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Oregon Draft Plan For Managing Non-Listed Coastal Salmon, Steelhead Seeks Hatchery/Wild Balance
Posted on Friday, January 17, 2014 (PST)

If a draft plan in Oregon for six species of salmon and trout is accepted as is, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will begin to regulate in June 2014 some Oregon coastal streams as wild salmon and steelhead watersheds, while others will see increased hatchery activity, providing more fishing opportunities for anglers.

 

ODFW is seeking comments on its Coastal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/CRP/coastal_multispecies.asp)

at five public open houses in January in Western Oregon, including Tillamook, Salem, Roseburg, North Bend and Reedsport. Comments are taken until Feb. 10.

 

The coastal species are the spring and fall chinook, chum salmon, winter and summer steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout from the Elk River near Cape Blanco in Southern Oregon to the Necanicum River near Seaside. None of the 20 watersheds under this plan are inhabited by listed species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Nineteen of the watersheds have steelhead present.

 

“The Coastal Multi-Species Plan is the agency’s first attempt to create a management plan for multiple species that are not listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act and for which the State of Oregon has a fair amount of management flexibility due to the relative good health of the populations,” said Tom Stahl, ODFW’s Conservation and Recovery Program Manager.

 

The plan includes a variety of management actions throughout the Oregon Coast and “is trying to balance conservation and opportunity and, in the process, improve both,” he added.

 

For example, the elimination of a hatchery program in one stream, creating a “wild fish emphasis area” that would protect wild fish from the corresponding crowding and competition caused by the presence of hatchery juveniles, could be balanced by more hatchery fish in a nearby stream.

 

Even though some streams would be protected from the presence of hatchery fish, if implemented, the overall plan would result in about five percent more hatchery juveniles released into rivers and that would increase fishing opportunities.

 

Some areas already are set aside for wild fish, such as the North and South Umpqua rivers and the Smith River in the Umpqua River system. Under the new plan, the Kilchis River near Tillamook and Big Elk Creek in the Yaquina River system would be among two added to this wild designation.

 

The draft plan has been in development since 2012, with input from four stakeholder teams located along the Oregon coast. Each team included people from local watershed councils, anglers and commercial fishermen, conservation groups, resource managers, local government and Native American tribes.

 

One of the hottest topics was which rivers should be reserved for wild salmon and trout enhancement and which rivers should have more hatchery presence to provide more fishing opportunities.

 

Among the elements of the plan are a proposal to provide more harvest opportunities for wild steelhead and a proposal adding two new hatchery programs for spring chinook, one in Yaquina Bay and one in Coos Bay. Other elements of the plan would give ODFW the ability to manage harvests of wild coho, chinook and spring chinook based upon expected returns to each river basin; provide actions to address natural predators; and provide a guiding hand for local habitat improvement projects.

 

There is some demographic basis for making coastal fish management decisions based on the health of the fish stocks.

 

As part of the input to the management plan, ODFW had the Survey Research Center at Oregon State University conduct an opinion survey of anglers and non-anglers about fishing in Oregon and wild fish conservation. 1,500 surveys were mailed to the general public with a 28.5 percent return, and 6,000 surveys were mailed to licensed anglers west of the Cascades with a 36 percent response rate. The results are a mixed bag.

 

A good portion of those surveyed either agree or somewhat agree that management of coastal wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout should aim for healthy populations of fish. 94 percent of the general population and 91 percent of anglers believe this.

 

Yet, a similar percentage of respondents also believe that management should also provide opportunities for harvest, with the caveat that harvest would not risk wild populations (86 percent of the general population and 85 percent of the angler population).

 

Only 21 percent of the general population and 14 percent of anglers believe that the coastal management plan should prevent harvest of wild fish, but that by a much larger margin the plan should also try to prevent Endangered Species Act listings (56 percent of the general population and 65 percent of anglers).

 

About a third of respondents thought the plan should not limit agriculture, forestry or development (31 percent of the general population and 34 percent of the anglers).

 

Stahl said the survey identified a higher desire to see more harvest of wild winter steelhead. That was in contrast to the stakeholder process that called for lower harvests of this species. The plan under review calls for harvest on just three coastal rivers, he said: the Salmon River, Big Elk Creek in the Yaquina River watershed and the East Fork of the Coquille River. The only area now on the Oregon coast where wild winter steelhead harvest is allowed is the Sixes River on the southern Oregon Coast.

 

This will be the last round of public input before the ODFW Commission looks at the plan. Stahl said comments by the public during the five open houses will likely lead to revisions and the next draft plan will be presented to the Commission at its April 2014 meeting. The Commission will take more public comments and the ODFW staff will go back to the Commission for final approval in June.

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