could lead to a better year for commercial trollers.

Preseason estimates show Sacramento River fish in the ocean will be down about 20 percent this year. Numbers for Columbia River fish were not available.

The season normally opens for commercial and recreational fishermen alike on March 15, meaning a decision on whether to open the season has to be made by the first week in March. Tracy said the council will likely make that decision before its meeting scheduled for March 5-9 in Sacramento.

Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com


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