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November 23, 2005 By Peter Rice, Pilot Staff Writer

Coho salmon on much of the Oregon coast could soon be classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The federal government is expected to issue a decision on the matter as early as mid-December. Right now, the proposal is still open for public comment, according to Kevin Goodson, a conservation planner with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

The "coastal coho" can be found in Curry County's Sixes River and Floras Creek. The range then stretches north to about Seaside.

Scientists treat coho from Cape Blanco down into Northern California as a different group, partly because they have evolved to adapt to different sorts of river conditions. The Southern Oregon/Northern California variety is already listed as threatened.

Counting fish is never an exact science, but records from canneries indicate that in the 1920s, as many as one million coastal coho returned to spawn in Oregon rivers. A mix of fishing, habitat loss and poor ocean conditions caused the numbers to dwindle to around 25,000 in the 1990s. They've since bounced back a little, to an estimated 250,000 in 2002, according to Goodson.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will have to decide soon if the numbers are low enough to be considered threatened and, if so, what a good population target number might be.

If the species is listed, the impact on anglers should actually be minimal because the coastal coho was already listed as threatened in 1997, a decision was later thrown out in court.

Goodson said that regulations, which had clamped down on fishing coho with the original listing, never loosened up with the court ruling.

To this day, it's only legal to catch hatchery-bred coho.

Whether the coho is listed as threatened or not, the Sixes River and Floras Creek are in for some habitat improvements.

A committee of 21 people from governments, ports, watershed councils and industry groups are coming up with a list of projects that, over the next several years, could bolster the health of the waterways.

The projects include efforts to clutter the rivers with logs and other impediments, thereby creating deeper hiding places for the fish, and also to making it easier for them to swim upstream. Southcoast Watersheds coordinator Harry Hoogesteger said there are also projects to cool off the river water  something essential for healthy salmon and to reduce fine silt and soil runoff from older roads.

"Those kinds of sediments can suffocate salmon eggs," he said.




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