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Klamath salmon returns exceed goal

1/11/2008, by Jeff Barnard, Oregonian  

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) After three straight lean years, 2007 returns of wild fall chinook salmon to the Klamath Basin have exceeded the minimums set by federal fisheries managers.

However, the numbers of young fish known as jacks returning to the basin so far indicate low returns of mature fish in fall 2008, unless preliminary counts improve.

Preliminary counts from fishing-counting stations and carcass surveys show about 50,000 salmon returning to the Klamath and Trinity rivers and their tributaries in Northern California to spawn, California Department of Fish and Game senior biologist Larry Hanson said Friday from Yreka, Calif.

For unknown reasons, Klamath salmon returned three to five weeks later than normal, with some stragglers showing up as late as January, Hanson added.

The returns, which do not include fish from hatcheries, were particularly good in light of the high level of fishing allowed in the ocean and at the river's mouth this year, Hanson added.

The Klamath Basin once was the third-biggest salmon producer on the West Coast, but returns of fall chinook have been struggling for decades from loss of habitat to logging, mining and dams, and overfishing. Spring chinook are practically wiped out. Coho salmon are a threatened species.

When Klamath returns are weak, federal fisheries managers must severely restrict ocean fishing for healthier stocks to avoid wiping out fish that spawn naturally in rivers.

Returns in 2004, 2005 and 2006 failed to reach the 35,000 minimum set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets ocean salmon fishing seasons and quotas.

Concerns for Klamath River fish were so great in 2006 that commercial salmon fishing was effectively shut down off most of California and Oregon, leading to a federal disaster declaration.

Final counts of Klamath salmon returns are due in February. The council will use those numbers in making recommendations for salmon seasons in March. Final seasons will be set in April.

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