From: Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press
Published May 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Fishing Industry Suffering as Salmon Runs Drastically Drop

PORTLAND, Ore. — Fertilizer salesman Rex Harke had planned to take 12 of his most loyal clients on a salmon fishing expedition down the Columbia River this week.


Normally at this time, the spring chinook salmon are charging up the river in the tens of thousands, heading from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning beds.


But in a phenomenon that has puzzled biologists, the fish turnout has been frighteningly low. Officials have halted sport and commercial fishing on the river -- and Harke has reluctantly called his guide to cancel.


It was one of 57 cancellations that Clancy Holt, president of Sportfishing Guides of Washington and an avid salmon fisherman, said he received in the three weeks since the closure was announced last month. In all, he has returned $10,000 in deposits to clients like Harke.


The economic impact of the closure is hitting the fishing industry hard, but its ripple effect is being felt in communities up and down the river, said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. She estimates the region as a whole will lose as much as $10 million.


"We call it the 'c' word -- closure," she said. "It just puts a black cloud over the area that is very hard to overcome."


Fishing tackle manufacturers are particularly affected. In February, when fishery managers were predicting a high run, salmon lures were selling by the grocery bag -- hundreds at a time, said Buzz Ramsey, the regional sales manager of Luhr Jensen & Sons, the country's largest manufacturer of salmon lures.


Now, the company has been forced to lay off five employees, after sales fell 7 percent compared to the same time last year.


This week, Oregon's and Washington's fish and wildlife departments are expected to slash their forecast for spring chinook expected to enter the mouth of the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to around 80,000 -- about a third of the 254,000 initially predicted.


So far, only around 50,000 fish have been counted at Bonneville Dam, east of Portland. One year ago at the same spot, more than 128,000 were counted.


Curt Melcher, who manages the Columbia River and ocean salmon fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, cautions that the low returns should be compared to 1995, the worst year on record, when just 10,000 spring chinook were counted.


"We are concerned -- there's no doubt about that," he said. "But until we gather the final information and try to tease out what the cause of this apparent shortfall is, we're certainly not going to declare the end of the world."


Source: Associated Press


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