By BILL LUNDQUIST
Members of the Port of Brookings Harbor Fisheries Committee were happy with the 95-day sport Chinook salmon season recently secured, but said Thursday it could have been better.
The season will run from May 15 through June 30 and Aug. 1 through Sept. 15 from Humbug Mountain near Port Orford to Horse Mountain near Eureka.
The proposed season had been closed for virtually all of July to protect endangered coho salmon passing through the area.
Last minute negotiations, however, also secured Chinook fishing days on July 3 and 4, giving an economic boost to coastal communities for the holiday.
Sport fishermen will be allowed to catch two Chinook a day, up to six in seven consecutive days.
Ken Byrtus, a port commissioner and chairman of the fisheries committee, said he arrived at the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meeting on April 10, "but everything had been put to bed by then."
He credited five men for securing a great Chinook season for the Klamath Management Zone: Ralph Brown, Jim Welter, Bob Crouch, Keith Wilkerson and Paul Kirk.
The five, from Southern Oregon and Northern California, play roles on local, state and federal fishery councils and committees.
While applauding the 2002 Chinook season, Byrtus also said, "We were caught flat-footed.
"We thought last year's option would fly this year. With the amount of fish to be caught, we asked for too little too late."
Sea Grant Extension Agent Jim Waldvogel said, "You have to request fish in a certain way. Be careful how you ask for something too late in the process.
"Once the fish were taken away in July, we were caught flat-footed. They went to the in-river fishery."
Welter said L.B. Boydstun, of the California Department of Fish and Game, ran all three of the proposed season options through the Klamath Ocean Harvest Model.
Welter said Boydstun had said at the Klamath Fishery Management Council meeting that he just wanted to take a look at what the options would do.
Before anyone knew what was happening, said Welter, Oregon had lost what few July days it traditionally received.
"The tremendous abundance of fish this year," he said, "was rolled into the river fishery."
Welter wasn't the only member of the port committee unhappy with a season that seemed to favor California ocean and river fisheries.
Byrtus said California fishermen are allowed to catch 86 Chinook with a seasonal card, Oregon fishermen only 20.
He said the bi-state Klamath Management Zone Coalition should work toward a 40-fish limit for California fishermen.
He also warned that the inequities threatened to drive a wedge between the California and Oregon representatives in the coalition.
"It's a big political issue," he said, "not common horse-sense right and wrong."
Byrtus and Port Manager Russ Crabtree, who helped found the coalition a decade ago, cautioned Welter and others to not lay too much blame at the feet of the California representatives.
They agreed the coalition had far more to gain through unity.
"Everyone did an incredible job," said Crabtree. "We might have gone through trials and tribulations at the local level, but we came up with a very viable option.
"The salmon season has improved every year. That's due to the coalition and the strength of local commitment."
Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont, a member of the port committee and the coalition, said, "It's such an important economic issue for the county."
She said Curry County is "so lucky" to have Brown on the PFMC, and before him, Gold Beach fisherman Scott Boley.
She said the county is also fortunate to have men like Welter and Waldvogel working on its fishery issues.
"It's incredible how the community worked together to get what was needed for the economy," said La Bont.
Thursday's meeting attracted other officials concerned with the area's economy, including Curry County Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf and Brookings Mayor Bob Hagbom.
Crouch said a year-round two-Chinook-a-day limit would make the area south of Humbug Mountain more uniform with the rest of Oregon.
"It would help us economically," he said. "We lose fishermen to the Rogue River.
Crouch also encouraged all ports to back Brown for another term on the PFMC. He said one of Brown's opponents for the position is in favor of marine reserve areas, and the other doesn't understand fishing problems as well as Brown.
Crabtree said his port supports Brown, but Crouch said the port should contact other ports and ask them to follow suit.
The port committee also discussed the October Trophy fishery where, for the first time in many years, commercial and sport fishermen in Brookings had agreed to fish at the same time.
Members learned that at meetings in other parts of the state, fishermen are denying that such a consensus exists in Brookings.
"That's why unity is important at the state level," said Crabtree. He said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is listening to single voices.
Welter said it pointed out the need for people to be informed before they got involved in the season option process.
He made a motion that any decision made by the port committee or coalition be faxed to the ODFW, the chambers of commerce, the Oregon Salmon Commission, and others.
"That's a great idea," said Byrtus.
He said if everyone understands what is going on, no one can drive a wedge between the various representatives.
"All of us will discuss things before shooting letters out," he said. "There will be no surprises in our groups."
Welter's motion passed unanimously.