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Salmon harvest tag retrieval gets a look

The stacks of expired salmon-steelhead harvest tags now sitting in desk drawers across Oregon remain tangible testimonials for years' worth of fishing escapades, and they are precisely the stories John Norlin believes should be shared.

That first full tag of Rogue River salmon from that record run of 1987. All those 40-pound fall chinook caught and tagged in 2003. These tags are such keepsakes that even the lure of a chance to win a free driftboat won't get Oregonians to part voluntarily with almost 200,000 of their expired tags annually.

Norlin wants state fish biologists to get the information from those tags to help better understand salmon and steelhead harvest patterns, even if it means forcing anglers to comply.

"They require hunters to do it now," says Norlin, of Winchester. "Why not utilize it for fishermen, too. There's a lot of information there."

Norlin's proposal is one of 330 potential changes to Oregon 2009 fishing regulations now out for public review and comment as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reopens its quadrennial regulations-review process, which gains steam this month.

Public meetings will be held this month at 11 places in Oregon — including a May 16 meeting at the Jackson County Auditorium, 404 Antelope Road, White City.

All meetings will run from 7 to 10 p.m.

Comments will be summarized and forwarded to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which will consider regulation changes at its Aug. 8 meeting in Salem. Final votes were scheduled for the commission's Sept. 11-12 meetings.

Changes will go into effect Jan. 1 and are meant to remain on the books for four years.

Norlin's proposal has caught the eye of ODFW biologists who would like to see at least twice as many harvest cards returned annually to be mined for the information they hold.

"We need to figure out what keeps people from doing that," says Rhine Messmer, the ODFW's recreational fisheries program manager. "If we need a regulation, we need a regulation. But we hope to have some flexibility and get that harvest information."

The ODFW has a history of using harvest-card data to gather estimates on everything from the number of steelhead caught on the South Fork of the Coquille River to what ratio of wild to hatchery fish are kept by anglers. They can reveal whether marginal fisheries are getting over-run by anglers and help Oregonians learn what rivers offer the best fishing at which times.

About 11 percent of the 209,951 angling harvest tags sold in 2007 were returned so far this year. Ratchetting up those returns to around 60 percent would help strengthen the data and bolster any decisions made from them, Messmer says.

But how best to do that remains the quandary.

Norlin's proposal, listed as No. 108, would ban an angler from buying a new harvest tag until he or she turns in last year's tag.

"But what are you going to do if they lose their tag or don't turn it in? Deny their fishing?" Messmer says.

As for those who simply want to keep their tags, they can perhaps report their data, such as on a Web site or turn in a photocopy, Messmer says.

"If a person just wants to hold it as a keepsake, maybe we can find a way for them to do that," Messmer says.

Many other proposals this go-around seek to reduce or eliminate harvest of varying fish species that at least some members of the public believe are over-fished in some waterbodies.

The Oregon Bass and Panfish Club, whose long-standing motto is "Limit Your Kill — Don't Kill Your Limit," has offered a spate of proposals meant to curb what they consider to be excessive harvest of some warmwater fish in some lakes.

The club has asked for a statewide bag limit of crappie to be set at 50 a day, and a daily bag of 20 channel catfish.

Club President Eric Tonsager says the proposals target over-harvest by anglers in places like Brownlee Reservoir, where Tonsager fears excessive anglers could hammer the fishery into the ground.

"We're trying to combat Two-Cooler Carl coming and filling his two big coolers with fish," says Tonsager, of Wilsonville. "It's to protect the resource."

Other proposals include a slot limit for rainbow trout on Crane Prairie Reservoir, designation of Davis Lake as a catch-and-release fishery for rainbow trout and a cut in the surfperch limit from 15 per day in aggregate to 10.

A list of all the proposals, as well as a description of the review process and additional opportunities for public input can be found at www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/docs/2009_Public_Process_Packet.pdf.