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Ocean anglers can expect liberal salmon season

BROOKINGS ' Good ocean-survival rates for hatchery and wild salmon will give Southern Oregon sport-anglers their longest and best summer of salmon fishing in the ocean since the 1980s.

The recreational chinook salmon season off the Southern Oregon and Northern California coasts will run for 106 straight days, opening in May before the school's summer vacations begin and not closing until well into next fall's football season.

This year also marks the most liberal bag limit allowed for ocean anglers since the '80s, with anglers allowed to keep two chinook a day without any weekly limit.

Together, the uninterrupted season and lusty limit create an opportunity for inlanders to plan a week or two at the coast this summer, with a chance to bring home a fat cache of chinook.

— This is just the kind of thing that can bring more people over from the Rogue Valley, says Jan Pearce from Tidewinds Charters in Brookings, where half the boat launchings are from Rogue Valley residents.

What this is, is a stable season, Pearce says. People can come when they want. And if the numbers of fish are there like (biologists) think, then it will satisfy the need for people who want to go on the ocean to catch salmon.

This optimistic prediction comes courtesy of bulging chinook and coho salmon numbers off the Southern Oregon and Northern California coastline that makes up the Klamath Management Zone. The strong returns primarily are due to excellent food conditions in the ocean during recent years, which have been marked by good salmon survival rates as well as record-sized chinook.

That allowed the Pacific Fishery Management Council to set a Klamath Management Zone season that opens May 17 and runs through Sept. 14, with the two chinook limit.

Conspicuously absent are the mid-season closures used since 1990 to keep chinook fishermen off the ocean during July periods when wild coho salmon ' which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act ' are moving through the zone's waters. The closure reduces the numbers of wild coho dying from getting accidentally caught and released.

But large numbers of both hatchery and wild coho forecast for this year means the seasons likely will lead to the catch-and-release deaths of 9.6 percent of the wild coho bound for the Rogue and Klamath rivers, PFMC biologists conclude. Federal law sets a wild coho impact ceiling of 13 percent for the Rogue and Klamath, the two main coho rivers in the Klamath Management Zone.

Similarly , the 106-day season leads PFMC biologists to predict that Klamath Management Zone anglers will catch 38,200 chinook ' or twice the number caught last year.

PFMC biologist Chuck Tracy says the uninterrupted season fits the goals of providing maximum chinook harvest while allowing for enough wild chinook to spawn in the Klamath River.

The Klamath Management Zone seasons are the local portion of the most liberal ocean-salmon seasons that Oregon recreational anglers have seen since 1955.

From Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain, the chinook season already began March 15 and will run uninterrupted through Oct. 31.

Also in that area, sport-anglers will enjoy a coho season in which they can keep 88,000 fin-clipped coho ' almost four times as high as last year's quota of 22,500 hatchery coho.

The fin-clipped coho season will open June 21 and will close Aug. 24 or when the quota is reached. The limit will be two fin-clipped coho a day, with no weekly limit.

Here are two other chinook seasons that the PFMC plans for Southern Oregon this fall:

The popular Chetco River Ocean Terminal fishery will run Oct. 1-12, with no quota and a two-chinook daily limit. This season targets fall chinook heading into the Chetco for spawning, and it's billed as a way to spread the chinook surplus among anglers in the river as well as in the ocean just outside the Chetco estuary.

A similar season targeting fall chinook headed for the nearby Elk and Sixes rivers will open Nov. — and run through Dec. 15 in the near-shore waters near Port Orford. That fishery will also sport a two-chinook daily limit.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail