The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has reduced the bag limit on wild Chinook salmon on the Siletz River to one adult Chinook per day from May 1 through July 31.

The announcement from ODFW Monday was due to poor Chinook salmon returns in 2019 and a low fall Chinook forecast for 2020 for the river in Lincoln County. The bag limit had been two adult wild Chinook.

The reduced limit was triggered by a provision of ODFW’s Coastal Multi-Species Conservation Management Plan that requires ODFW to lower harvest impacts when population forecasts decline to a certain level. The reduced bag limit is intended to improve the natural production of wild Chinook.

PACIFIC HALIBUT SPORTSFISHING SEASON: ODFW fisheries managers announced that the Pacific Halibut nearshore sportfishing season for the Centrla Coast subarea will open May 1 as scheduled. But the all-depth season will not open to May 14.

The subarea stretches from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain and normally draws a high level of participation for the all-depth season, which means season modifications might be necessary due to COVID-19 concerns.

The nearshore season does not attract a large number of halibut anglers in a short time period, particularly in the early part of the season, ODFW said.

Southern Oregon subarea will open May 1 as planned. Most boat ramps and access points in that area, from Humbug Mountain to the California border, remain open.

The Columbia River all-depth and nearshore seasons are currently postponed, pending further consultation between ODFW and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The two agencies manage the shared subarea in close coordination, although each state may adopt different opening dates if necessary. The all-depth season was scheduled to open April 30 and the nearshore season May 4. ODFW will announce new opening dates after a decision is made.

SANTIAM BASIN: Wild steelhead are making a rebound in the Santiam Basin, which includes the North and South Santiam rivers, but ODFW is reminding anglers that fishing for the winter steelhead remains closed through the basin.

Wild winter steelhead are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and have been moving into the basin in greater numbers than in recent years.

Through April 19, 5,255 native winter steelhead made it past the ODFW fish counting station at Willamette Falls and into the upper Willamette River on their way to their spawning grounds. An all-time low of 822 fish made it to that point in 2017. Since then, ODFW implemented measures to protect the fish, including removing California sea lions that were preying on them below Willamette Falls.

“We’re glad to see a healthier run of wild winter steelhead this year and want to see these fish help the overall population,” said Elise Kelly, a fish biologist for ODFW’s Mid-Willamette District.

Kelley said anglers can help by leaving the fish alone.

With the arrival of sunny weather, more people want to get out fishing. ODFW would like to see them focus on spring Chinook and summer steelhead that have just started crossing over Willamette Falls or trying to catch trout where angling is currently allowed.

“It would be most helpful if folks left winter steelhead alone,” Kelley said. “Often anglers, particularly fly and lure anglers, feel that the impact they have is minimal. However, it takes energy for a steelhead to fight an angler, energy that could be better spent moving to their spawning grounds and reproducing.

If an angler accidentally hooks a winter steelhead while fishing for a summer steelhead, they should release it with care. Winter steelhead can be identified by their intact adipose fins — hatchery summer steelhead have had that fin removed.

To learn how to safely release a fish, look in ODFW’s Sport Fishing Regulations (Page 15, under Freshwater Angling Ethics).

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