Bills would hamper Phillips Reservoir recovery

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

A pair of bills pending in the Oregon Legislature could thwart the state's campaign to curb the yellow perch population in Phillips Reservoir, and decimate the bass fishery that lures anglers from across the West to the Snake River reservoirs on Baker County's eastern border.

Fortunately, neither House Bill 2632 nor Senate Bill 603 has gained much traction in Salem.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had a public hearing on its version of the legislation Feb. 4. The Senate version hasn't had a public hearing.

But even if neither bill becomes law, they illustrate the potential

pratfalls of one-size-fits all legislation in a state as diverse, in

terms of fish species and habitat, as Oregon.

The basic goal of the bills seems reasonable: To ensure that the state

Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) focuses on protecting native

fish, and in particular anadromous species such as salmon and steelhead.

To that end, the bills would prohibit the state from "enhancing,

protecting or introducing into waters of this state fish that is not

native."

Trouble is, in the case of Phillips Reservoir the campaign to protect a

native species - rainbow trout - includes the release in the reservoir

of a non-native species: tiger trout.

ODFW officials plan to release about 10,000 tiger trout in Phillips

this fall, in the hope that the fish, which are sterile, will

outcompete perch for food and, potentially, eat some young perch.

But the bills, as introduced, would prohibit the state from releasing

tiger trout as well as tiger muskies, another non-native species that

also eats perch.

In other words, these bills that are supposed to favor native fish

could in fact benefit a non-native species, yellow perch, over the

native rainbow trout.

On the positive side, Jessica Sall, an ODFW spokeswoman, said lawmakers

have discussed a revised version of the bills that would exempt the

tiger trout project at Phillips.

If either bill does move ahead in the legislative process, that exemption, at a minimum, should be included.

But that's not the only place where the legislation could be improved.

The bills would prohibit the state from enforcing bag limits, size restrictions or other angling rules for non-native fish.

That means ODFW would have to get rid of a host of regulations designed

to preserve smallmouth bass populations in Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells

Canyon reservoirs.

The most stringent of these rules apply to Oxbow. There, anglers must

release all bass they catch between Jan. 1 and June 30. The daily bag

limit for the rest of the year is two bass per day, except that any

bass from 12 inches to 16 inches long must be released.

We're concerned that removing all limits on bass fishing could

significantly reduce the population of those fish in the three

reservoirs.

All three are popular fishing destinations that attract anglers who

patronize Baker County motels, gas stations and other businesses.

Anglers are an especially vital clientele in small towns such as Huntington, Richland and Halfway.

Banning the state from preserving populations of non-native bass seem

misguided in these three reservoirs since none shelters the anadromous

fish the bills are supposed to protect.

Hells Canyon Dam, which lacks fish ladders, prevents salmon and steelhead from migrating any farther upriver.

13110481
The Baker City Herald
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