COOS BAY — State officials and representatives of South Coast stakeholder groups wrapped up the last round preliminary discussions over a controversial fisheries management plan Monday in a tense meeting at the South Slough.
Ed Bowles, fish division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the next step for the Coastal Multi-Species Management Plan is a series of public town hall meetings.
“We really haven’t begun the formal public process, yet,” Bowles said.
The current draft of the plan calls for the elimination of winter chinook salmon releases on the West Fork Millicoma River and winter steelhead releases on the South Fork Coos River.
The state’s hatcheries are run through the Salmon Trout Enhancement Program, which raises and releases steelhead and chinook salmon to supplement native fish stocks.
The agency has cited conservation risk posed by hatchery fish mingling with native fish as a motive for cutting hatchery releases.
Although the meeting had only a limited public comment period, the approximately two dozen that filled the audience made the most of it.
Fisherman Dale Karstetter lambasted the agency for what he described as ignoring the value of the hatchery programs.
“The only reason you have any salmon in the east fork of the Millicoma, the west fork of the Millicoma is because of the STEP program,” he said. “The native fish in these rivers are non-existent.”
Bruce Bertrand, president of the South Coast Anglers STEP Association, said it was likely many of the state administrators couldn’t remember a time before STEP.
“I’m looking around at some of the ODFW officials, and they’re a lot younger than we are,” he said.
Bowles said the agency was doing its best to balance risk management with creating opportunities for end users.
“I know opportunity means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” he said, but stressed that the agency was keeping recreational fisherman in mind.
The public process and town hall meetings are expected to precede action by the ODFW Commission next year.
Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasDMoriarty.