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May Day a good ocean chinook option

BROOKINGS — Southern Oregon ocean anglers could see this year’s chinook salmon season either front-loaded to spring and early summer or back-loaded to provide the same number of fishing days but in months with less productive catches.

The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council released its season options for 2021, and already south coast angling advocates are lobbying for the season to begin mid-May and run through most of July.

That’s because fishing out of Brookings, which historically has some of the highest catch rates of any Oregon port, recently have been better early in the season than in August or early September.

That has advocates like Capt. Andy Martin, owner of Brookings Fishing Charters, lobbying for a May start.

“A salmon opener in May has much more economic value than extending the season into August, if one has to be selected over the other,” Martin says.

Last year’s chinook season off the south coast ran June 20 through Aug. 7, with action starting like a lion and ending like a lamb.

“The last few years we’ve had better fishing in June than August,” Martin says. “July is still peak. Our best salmon fishing in Brookings is mid-June through mid-July.”

Also, the ocean coho salmon season is poised to sport a quota five times larger than last year off the Oregon Coast thanks to high numbers of wild and hatchery coho forecast off the coast.

The PFMC will become the latest entity to adjust its public-comment approach by eschewing the traditional public hearings at coastal communities in favor of virtual meetings to gather comments on chinook and coho season proposals for the Pacific this year.

The council is slated to decide the seasons when it meets April 12-15 via webinar due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The option most touted by Curry County angling interests is the most liberal, with chinook fishing starting May 16 and running through July 23, while the most conservative calls for fishing July 1 through Aug. 28.

The baby-splitting middle option has fishing run from June 19 through Aug. 15.

Historically, south coast fishing advocates have lobbied for seasons that include Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday weekends, but only the most liberal season includes Memorial Day and none include Labor Day this year.

But catch and tourist patterns in recent years have advocates such as Martin seeking an early salmon season as a better tourist draw.

Anglers and visitors already come to the coast in August because the weather is good, and ocean fishing opportunities abound with bottom fish, albacore, halibut and surfperch. Salmon also are available in the Rogue Bay, Martin says.

Also, those seeking chinook in August now often flock to the Rogue River Bay to catch inland-running fish. That fishery isn’t very viable in May and June.

“A May opener can prompt seasonal RVers to arrive a month early and begin their stay in May instead of June, spending money in the community,” Martin says.

A May and early June opener, Martin argues, also would take pressure off bottomfish angling, which has become a key summer-long draw to Oregon’s south coast.

For coho salmon fishing, options are pretty wide open for 2021 after a short season last year that sported just 22,000 hatchery fish in the statewide quota.

Options for fishing for fin-clipped hatchery coho along the entire Oregon Coast could open as early as June 12 or as late as June 26, with quotas ranging from a high of 140,000 coho to a low of 110,000 coho.

Regardless, the options represent a distinct increase in angling opportunity from last year.

In addition, the PFMC is mulling a weekend fishery for wild coho off the Oregon Coast, which includes wild coho listed as a federally threatened species in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The current proposals calls for anglers to keep two salmon a day, including up to two wild coho, during three-day weekend fishing blocks beginning the weekend of Sept. 10 and stay open through Sept. 30 or when a quota is reached.

The proposed quotas range from a high of 15,500 wild coho to a low of 11,000 coho, according to the draft. Also, the PFMC has left open the option of adding or restricting fishing days if the wild coho catch is light or heavy early in the season.

The PFMC will conduct virtual webinars to collect comments on the proposals,

The online public hearing on salmon management in Oregon will be March 24. For details on how to offer public testimony online in real time, visit www.pcouncil.org/events/online-public-hearing-on-salmon-management-or-march-24-2021/.

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

Photo by Mark Freeman Jamie Lusch holds a chinook salmon landed while ocean fishing near Brookings in 2018.