An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist told a gathering in Newport Thursday night that before commercial harvesting of Oregon Coastal Coho can resume, there will have to be marked improvements in the “Threatened” fish’s habitat. And by ODF&W’s scorecard, there is a lot more work to be done on that.
ODFW’s Dave Avery, addressing the MidCoast Watersheds Council, outlined the Oregon Coastal Coho Conservation Plan that’s been in the works for a long time. It shows that coastal Coho numbers have come back slightly, prompting ODFW to allow limited sports fishing for Coho – but again, no commercial harvesting. That prompted a sharp rebuke from a commercial fisherman who complained that data on Coho populations is incomplete. He claimed that variable ocean conditions, along with various other wildlife that eat baby and adult Coho may be more of a problem than what has been pinned on commercial fishermen. Avery sympathized with his position but indicated that the state can’t control ocean conditions, and that predation is another issue altogether. He said ODFW’s strategy is to restore prime Coho habitat in hopes that it will increase fish counts.
Avery told the council that Coho fish numbers are well off targeted levels for most, if not all, coastal rivers. But he added that although stream and river bank restoration projects are proceeding well, thanks to the hard work by local watershed councils, general construction and other development along those same rivers and streams are cancelling out the council’s good work. Avery said better information sharing among resource management agencies like Division of State Lands, DEQ, ODFW, Army Corps of Engineers and others is sorely needed to ensure that one agency doesn’t take one step forward while others take several steps back thereby creating a “net” harmful effect on fish habitat and therefore on fish counts.
Avery said ODFW recognizes the great importance of coastal Coho to the economy and to the dinner plates of residents along the Oregon Coast. But he reminded the room that coastal Coho remains a threatened species but likewise he said scientists know that by improving Coho spawning and rearing habitat, as well as limiting sport and commercial fishing, the Coho will come back. Just when that might be is unknown. He told the council that prime habitat along coastal rivers and streams is adequate along 60% of Beaver Creek, 43% of the Siletz River, 34% of the Salmon River, 22% of the Alsea and just 20% of the Yaquina.
Watershed councils up and down the coast use a combination of volunteers and grants to restore prime fish habitat. They strategically place logs in streams to slow down the water to create ponds, encourage beaver activity to better regulate stream flows, plant trees to create shade to keep summertime water temperatures from rising too high, and remove natural or man-made barriers so fish can more easily swim upstream to their spawning grounds and gravels.
The watersheds council thanked Avery for his report and proceeded to him pepper him with questions well after his formal presentation.