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Chinook season closed

By Susan Chambers, 4/11/08 The World Link, Coos Bay

Pacific Fishery Management Council member Marija Vojkovich stresses that "Every fish counts," in this year of unprecedented low returns to the Sacramento River during discussion in Seattle on Thursday, prior to the council voting to close all Chinook ocean fishing in most of Oregon and California in 2008. Vojkovich is joined by other California members Dan Wolford, right, and Kathy Fosmark, second from left, and parliamentarian Dave Hansen, left. -World Photo by Susan Chambers

SEATTLE — Failure. Disaster. Devastation.

Those words can describe the utter loss of commercial and sport ocean Chinook seasons in 2008 in most of Oregon and California. But through all of the gloom, Oregon emerged from the historic closure with a small victory: a 9,000-fish coho quota for sport fishermen.

The historic closures due to low returns to much of the West Coast rivers, primarily the Sacramento, was marked only by a lot of  angst, a few simple votes, a quiet audience and much regret as the Pacific Fishery Management Council met in Seattle to decide the fate of not just sport and commercial fishermen, but also several coastal ports and towns for years to come.

“We’ve concluded this agenda item,” council Vice Chairman David Ortmann said Thursday when the voting was done. “Nobody’s happy.”

The council spent roughly three hours Thursday splitting hairs — or, rather, fish — while trying to devise ways to continue science projects and any opportunity for businesses.

The problem has been widely publicized in the media for weeks. Fewer than half of the 122,000 returning fall Chinook needed to keep the Sacramento River stock healthy are expected back in 2008 – even with no fishing at all. The collapse of that Sacramento run and depleted runs on other West Coast rivers have left fishery managers with little wiggle room to divvy up the few king salmon available for harvest.

No Oregon commercial fishermen were present except for Darus Peake, president of the Oregon Salmon Commission and a seafood buyer in Tillamook. The commercial fleet’s delegate to the Salmon Advisory Subpanel, Charleston troller Paul Heikkila and Jeff Feldner already had left the meeting.

Peake pushed for the GSI study. The charter boat operators and sport fishermen there agreed.

Back in the council meeting room, Williams took another crack at proposing a season.

Again, Williams put forth no commercial trolling, a coho-only season for sport fishermen and the genetic study work.

And again, California resisted.

Vojkovich said the long-term data was not worth sacrificing the fish.

“I have to go back to my original belief that every fish counts,” she said.

Oregon’s sport representative to the council, Frank Warrens, respectfully disagreed.

“It’s so important that we’re willing to give up a big amount of the recreational fishery,” he said. “When we’re sacrificing the recreational fishery, it send a loud and clear message about how we feel about it.”

The total impacts to Sacramento fall Chinook, with a 9,000-coho-only sport fishery, would be 55 fish, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife representative Phil Anderson said to Vojkovich. Is that too many?

“I just have to stay with ‘every fish counts,’” Vojkovich said.

And again, the motion failed to pass. Oregon voted for it, California voted against it and Washington was divided.

Williams was frustrated, but the third time was a charm.

Williams scrapped the GSI fishery and pushed for a coho-only sport fishery. Washington came on board, and California didn’t have enough no votes to reject it.

 Nothing in California

California asked for, and the council agreed, to close all commercial and sport seasons for ocean Chinook and coho. Genetic studies also were scrapped in California.

But even that decision was controversial.

Vojkovich also said she’s going to request the California Fish and Game Commission close in-river Sacramento Chinook fishing.

But the Klamath River in-river fishing is a different matter.

Oregon council member Moore asked Vojkovich whether the savings of Klamath River Chinook will translate into additional opportunity for California sport fishermen on the river?

At first, Vojkovich was unclear what Moore meant, but he explained: “Will the Klamath savings from no offshore fishery translate to increased in-river Klamath (sport) fishing?”

The question was raised at the hearing held in Coos  Bay on March 31, he said.

In reality, yes. An estimated 22,600 Klamath fish will be available for river fishermen, now that Oregon and California ocean fishing is closed completely, according to council documents.

Moore, peeved by California’s lack of support for a very limited sport coho fishery only in Oregon, when California would benefit from Oregon’s Chinook closure, was the sole dissenting vote on Vojkovich’s motion to close all California ocean salmon fishing.

Fishermen said after the final vote that indeed, coastal communities will have a difficult time this year, and possibly in 2009, too. There is a lot of work ahead to try to get disaster funding — Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski already has made $500,000 available — and find ways to survive.

Charter boat owners, in particular, will have to be more creative, they said.

“I applaud our state for working as hard as it did to get us some fish,” Prowler Charters owner Wayne Butler, of Bandon, said. “I’ve heard the saying, ‘Every fish counts.’ This is going to be a good example of that. Opportunity is a big thing.”
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