By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Baker County commissioners approved a plan Wednesday to stock the Powder River this spring with between 150 and 200 surplus chinook salmon.
The hatchery-raised fish will be captured by the Hells Canyon Dam fish trap and trucked to Powder River below Mason Dam, perhaps as early as next month. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife proposes to release 50 chinook in Baker City along the Leo Adler Parkway and 150 below Mason Dam to establish a sport fishery in the Powder River.
Bruce Eddy, ODFW's acting regional manager, stressed the experimental nature of this first foray into establishing a local sport fishery along the river between Thief Valley Dam upstream to Mason Dam.
andquot;We don't know what's going to happen,andquot; he told commissioners. andquot;We hope this is going to work out, but we're like everybody else. We'll need to evaluate how it's worked out afterward.andquot;
Pending approval by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission which will hear the proposal next month, Eddy said the proposed season will be from May 24 through Sept. 1.
There's no decision yet about which days the river will be stocked, said Jeff Zakel, ODFW district fisheries biologist for Baker and Union counties. Nor have officials determined which area would be stocked first.
That depends, he said, on how the run is going and which day they are trapped at Hells Canyon.
It's not uncommon, Eddy said, for eager anglers to follow the department's trout-stocking teams as they drive around.
The ODFW would rather that not be the case with salmon, which Zakel said are andquot;confused for a bitandquot; after they're taken from the truck. andquot;They want shelter and a decent environment, and they will scoot around locally until they've straightened things out for themselves.andquot;
Two a day maximum
Under the proposal, the daily bag limit will be two fish. A valid Oregon fishing license and a combined angling harvest tag or hatchery harvest tag will be required, Zakel said. That means adults will pay $46.25 and youth ages 14 through 17 will pay $13.25 for the privilege. No license is required for children under 14, but they must pay $6.50 for the combined angling harvest tag, or punchcard.
Nobody needs a fishing license for the weekend of June 12 and 13, Oregon's free fishing weekend.
In similar fisheries in the Payette and Boise rivers, the harvest rate was between 40 and 50 percent, Zakel said. The hatchery fish, which are four years old and weigh about 10 pounds, are of good quality until about mid-July. Even after that date, though, their meat can be smoked, he said.
County commissioners voted Wednesday to evaluate the experiment after the season is completed. Performing the evaluation will be the county commission, the ODFW, and affected landowners, whose concerns about trespassing, littering and potential for andquot;combat fishingandquot; were discussed at a meeting last week and again during the commission session Wednesday.
Ralph Morgan, who owns land below where the fish will be dumped above Bowen Valley, said that while he realizes that salmon fishing will help the local economy and that andquot;everybody likes to fish,andquot; he hopes that anglers will respect private property.
andquot;I intend to help the locally economy myself,andquot; he said with a smile. andquot;I'm going to go purchase some 'No Trespassing' signs.andquot;
Wayne Lewis, for 34 years a fish and game law enforcement officer, said his only concern with the proposal was placing large fish in a concentrated area.
andquot;You could end up with a snag fishery, and there's nothing sporting about that,andquot; he said. andquot;(Chinook salmon) tend to congregate, and they don't really bite even after you've thrown everything in your tackle box at them. I know our game officers already have a lot to do.andquot;
Zakel said during similar experiments, including one at Lookingglass Creek in 2001, andquot;we were concerned about the comportment of anglers. But we were very impressed with the quality anglers brought. They made room for each other. The issue was more with littering than with belligerent behavior.
andquot;They were just happy to be fishing.andquot;
Zakel and Eddy also addressed these potential concerns Wednesday:
o No other fish species will be released into the Powder. Fish other than chinook will be removed at the trap and returned to the Snake River.
o It's andquot;very unlikelyandquot; these fish will reproduce and result in a Powder River chinook population. The 2001 hatchery stock did not result in wild production in the Grande Ronde, Zakel said. andquot;Current Powder River habitat conditions and the barriers to migration to and from the ocean make establishing a chinook population here very unlikely at this time,andquot; Zakel wrote to commissioners.
o A media campaign, asking anglers to andquot;ask firstandquot; before fishing on private land, should help alleviate potential trespassing problems.
o There's no connection between this andquot;put-and-takeandquot; fishery and the listing of bull trout and its critical habitat and recovery, Zakel wrote. andquot;This is not an effort to enhance or restore any bull trout population. Recent experience in the Imnaha and Lookingglass chinook fisheries doesn't suggest this fishery would impact any existing bull trout populations,andquot; he wrote.
o Biologists don't know if these fish will migrate to other areas of the Powder River. andquot;It's our hope, based on past experience, that these fish will stay near where they are released and eventually be caught by anglers,andquot; Zakel wrote.
o The release will have no effect on instream flows and will require no additional fish screens on the river or its irrigation canals, Zakel wrote.
Commissioner Tim Kerns said he was satisfied there were no conflicts with area irrigators and that andquot;there are no bull trout where you're putting these fish.andquot;
Fellow commissioner Carl Stiff said he could andquot;already see a kid's picture in the paper, a kid holding up a great big fish. If we don't try this, we're passing up a great opportunity.andquot;
Commissioners adopted the proposal unanimously.