By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon wildlife officials are restricting fishing on most of the state's rivers in a first-of-its-kind effort to help fish populations that are dying off from high water temperatures as the state suffers ongoing drought conditions.
Starting on Saturday and until further notice, fishing for trout, salmon, steelhead and sturgeon will be prohibited in most Oregon rivers, including part of the Willamette River, which runs through the middle of Portland and will be closed to fishing at all hours.
Most other rivers around the state will be closed for fishing from after 2 p.m. until an hour before sunrise.
Fishing is not restricted in the Columbia and Snake rivers and is allowed in the ocean and lakes.
"These are difficult, but necessary actions to protect native fish already suffering from extreme drought conditions," Mike Gauvin, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's recreation fisheries manager, said in a statement.
Wildlife officials have found over 100 fish dead per week in the past few weeks after an initial report in June of hundreds of spring Chinook salmon found dead in Oregon rivers.
"We've had an increasing mortality of fish starting in about June," state fish and wildlife spokesman Rick Swart said. Water temperatures in June were already at 75 F (24 C) degrees, well above the 65 F (18 C) degree temperatures the year before. Temperatures over 65 F (18 C) degrees will stress these types of fish, Swart said.
Swart said he could not recall such a broad ban on fishing across the state.
An early start to the summer, excessive heat and drought conditions have plagued the state, prompting the fish die offs and an early start to the wildfire season.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has issued drought emergency declarations for much of the state and called for water conservation.
Association of Northwest Steelheaders Executive Director Bob Rees said the state's fishing restrictions are understandable given the dire circumstances.
"We are fully supportive of the state action," he said. "We just hope that other industries and communities do their part to help us solve this problem. It's not going to go away with what's happening with climate change. It could be worse next year. We're seeing extremes happen."
(Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Sandra Maler; Editing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles)