Poor fall chinook runs mean cutbacks

A fall chinook salmon jumps up a barrier under Jackson St. Bridge in Medford. Mail Tribune file photo

Rogue River anglers are set to sidestep sweeping wild fall chinook salmon fishing cutbacks this year along the Oregon Coast, where preseason forecasts call for returns well under average for most coastal streams.

The Rogue’s forecast, however, calls for nearly 88,000 fall chinook to escape anglers and spawn — largely in the Rogue Valley. That is nearly as big as 2017’s hefty run and well above the 10-year average of about 54,400 fish, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Things are far different on other streams, such as Curry County’s Chetco River, where the preseason forecast is fewer than 1,300 wild spawning chinook, which is lower than the bare-bones minimum needed to ensure the population does not further decline.

That’s why ODFW biologists have proposed to close the Chetco upstream of river mile 2.2 at least until November and slash the limit from one a day and up to five a year to one a day and no more than two a year.

The closed portion of the Chetco would open after rains allow fall chinook to move throughout the mainstem river, making them less likely to be over-fished when stuck in deep holes waiting to migrate.

Agency biologists look to cut the number of chinook that anglers can keep in low-run years, because harvest rates can reach 40 percent in those years, said Steve Mazur, ODFW’s Gold Beach District fish biologist.

The agency also is proposing to close most of the Elk River up to Highway 101 this year, except for the river mouth, and drop the limits from 1 a day and 10 a year to one a day and five per year for the Elk, Sixes and other nearby streams.

ODFW also has proposed canceling the popular fall “bubble” fishery off the mouths of the Chetco and Elk rivers, which target adult fish heading to those rivers to spawn. Those fisheries open only if there are excess chinook for anglers to catch, Mazur said.

The proposals are less severe than those for north coast streams, proposed to drop from two a day and 10 a year in aggregate to one a day and five per year.

Rogue fall chinook leave the river and head south and hug the Pacific shoreline, where ocean conditions have been more fish-friendly than elsewhere in the Pacific.

“Those fish are going places where there’s food,” ODFW fish biologist Pete Samarin said. “They don’t hit dead zones like those coming out of the Columbia (River).”

The proposals are temporary, one-year reductions crafted to reduce the number of chinook anglers keep and increase the number that spawn in these rivers this fall.

The agency is holding a string of public meetings on the proposals, including at 6 p.m. May 30 at the Port Orford library, 1421 Oregon St., and at 6 p.m. June 5 in Brookings at the Chetco Community Public Library, 405 Alder St.

Comments and the proposals will go to ODFW Director Curt Melcher, who will decide whether to enact the temporary rules before the chinook runs begin, ODFW spokeswoman Meghan Dugan said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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