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Limits on ocean-trolling targets sought to aid Klamath Basin fish

Saturday, March 12, 2005
JOE ROJAS-BURKE  The Oregonian

After two big years for commercial salmon trolling, the ocean fishing seasons off Oregon and California will be cut severely this year to minimize harm to wild salmon bound for the Klamath River.

Fishery managers meeting Friday in Sacramento proposed several options for limiting the season, but all would produce the same result for large areas off Northern California and Southern Oregon:

"The number of fishing days will be about half what it was last year," said Dave Bitts, a commercial salmon fisherman from Eureka, Calif., and vice president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

Wild fall chinook salmon from the Klamath River are a troubled stock, struggling with a legacy of overfishing, dam building and lost habitat. Ocean trollers can't avoid catching fish from any specific river, so the presence of a weak stock such as the Klamath forces regulators to impose broad limits on trolling.

Troll fleets off Oregon and California last year took unexpectedly large numbers of Klamath salmon, and as result the number of spawners fell 10,000 fish short of the 35,000 target set to prevent the population from shrinking.

Forecasters estimate that ocean numbers of Klamath fish will be 240,000 this year, down from 380,000 last year. Significantly, the prediction for 4-year-old fish has declined more sharply: 49,000 compared with 170,000 last year. Four-year-olds make up the majority of fish that head upriver to spawn, so regulators are trying to prevent overfishing and allow at least 35,000 to survive and spawn in the Klamath River.

Some fisherman and conservation groups blame water allocation decisions in 2002 for this year's drop in 4-year-olds. They say the federal government diverted too much river water for irrigation in the upper Klamath Basin, leaving too little for juvenile salmon. Klamath salmon also must contend with two parasites that kill large numbers of juvenile fish.

Whether fish numbers will prove as bad as projections is far from certain. Forecasts have underestimated and overestimated run sizes by tens of thousands of fish in many years. Actual returns won't be known until after the fishing season, so larger returns won't allow more fishing.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will set final rules at its April meeting in Tacoma after hearing comments from commercial and sport fishers, tribes and others.

Fishery managers will have public hearings on the proposed options at the end of March in Westport, Wash.; Coos Bay; and Fort Bragg, Calif. Proposal details and meeting dates will be posted soon on the council's Web site: www.pcouncil.org.

Joe Rojas-Burke: 503-412-7073; joerojas@news.oregonian.com


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