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Planning for fall chinook salmon starts Tuesday

BROOKINGS - Anglers, conservationists and fishery biologists will descend Tuesday on this town at the mouth of the Chetco River to begin hashing out a plan to manage Southwest Oregon's fall chinook salmon runs over the next decade.

A new public advisory committee will meet at 6 p.m. at the Chetco Community Public Library to start work on creating a conservation plan that covers fall chinook salmon populations from Euchre Creek near Ophir south to the California border.

The stocks, which include those in the Rogue River basin, are salmon that primarily head south as smolts when they hit the ocean. They are separate from north-turning fish that migrate out of the Elk River and streams north of Cape Blanco.

The wild portion of these runs has been considered relatively strong, except for the past two years when very poor returns linked to since-recovered ocean conditions led to emergency reductions in recreational catch limits.

"The bottom line is, with the exception of those hiccups, these stocks have been pretty robust the past 20 years," says Todd Confer, the ODFW's Gold Beach District fish biologist. "They've been the go-to stock to support the fishery and really haven't had a significant conservation issue."

A conservation plan now would define the so-called "desired status" of the runs and identify ways to get there - or stay there, if it turns out the run's health in 2009 meets that desired status, Confer says.

"We have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve, instead of being behind the curve and acting in an emergency fashion," Confer says.

The draft plan comes on the heels of a three-year effort to craft a management plan for the Rogue's spring chinook salmon, a depressed stock that has been most damaged by the placement and operation of Lost Creek dam.

Peter Tronquet, a Medford man who is president of the board of directors for the Native Fish Society, served on the spring chinook plan advisory committee and will repeat that effort for the fall chinook plan. Tronquet said he believes the relative lack of solid data on fall chinook could make the planning process more difficult than the spring chinook plan.

"The more you learn about these animals, the harder you work to make sure they persist," Tronquet says.

Gold Beach fishing guide Steve Beyerlin worries about how increases in fishing pressure over the years has impacted these runs.

"Fishermen have gotten so much better at what they do," Beyerlin says.

Beyerlin served on the spring chinook advisory committee, whose recommendations were largely rejected by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission when it adopted the Rogue's spring chinook plan.

He says he's "very cautiously optimistic" the advisory committee's input will get more support this go-around.

The committee will meet monthly. Confer says he hopes to have a draft available for public comment this summer.