By MARK FREEMAN
Southern Oregon's commercial trolling fleet is poised for a robust chinook salmon season this year -- a stark rebound from just five years ago when the entire summer season was closed.
Strong showings of chinook bound for the rivers of Southern Oregon and Northern California have federal fish managers ready to craft liberal summer commercial and recreational seasons.
Three options are on the table for the commercial ocean chinook season, with quotas ranging from a high of 9,000 chinook to a low of 5,500 chinook for the ports of Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford beginning in June.
The higher quota option "almost doubles the quota from last year," says Eric Schindler, project leader for ocean salmon management for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The commercial (season) is looking pretty good."
The Pacific Fishery Management Council earlier this week crafted three options for the commercial fleet fishing the Oregon half of the Klamath Management Zone, which encompasses the waters between Humbug Mountain near Port Orford and Horse Mountain in Northern California.
Salmon here are largely managed based on the abundance of fish returning to California's Klamath and Sacramento rivers, both of which had strong returns last year and are predicted to be strong again this year.
Under the most liberal option, the commercial fleet for Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford would get a 4,000 chinook quota for June, a 3,000 chinook quota for July and a 2,000 chinook quota for August, according to the PFMC.
The council, which advises the U.S. Department of Commerce on ocean fishing seasons, is in the midst of gathering public comment on the alternatives. That includes a public hearing set for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 25, at the Red Lion Hotel, 1313 N. Bayshore Dr., in Coos Bay.
The council will convene April 5-11 in Portland to set the seasons, which must be approved by the Department of Commerce.
The council doesn't have to stick to any of the three options when it sets the seasons. However, Schindler said Southern Oregon's liberal chinook seasons appear safe after lengthy negotiations between various sport and commercial interests during the PFMC's week-long meeting in Tacoma.
Under each option, the commercial fleet will be limited to keeping chinook that are at least 28 inches long, and boats will be limited to 30 chinook each per day.
The Port of Brookings-Harbor is home to a commercial fleet of about 60 fishing boats, with perhaps a third taking part in the troll season.
Depressed returns of Sacramento River chinook led to a complete summer closure for salmon fishermen in 2008. Those who rode out the poor seasons by fishing for other ocean commodities such as crab, bottomfish and tuna will welcome a good troll season.
"It's looking all right to me," said port manager Pat Fitzgerald. "If it's a good season, 20 boats will be fishing chinook. If it gets successful, you'll see more people fishing it."
During the troll season, fishermen drag baited lines through the ocean, then haul the chinook in by hand.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.