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March 16, 2005 By Brian Bullock Pilot staff writer

Southern Oregon fishermen might find themselves between a rockfish and a hard place this summer if the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopts the salmon seasons proposed at its meeting last week in Sacramento.

Options proposed for both recreational and commercial salmon fishermen in the Klamath Management Zone are a severe reduction over last year's uninterrupted season.

"From the commercial salmon standpoint it's a big step backward. We're looking at a drastically reduced season compared to last year," said Russ Crabtree, executive director of the Port of Brookings Harbor.

The proposal for this year reduces the days in the season, increases the size limit of legal Chinook and slashes the number of fish commercial trollers can take.

Last year, the season ran uninterrupted from March 15 through Aug. 29 with monthly quotas ranging from 1,600 for July to 3,000 for September. Size limits ranged from 26 inches for March and April to 28 inches in September.

There was also landing limit of 50 fish per trip per vessel. Multiple daily trips were allowed.

This year, the season has been reduced to 10 days in March, 15 days in April and the entire month of September.

Size limits have been increased to 27 inches through April 30 and 28 inches through September.

There are no quotas in March and April. The September fishery has a 3,000 fish quota.

There is also a 65 fish-per-day limit in September.

If the proposal flies, Oregon salmon trollers will fish less than half the days they did in 2004 and could be out of work much of the summer.

The season will be finalized at the April PFMC meeting in Tacoma, Wash.

Crabtree said the proposal has him looking for state and federal help for area trollers.

"We're asking for assistance for the salmon fleet other than unemployment because we're hurting these guys. We need to do something," Crabtree said. "If we can provide some assistance to get over this season and maybe next, we need to do it."

The proposal for the recreational fishery in the Klamath zone doesn't look much better.

Like the commercial season in 2004, the sport fishermen in the Klamath zone went from mid-March through the second weekend of September without a break.

It was also the first year in a long time that coho were available to them.

The proposal this year calls for fishing May 21 through July 4 and Aug. 14 through Sept. 11. Fishing will be allowed seven days per week with a two fish per day limit.

A limited coho fishery is still being discussed, according to Curt Melcher, marine salmon fisheries manager with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Melcher said low escapement numbers from the Klamath River system are the reason for the drastic cutbacks. He said the 2004 escapement numbers were about 10,000 fish lower than the minimum level set for the Klamath River.

"It's all related to Klamath abundance," Melcher said. ‘It's a step back for everybody from Northern Oregon down through Central California."

Melcher said Oregon waters are essentially closed during June and July. He said coho quotas for commercial fishermen are about half of what they were last year.

"It's severely restricted or reduced from the prior several years," he explained. "This is very similar to the early and mid-1990s in the (Klamath) zone."

Local fishermen think the limits of the 2005 salmon season will place added pressure on the rockfish fishery.

Last year, the state closed the rockfish season in September because the 342-ton annual limit was reached.

With the lingcod season in California closed for boaters until July, the pervasive opinion in Southern Oregon is fishermen from south of the border will come here to get rockfish. Curry County fishermen think that could shorten their season.

"When you shut down all of the ground fish in California and cut back on salmon you put all of the pressure on our ground fish. To say anything else is fooling yourself," said Jim Welter, a Brookings fisherman who also serves on the PFMC's Salmon Advisory Subpanel.

Welter said he thinks that pressure will result in a drastic adjustment to the rockfish limits or close the season.

The current state rockfish bag limit is eight and two lingcod per day. ODFW plans to reassess the season just after Independence Day. Plans are to adjust season limits if the statewide catch is nearing the limit. Closing the rockfish season, like last year, remains a possibility.

"It's definitely a very real concern. It potentially could be a problem," Melcher said. "When you close one fishing sector there's always a shift to fishing other species."

Melcher said the 2005 season doesn't look good for Oregon fishermen, but 2006 numbers are encouraging.

"The bottom line is the Klamath production is so low this year is we had shift the open areas to the extreme north to maximize the entire time on the water for the majority of the fleet," he explained. "From right here 2006 looks like it will be better than 2005."

Welter said he wasn't optimistic about the next few seasons. He said the Klamath River system isn't healthy enough to support the 35,000 escapement numbers set by the Klamath Zone Fishery Management. He said most of the fish coming from the system are from the Trinity River side.

"If you had the Klamath floor changed from 35,000 to something reasonable, it would be fine," Welter said. "If the Klamath side wasn't contaminated with bad water and hot water it would be working better. If the Klamath isn't producing, it shouldn't have that high a floor and we would have a better fishing season."

Welter also said this year's weather won't help future stocks.

"I think you're going to have a significant reduction because of the drought conditions in populations," he said. "Its going to happen."





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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