December 26, 2002

Anglers can harvest wild steelhead again

Mail Tribune

After a five-year ban on the harvest of wild steelhead, Oregon
anglers can get a taste of the wild fish again in some south coast streams when a late Christmas present comes Wednesday.

Beginning Jan. 1, anglers will be able to harvest a single wild steelhead a day on the Chetco River, the Elk River and four smaller
streams that flow out of the Coast Range to the sea in Curry County.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in July unanimously adopted
the new wild steelhead bag limit for these streams after Oregon
Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists successfully argued their wild steelhead populations are some of the healthiest along the coast - and, perhaps, the world.

The effected streams are the Chetco, the Elk, Hunter Creek, Pistol
River, the Winchuck River along the Oregon/California border and
Euchre Creek, which is a small stream near Port Orford.

They all are considered high producers of some of the largest winter
steelhead grown in Oregon. Of these streams, only the Chetco has a hatchery steelhead program, with just 50,000 winter steelhead smolts released annually into the river at Brookings.

The new rule allows an angler to keep one wild steelhead as part of
the two-fish daily limit on these streams. But anglers can keep just five wild steelhead a year.

A similar rule is in effect on the Rogue during the winter steelhead

The wild steelhead ban was part of a deal ODFW cut in 1997 with the
National Marine Fisheries Service to sidestep a threatened species
listing for wild steelhead in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Russ Stauff, an ODFW biologist in Gold Beach, pushed for five years
for the change because he believes the streams' bountiful steelhead
populations warrant some harvest.

ODFW surveys since 1997 show these streams are teeming with infant
steelhead at concentrations never recorded in the United States,
Canada and Russia.

"We probably have the healthiest population of steelhead in the
world," says Stauff. "I think this is the best way to protect these

Since the ban on wild steelhead harvest, Stauff had received heavy
pressure from angling groups to increase the stocking of hatchery
steelhead in the Chetco and to expand the program to the Elk River
and other streams mired in an all catch-and-release fishery. But Stauff
thought expanding the hatchery program was unnecessary and expensive,
and instead began working on getting the wild steelhead ban lifted.

The proposal garnered strong support from some of Oregon's most
staunch wild-fish advocacy groups because the research showed these
particular runs can absorb limited harvest.

"I like it," says Bill Bakke, founder of the Portland-based Native
Fish Society. "If you have a robust population where you can allow a low kill, that's less risky than adding hatchery fish."

Stauff says harvest on wild steelhead likely will be low because
many anglers want to release all the wild steelhead they catch as an
ethical choice.

However, allowing the occasional harvest of a wild fish taps into
the heritage of winter steelhead fishing - killing and eating a prized
fish - without jeopardizing the runs.

"I think what we're developing here is a new ethic," Stauff says.
"It's a combination of the new (catch-and-release) dogma and heritage."

The change comes as winter steelhead fishing kicks into gear on the
Chetco, where recent rains have drawn the first steelhead of the year
upriver, says Tony Kronemeyer of the Sporthaven Marina at the
Chetco's mouth.

Fishing with roe and plug lures are popular on the Chetco and Elk,
which are easily traversed in driftboats by even novice rowers. Pistol
River, Hunter Creek, the Winchuck River and Euchre Creek are all fished off the bank by wading anglers who primarily cast roe and corkies.

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