By SCOTT GRAVES
State Biologist Clayton Barber stood on the edge of a disappearing sandbar in the middle of the Chetco River Tuesday, measuring juvenile chinook salmon hauled in by a net cast by a group of volunteers.
The Chetco is a pretty healthy system; we have a lot of fish, was Barbers preliminary conclusion, based on the length and number of fish caught that morning.
Tuesdays catch was part of an ongoing effort by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and volunteers up and down the coast.
In Curry County, members of South Coast Fishermen help Barber catch and count fish on the Chetco and Winchuck rivers.
The program started in June and is expected to end later this month, Barber said.
The purpose of the project is to track the growth rate of migratory juvenile salmon, which in turn determines future fishing regulations and listings by the federal government, he said.
The growth rate is related to abundance, Barber said. I havent crunched the numbers yet, but this year things are looking pretty average.
This was good news for John Arnold, president of the South Coast Fishermen. This helps us prove the fish habitat is great and theres more fish than (the federal government) thinks, Arnold said.
If it werent for us (volunteers), they would have closed down fishing here a long time ago, he said.
Arnold said last year approximately 140,000 fish were counted on the Winchuck River.
Its too early to know what the number will be this year, but so far it appears to be on the same track, he said.
On the Winchuck River, volunteers have installed a screw trap, a round rotary-type trap that collects fish and funnels them into a holding tank to be counted. Up to 300 to 400 fish have been counted each day at the Winchuck, said South Coast Fishermen member Dick Sutter
On the Chetco River, groups of volunteers have been catching fish using a seine, a large net with sinkers on one edge and floats on the other.
On Tuesday morning, a group of 12 volunteers and Barber motored out in two aluminum boats to a gravel bar exposed at low tide just west of the bridge.
The fishermen pulled one end of the seine out into the river using a boat and brought it back in an arc. The net, which hangs vertically in the water, collected fish as the volunteers pulled the ends of it together and pulled their catch onto the bar.
The bounty included juvenile chinook, a few steelhead, pile surf perch, anchovies and even a cutthroat or two.
Sutter said the volunteer program saves Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife approximately $50,000 a year.
Barber said the volunteers are critical to the program.
We wouldnt be doing this without the volunteers, he said. Were doing more inventory of fish up and down the coast then we otherwise would.