- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon officials have prohibited fishing or curtailed fishing hours on most rivers in the state to avoid additional stress on wild fish suffering from drought-related high water temperatures and low stream flows.

The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife says angling for trout, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon will be prohibited at all times in the Willamette River downstream of Willamette Falls, on a section of the Clackamas River and several sections of the John Day River.

Officials said those rivers with a complete ban have the highest temperatures, the lowest flows, and have already experienced fish die-offs. The Willamette River saw scores of dead salmon in June. And earlier this month, state biologists examined about 50 dead sockeye salmon in the mouth of the Deschutes River.

And fishing won’t be allowed on most rivers from 2 p.m. to one hour before sunrise, during the hottest part of the day when temperatures are at the highest levels. The closures and restrictions are effective Saturday, until further notice.

“We have extremely low water levels in all these streams, not a good snow back, not a lot of rain,” said Mike Gauvin, ODFW’s recreation fisheries manager. “We’re trying to do whatever we can to protect our native fish.”

Fishing hours will remain unchanged at a few spots, such as on sections of the Wallowa, Malheur and Klamath rivers, which are less prone to high water temperatures.

Officials said fishing for warm water species, such as bass and walleye, isn’t affected by closures, nor is lake and reservoir fishing or ocean fishing. And, they said, most of the rivers are still open in the morning, when fishing is best.

Officials will also discuss curtailment of recreational catch-and-release sturgeon fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

In addition to fishing restrictions, the state’s trout stocking schedules and locations have been adjusted and some hatchery fish have been released early as a result of high water temperatures.

A survey released earlier this month of the lower reaches of 54 rivers in Oregon, California and Washington by the conservation group Wild Fish Conservancy showed nearly three-quarters had temperatures higher than 70 degrees, considered potentially deadly for salmon and trout.

Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Association said her group understands and supports the restrictions. But, she said, when temperatures get too warm, fish go off the bite, and anglers quit fishing anyway. And fishing restrictions, she said, won’t fix the high temperatures in the rivers.

“This is more of a well-meaning gesture,” said Hamilton. “But if a few fish are saved, that’s a good thing.”

The hope, Hamilton said, is that the drought will spur deeper changes that can help fish, such as improving riparian cover, reviewing how reservoir levels are managed during years of low snow packs, or even adding temperature regulating towers at dams.

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