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STEELHEAD RULING RAISES QUESTIONS

South Coast fisheries groups are reacting to a federal court decision that could result in a steelhead listing in Oregon.

In spite of record runs in the Northwest, a federal judge recently ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to reconsider its decision to not list steelhead as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The service has until March 31 to make a new decision.

The Klamath Management Zone Fisheries Coalition, which represents ports from Coos Bay to Eureka, voted Wednesday to send a letter to the service urging that all data be considered in making its decision.

The Port of Brookings-Harbor Fisheries Committee voted Thursday to sign off on the same letter.

The South Coast Fishermen are circulating a petition to the service that said, A listing of steelhead as a threatened fishery is unjustified and unwanted.

The petition went on to ask the service to allow fishermen a limit of two wild steelhead a year on the Chetco, Winchuck, Pistol and Elk rivers.

Some in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had been considering just such a move, but were awaiting the outcome of a suit by fishing and environmental groups asking for a listing.

Russ Stauff, a biologist with that department, told the South Coast Fishermen, Nobody knows what it (the court order) means, or what the National Marine Fisheries Service might do. We could see a listing here.

The judge ruled as she did, Stauff said, because she believed the states plan for rebuilding stocks, including volunteer efforts, was not sufficient.

He said his departments position from the start has been that steelhead stocks from the Elk River south are healthy and dont need rebuilding.

The fisheries service did not tell the judge that Oregons position was that the scientists got it wrong in the first place, he said.

Now, two years into a five-year steelhead survey, fish and wildlife has found steelhead populations are stronger than the department originally thought, said Stauff.

Other fish are doing well too. Stauff said by the end of May, it will once again be legal to catch and keep cutthroat trout.

Stauff said the fisheries service scientists his department worked with on the steelhead issue were not nearly as receptive to information as the ones who helped the south coast avoid a chinook listing.

Sea Grant Extension Agent Jim Waldvogel told the South Coast Fishermen there were underlying factors in the judges decision. He said the fishing and environmental groups that sued may have a hidden agenda to block some agricultural water uses.

If steelhead are listed, he said, it may not be legal to catch brood stock for hatcheries like the one at Rowdy Creek.

He said no one wants to see a situation where weaker fish are being released from hatcheries that are breeding fish many generations removed from the wild.

Curry County Commissioner-elect Lucie La Bont was among the first to raise the alarm over the judges decision.

She said the fisheries service is not aware of all the data fish and wildlife has on steelhead. If steelhead are listed, she asked, how many fish would be needed before the service would de-list them?

La Bont urged the Klamath coalition to send a letter to the service asking it to consider all available data on steelhead populations.

Coalition member Roger Thompson said fish and wildlife has done a major steelhead study during the last two years on the Oregon side of the Klamath Mountain Province.

Waldvogel said private lumber companies have been monitoring juvenile steelhead in California, but the data hasnt been released in public documents yet.

The next day, La Bont told the port fisheries committee, We and the National Marine Fisheries Service feel science is on our side on steelhead.

She said she will work with people in the Oregon timber industry to try to convince the California lumber companies to release their information to the service.

Jim Welter, the ports salmon advisor, said where steelhead counts are low, it is because there is such a low percentage of repeat spawners.

He said federal acts protecting marine mammals and birds have allowed predator populations to explode.

Females that have spawned cant get by the sea lions, seals and birds to reach the ocean again, he said, so they cant spawn a second or third year.

Waldvogel said a study will be done on California rivers this year tagging harbor seals to see if they move from river to river. He said the survey will also look for predator marks on fish.

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