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Salmon: slow start, strong finish

by Phil Hayworth, Pioneer Press 11/14/07

If you've noticed that the salmon along the Klamath River seem to be a little slow in coming this year, don't panic. Word is that there are plenty of fish in the river this year, but they had a little problem getting into the mouth of the river. A sandbar had closed the mouth, but then a rain in October forced enough water into the river to allow the fish to swim in.

Indeed, rivers up and down the Pacific Coast report slower-than-usual salmon returns this fall.

Biologists can't say what's causing these slow migrations upstream, but the good news is Chinook counts thus far on the Klamath River are mostly comparable to last year's numbers.

A predicted 121,000 adult chinook will return to the Klamath River this fall. This number is about 1,000 more than the yearly average. But it's still too early in the season to do a final count of returning Chinook, biologists say. Numbers should be finalized by February. But word is that the fishing around Yreka, particularly the steelhead fishing, so far this year has been fantastic.

Iron Gate Fish Hatchery this year has counted more returning adults -- close to 12,000-than last year's figure of nearly 11,600. But the number of 2-year-old fish returning to the hatchery is much smaller so far this year.

The Department of Fish and Game's counting stations on the Klamath River reports that returning Chinook has almost hit last year's numbers.

Still, fish biologists say they would like to have seen more Chinook by this time, especially because more returning fish were predicted this year. Peak Chinook spawning on the Klamath River usually takes place in mid-November.

Chuck Tracy, spokesman for the Pacific Fishery Management Council in Portland, said that the Yurok tribe caught their fish limit within a few weeks. The same went for the Hoopa, who caught their limits quickly. Together, the tribes have a 40,800 commercial fish limit, but they split it between themselves. In the past, that split hasn't been equal and has been a bone of contention between them.

Down at the mouth of the river, the non-Indian commercial quota of 6,000 fish was caught in three days when commercial fishermen took advantage of the fish that were stacked up at the mouth of the Klamath River when it was blocked.

Salmon is now commanding premium prices at the store, and fishermen are selling to wholesalers and retailers for nearly $4 a pound.

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