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Salmon-catch quotas look thin for coast

Sport anglers will be lucky if they are able to use the fingers on both hands to count the number of days they will be allowed to fish for salmon in the ocean off Southern Oregon and Northern California ports.

If not, they could use just one clenched fist.

It's nine days on the water or nothing for ocean salmon anglers here under options hashed out by a federal panel mulling coastwide shutdowns in salmon fishing to protect crashed Sacramento River chinook stocks.

Only one of three options crafted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for its 2008 season lists any recreational fishing out of the Southern Oregon ports of Brookings and Gold Beach.

That one option offers fishing days only around Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends.

"It's nine days or nothing as it is now, and I have no idea if that nine days can fly," says Eric Schindler, a fish biologist working on ocean-salmon issues for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The PFMC has slightly better options for a recreational season on fin-clipped coho, with the proposed season to open June 22 and contain catch quotas either of 10,000 fish, 6,000 fish or none if the council decides to close all fishing.

The PFMC is taking public comment on its sport and commercial salmon-fishing options released last week. The council, which helps set the season for the Department of Commerce, is set to adopt seasons for Washington, Oregon and California when it meets April 6-12 in Seattle.

Chinook returns to the Sacramento drive sport and commercial ocean fisheries off California and Southern Oregon because fish from those regions mix together in the ocean.

This year's forecast estimates that fewer than half the conservation goal's minimum number of chinook would return to spawn in the Sacramento if no ocean fishing occurs this year, according to the PFMC.

"The impact of losing the Sacramento in any year is mind-boggling," Schindler says. "Once the Sacramento's gone, there aren't a lot of other fish you can target that you don't have issues with."

The exact reason for the crash is not known, but biologists say combinations of poor ocean survival and myriad freshwater conditions are likely to blame, the PFMC states.

The council has asked NOAA-Fisheries to research about 50 potential causes and report to the council in September.

The potential loss of salmon fishing has sucked the wind out of coastal towns that rely on recreational fishing to lure summer tourists and keep them as long as possible.

Mike Ramsay, who owns Sporthaven Marina at the mouth of the Chetco, says the lack of salmon fishermen will do more than harm coastal cash flow. It also will put more pressure on bottomfishing stocks already under tight seasonal quotas meant to stretch fishing out year-round.

"It's depressing," Ramsay says. "Our quotas will go quick. It's not a good thing."

To review the ocean-salmon options and the PFMC's meeting schedule, visit the council's Web site at www.pcouncil.org.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.