PORTLAND -- The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission listed the lower Columbia River coho salmon as an endangered species under state law today, preceding a possible listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"It is unusual but not unprecedented for a state to list a species as endangered before the federal government lists it under the ESA. Our most recent data show good evidence that wild populations of lower Columbia coho still exist, at least in Oregon, and that their numbers have dwindled at an alarming rate in the past five years," said Mark Chilcote, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.
In the last 100 years, lower Columbia coho returns dropped from an historical high of over 600,000 fish to less than 20,000 in the 1970s and only a few thousand wild fish in 1998. Possible reasons for population decline in recent years include a loss of stream habitat, the effects of El Niño and an unsustainable number of wild coho to replenish the population.
"The Lower Columbia River wild coho are at a precariously low level. Our scientific studies prove a need for them to be protected," said Chilcote. Scientific review by scientists affiliated with federal and tribal agencies, universities and other organizations supports the action by the commission to list the species as endangered.
With the endangered lower Columbia coho listing by the Commission, survival guidelines were adopted that affect state lands in the Clackamas and Sandy River Basins. The survival guidelines control impacts in the areas of fisheries, hatcheries and habitat. Private and federal lands will not be affected by the listing. A second phase of the recovery effort will involve long-term survival plans to be incorporated into Gov. Kitzhaber^s Oregon Plan for salmon and watersheds to be completed within 24 months.
Anglers are not expected to see significant changes in the next 24 months. Sport anglers are already required to release wild coho. Existing 1999 seasons meet the survival guidelines adopted by the Commission today. Hatchery-raised coho, identified by a clipped adipose fin, can still be retained. As with any accidental landing of wild coho, there will be some degree of mortality. If mortality rates become too high, additional angling restrictions on all coho angling could be enacted. Anglers are reminded to handle coho with care and release wild coho unharmed.