Gates are opened for bountiful salmon harvest
VANCOUVER, WA - 4/11/03-- Taking advantage of continuing increases in returns, federal fisheries managers yesterday adopted the most bountiful West Coast salmon fishing seasons in 15 years.
"It's nice to see we've got some rewards for the gut-wrenching decisions we've made in the past to hold back harvest," said Hans Radtke, a fisheries economist. "This is the happiest process we've gone through."
West Coast salmon returns hit bottom in 1994, when the council had to practically shut down sport and commercial salmon fishing to keep from wiping out threatened and endangered runs, but have been increasing the past three years.
Scientists for NOAA Fisheries have given the bulk of the credit for improved returns to increased food in the ocean as a result of periodic climatic conditions.
Radtke, who serves as chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates sport and commercial fishing in the Pacific, said cutbacks in salmon harvests and billions of dollars spent on restoration of freshwater habitat have also played a role. In all, 26 populations of West Coast salmon and steelhead have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1991.
Increased returns of species that have been critically low in the past, such as Oregon coastal coho, Klamath River chinook and Columbia River tule chinook, gave managers more latitude to expand harvests without having to worry so much about guaranteeing enough fish will escape to spawn a new generation, said Chuck Tracy, salmon staff officer for the council.
"All the major stocks are in good shape," he said. "It was not so much a matter of meeting conservation objectives this year as allocation objectives."
While fishermen were happy with the seasons, Paul Engelmeyer of the Audubon Society, who represents conservationists on the council's Salmon Advisory Subpanel, said he was sorry that they did not take the opportunity to give future returns a bigger boost by keeping a lid on harvests. Engelmeyer said the estimates of the increased harvests on threatened and endangered fish were a guess at best.
The overall chinook harvest was projected at 1 million fish, down 7 percent from last year. Commercial fishermen take the bulk of the chinook harvest, and trollers in Oregon and Washington will see a slight reduction from last year.
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