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Fight to protect salmon against smallmouth bass sees success with fishing derby

Man examining other man's catch of bass.
Photo provided by Coquille Indian Tribe.
In this photo from September 2022, a bass derby volunteer uses an electronic scanner on an angler’s catch. The scanner spots implanted microchips that are redeemable for cash prizes.

A cash-prize fishing derby has proven to be an effective tactic against invasive bass in southern Oregon.

To date, almost 12,000 fish have been reeled in since last year by anglers, as part of the annual small mouth bass derby.

The event is hosted by the Port of Coquille River and sponsored by the Coquille Tribe, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and 3J Ranchers.

Brenda Meade, chair of the Coquille Indians, told KLCC that this helps reduce a major scourge in their local waterways.

Brian Bull
In this September 2021 photo, Helena Linnell of the Coquille Tribe (seated) and Gary Vanderohe of the ODFW (center) take his agency's electrified boat up the Coquille River to zap and remove invasive bass.

“They are just eating machines on the river, and they’re eating the salmon smolt,” said Meade. “Salmon…there would be a huge loss, culturally significant to our ceremonies. To traditional foods. To our way of life.”

Meade said the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife did a survey of salmon in the Coquille River and estuaries, and determined that in a ten-year period from 2011 to 2021, returning salmon numbers were near extinction levels, or 99%.

Since then, the tribe and ODFW have collaborated on several ventures to reduce the bass population. This has included spearfishing, electrofishing, and the introduction of the derby last year.

Hand in net full of fish.
Brian Bull
Some of the invasive bass caught by electrofishing boats, in Oct. 2021.

Meade said it made her happy and hopeful to see so many “young people standing out there on the edges of the bridges” fishing for smallmouth bass, and acknowledged that living with the invasive fish may be the norm. But reducing the bass helps the salmon, as well as lampreys and other wildlife.

The 2nd annual derby started in June, and has been extended to Oct. 1. There are 80 tagged fish that can win anglers money, with payouts ranging from $50 all the way up to one worth $10,000 (which organizers say remains at large).

Derby contestants have to pay a $20 entry fee and sign up before fishing. Volunteers will be at Sturdivant Park in Coquille on Saturdays between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and at the Myrtle Point boat ramp on Sundays at the same time to scan catches for microchips identifying them as cash-winning fish.

More details on the derby can be found online at thePOCRD.com.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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