By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon wildlife officials said on Tuesday they want to end limits on fishing for bass, catfish and other highly prolific warm-water fish, in part to ease pressure on native fish that are dying by the thousands in abnormally warm summer waters.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement it was considering removing bag limits for warm-water fish in the Columbia, John Day and Umpqua rivers "to both simplify regulations and potentially reduce predation on listed salmon and steelhead smolts."
A month ago, officials implemented unprecedented fishing restrictions for salmon, wild trout, steelhead and other native fish on most of the state's rivers to help populations dying off from high water temperatures amid ongoing drought conditions.
Oregon's proposal mirrors efforts underway in Washington state to ease the warm-water fishing restrictions on waterways shared by the two states.
Washington has already eased restrictions in areas where it solely has regulation over the Columbia River, according to Oregon's Fish and Wildlife recreation fisheries manager, Mike Gauvin.
Oregon state officials said last week that the unseasonably hot water has killed nearly half of the sockeye salmon migrating up the Columbia River through Oregon and Washington.
Federal officials in Oregon have trucked hatchery salmon more than a hundred miles (160 km) north to another hatchery in Washington throughout the summer to preserve fish that had been dying off by the thousands in an unseasonably warm river.
Oregon's warm-water anglers, however, are opposed to the proposal and have launched a Change.org petition with nearly 200 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, saying it could ultimately backfire against the natural ecosystem.
"If they continue on this path it sets a bad precedent for warm-water species management," said Lonnie Johnson, conservation director for the Oregon Bass Angler Sportsman Society. "We just think long term it will harm the (warm-water) fishery."
Johnson also said there was no scientific evidence to prove bass are a significant predatory threat for the populations of young salmon and steelhead.
Wildlife officials will consider the proposal to end the fishing limits on warm-water fish on Friday and are expected to make a final decision in September.
(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Leslie Adler)