Coastal coho open to fishing after decade of protection
Legal fishing for wild coho is permitted at Siltcoos and Tahkenitch lakes
The Associated Press
December 22, 2003
PORTLAND — For the first time in a decade, fishermen can cast their lines for coastal coho salmon, because of relatively strong returns of the threatened fish.
Legal fishing for wild coho is taking place in only two shallow coastal lakes near Florence — Siltcoos and Tahkenitch — where populations held up better than most during past decades of over-fishing and habitat destruction.
“It’s a unique situation,” said Lance Kruzic, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that approved the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife proposal for the fishery. “These particular lake populations are doing well, but if you look at Oregon coast coho as a whole, it is still a threatened species.”
Fishing enthusiasts and coastal business owners, who spent months lobbying for the fishery, are delighted with the government’s flexible enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. But some conservation groups say the decision was premature and could set back recovery.
“We think they could have taken more precautionary measures before allowing this fishery,” said Kaitlin Lovell with the Portland office of Trout Unlimited, a national conservation group.
Overfishing played a big part in the decline of Oregon’s coastal coho salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1998. Ocean and freshwater fishing during the 1970s and ’80s routinely killed 60 percent to 80 percent of the returning adults.
Since 1993, regulators have banned recreational fishing directed at wild coho and severely restricted ocean trolling to reduce incidental catches of wild fish.
Coho numbers have since rebounded strongly, aided by a cyclical shift in ocean currents and an abundance of prey that are boosting survival at sea. Estimates of the coastal coho run — seldom more than 50,000 fish since the 1970s — last year pushed above 264,000.
State and federal authorities said they are managing for long-term sustainability. During the three weeks allotted this year, which began Dec. 11, anglers are allowed to keep no more than five fish. The season will stop earlier if the catch reaches 500 fish, although one week into the season, Fish and Wildlife officials said just seven fish had been taken.
In future years, regulators expect to limit the total catch to about 1,000 fish, or about 30 percent of the returning population. The maximum allowable catch could reach 45 percent at the highest run sizes and rates of ocean survival.
“This thing will shut down if we have a bad ocean year,” said Bob Buckman, a biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Department.
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