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Wild steelhead harvest debate continues

A state board that sets fish and wildlife policy will debate whether the Rogue River and some other Southern Oregon streams will remain one of the last areas in North America where anglers can keep some of the wild steelhead they catch.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will reconvene virtually at 2:30 p.m. Monday in Salem to debate and send forward a draft plan set to govern management of steelhead, coho salmon and cutthroat trout on coastal streams from the Elk River near Port Orford to the California border.

That includes the Rogue and Chetco rivers, two of the top regional destinations by anglers for winter steelhead fishing.

The Rogue South Coast Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan has large support among stakeholders who helped the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife craft the plan over the past year.

However, much debate remains about whether anglers should be able to keep some of the wild steelhead they catch.

Some anglers and conservation groups point to the region as having one of the last decent runs of wild winter steelhead, which should be protected from anglers killing them before its strength wanes to troublesome status.

They point to a lack of data to accurately estimate wild steelhead runs in the Rogue and Chetco rivers as well as vague data on how many wild steelhead go home with anglers.

The current limit for the Rogue and these other south coast streams is one wild steelhead a day and no more than three a year, a limit that has been in place since 2018.

Backers of the status-quo argue that the agency information shows there is a harvestable surplus of wild steelhead, and agency policy historically has been to allow anglers to keep wild fish amid stable runs.

Estimates are that anglers catch and keep collectively no more than 15% of adult wild steelhead migrating in the Rogue and other south coast streams, with most streams under 10%, the draft states.

But that data is extrapolated from creel surveys and voluntary submissions of steelhead harvest card information from anglers who historically provide data at a low rate.

No public testimony will be taken Monday, as the meeting will continue a discussion from the Oct. 15 meeting, where more than 80 people signed up to testify.

The meeting will be livestreamed at ODFW’s YouTube channel and can be viewed at www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/.

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