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Help Sought in Fish Poaching Cases

by Henry Miller
Statesman Journal, August 20, 2008

Twice in less than two weeks, Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division officers out of The Dalles office have asked for the public's help in solving a pair of illegal fishing cases.

Between the two incidents, more than 80 salmon, steelhead and sturgeon and 181 Pacific lamprey, a protected species, were wasted.

The most recent incident was discovered Aug. 13 near Covington Point on the Columbia River in the no-boating zone at The Dalles Dam, where troopers, with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, recovered two illegal gillnets.

The largest was more than 100 feet long.

"This particular net was stretched across a cove, so I imagine this one was deployed from the shoreline, one guy with a rope pulling across the cove," said Sgt. John Katzenstein of the state police The Dalles Area Command.

The net apparently had snagged on rocks and was abandoned.

"You couldn't recover it from shore because it was hung up in the rocks," Katzenstein said. "The only reason we were able to recover it was that we were able to get a boat in there and pull on it from a different direction.

"Unfortunately, by that time - by the time we located it - all the fish had spoiled."

More than 40 salmon, steelhead and sturgeon were entangled in the net. Of all of the fish, only six sturgeon were alive, and released.

And troopers recovering the net made another discovery, a second disguised gillnet stretched between the scaffolding of two Native American fishing platforms.

"The second one that we noticed - while we were pulling the first one - was sheer luck," Katzenstein said. "The wake from the boat, we saw some corks pop up ... It was obviously recently deployed because there were no fish in it.

"And all the corks were painted black so it was very difficult to see."

Katzenstein estimated that because of the deteriorated condition of the fish in the first net, it probably had been in the river about two weeks.

"It takes several weeks for them to get to that condition," he said. "I would think a two-week window, probably."

He hopes that anyone who might have seen anything suspicious early in the month at The Dalles Dam call in tips.

"We really need to find these guys and put a stop to their behavior," Katzenstein said. "There's illegal fishing going on all the time, but the wasting is the biggest concern that I have. "

The first incident was slightly more than a week earlier, Aug. 5.

That's when someone who stopped at Celilo Park, about 13 miles east of The Dalles, called in a report about illegal dumping of fish at the park.

When troopers arrived, they found the carcasses of 181 Pacific lamprey and 37 steelhead, 22 of them non-fin clipped native fish.

Steelhead in the mid-Columbia River are listed as threatened under the federal Engangered Species Act.

"We've had them in the past," Katzenstein said about the dumping of fish. "But never with Pacific lamprey."

In 1993, Pacific lamprey were listed as a sensitive species on the state Endangered Species List.

There is no legal take allowed on the Columbia. The only legal take is by state permit by federally recognized Native American tribes at Willamette Falls on the Willamette River and at Sherars Falls on the Deschutes River.

Discovery of the discarded non-hatchery steelhead could set back recovery efforts on the Columbia.

"Considering the small size of some of the listed populations in the Mid-Columbia, actions such as this incident can have significant longterm effects on the population's persistence and recovery," said Rod French, the District Fish Biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's office in The Dalles.

Fish poaching

What: Tips on the Aug. 5 dumping of steelhead and Pacific lamprey at Celilo Park east of The Dalles, or an early August illegal gillnet set near The Dalles Dam.

Rewards: Tips that lead to the arrest and conviction in either or both of the incidents are eligible for rewards. In the case of the Celilo Park dumping, the reward could be as much at $1,000

Who to call: Sgt. John Katzenstein, OSP Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division in The Dalles, at (541) 296-9646.

Anonymous tips: You still can be eligible for a reward by calling the Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline at (800) 452-7888.

Henry Miller
Help Sought in Fish Poaching Cases
Statesman Journal, August 20, 2008

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