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Ocean chinook season to be shortest in eight years

BROOKINGS — Southern Oregon ports this year will see the shortest recreational chinook salmon season in eight years, but it will keep its much-desired seven-day fishing week under salmon seasons adopted today by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The season for recreational anglers fishing out of Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford will open May 28 and run uninterrupted through Aug. 7. After four weeks of no fishing, the season will resume Sept. 3-5 for the traditional Labor Day weekend of salmon fishing. The daily limit will remain two chinook per day.

Other options considered by PFMC called for longer seasons with fishing whittled down to as few as four days per week. But the council opted for the seven-week season after hearing from Brookings-based anglers and sport-fishing advocates who stumped hard for it as a way to get more Medford, Klamath Falls and other inland anglers to make the trek to Brookings knowing one or two windy days wouldn't thwart their vacations.

The council also set a season for fin-clipped coho salmon of June 25 through Aug. 7, but it will close earlier if anglers reach a 26,000-coho quota. During the coho season, anglers can keep no more than two salmon per day regardless of species.

New this year is a split season for the Northern California ports that join the three Southern Oregon ports in the Klamath Management Zone, where seasons generally ebb and flow based on the relative health of Klamath-bound chinook.

The Northern California ports north of Horse Mountain will see their chinook season run in four different spurts: May 16-31; June 16-31: July16-Aug. 16; and Sept. 1-5. They also have two-chinook daily limits.

Drought and poor ocean conditions have been blamed for big drops in Klamath chinook estimates. PFMC this year predicts 142,200 chinook in the ocean bound for the Klamath — nearly a third of last year's estimate and less than 20 percent of the 2013 preseason forecast.

The best offshore chinook catches often come at the end of June and into July, provided weather conditions and water currents behave and the chinook move north from California as predicted.

None of that happened last year, when a dearth of fish conspired with windy days and exceedingly warm near-shore waters to bring Brookings its worst summer of chinook fishing since 2008, when poor chinook numbers squelched all sport and commercial salmon fishing off Southern Oregon and Northern California.

At the Port of Brookings-Harbor, where almost half the boat launches are by Rogue Valley residents, only 390 chinook were landed in 2015 during a 115-day season, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife statistics. That compares to 5,689 chinook in 2014 and 9,612 in 2013.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.