.c The Associated Press
ASTORIA, Ore. (May 6) - Ab Ihander isn't thrilled about throwing back the 20-pound spring chinook salmon he's just pulled into his boat with his tangle net. But the law says he must; it's a wild salmon, not hatchery-bred.
Before he can return the salmon to the Columbia River, however, he revives it with a sort of CPR for fish.
He lowers the salmon into a tank with pipes inside. A small Honda pump starts up, and oxygen-rich river water is circulated over the salmon's gills and mouth.
The idea is to make sure that when the salmon is returned to the river, it will be strong enough to survive.
''It rubs me the wrong way to throw back salmon. But it's that or nothing. And these are valuable fish,'' said the 73-year-old Ihander, who has fished in the river since the 1940s and seen the gradual decline of fish stocks as dams, riverside development and overfishing whittled away at populations.
Resuscitation is a new federal and state requirement of fishermen who cast tangle nets in the lower part of the river in March and April, when they inevitably snare spring chinook salmon, some of which are on the endangered species list.
Ihander and other fishermen are allowed to keep only hatchery-raised salmon, which can be distinguished from wild fish by a snipped rear adipose fin only after they are caught.
Salmon can fatally exhaust themselves struggling against the net. Its thin, green lines also can bind shut the gills, preventing the fish from breathing.
Merely tossed back, many wild fish would not survive.
Using coho salmon, a study of the resuscitation device, also called a revival box, showed that 94 percent of fish that appeared dead when freed from the net could be released after treatment.
None of those fish would have survived without the revival box, said Jeff Whisler, assistant project leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's live capture program. Fish still moving but weak when pulled from the net also benefit, he said, but the effect is more difficult to quantify.
''Our intent is to allow them (tangle net fishermen) to catch the hatchery fish, which we raised to be caught, but minimize the impact on the wild fish,'' said Pat Frazier, a biologist with the state department.
Without resuscitation, ''those fish would go to the bottom of the river,'' he said.
The Columbia River Basin provides habitat for five species of anadromous salmon - chinook, coho, chum, sockeye and pink. Anadromous salmon hatch in rivers and tributaries, migrate to the ocean after a year or two, and after another two to five years return to their birthplace to spawn. The fish pick up the distinct smell of the rivers they travel down and eventually follow those scents home.
The resuscitation rule for the Columbia River's spring chinook run is unique in the United States, Frazier said.
The reason is partly biology - the fish are particularly strong after feeding in the ocean, and thus good candidates for the experiment - and partly economic. Because of their rich flavor and high fat content, Columbia spring chinook, or ''springers,'' are considered a delicacy. They fetch $5 a pound at the dock, so a good fish brings $100.
That makes it worthwhile for fishermen to provide medical care for wild salmon in order to harvest the hatchery variety.
Fishery officials held a six-hour seminar for tangle netters on fish revival techniques before the season opened. Some objected, saying the revival box was a hardship.
''What we found is that for the most part, people are skeptical the changes will work,'' Frazier said. But once they try the device, most are converts, he said.
Ihander appears to be among them.
The wild salmon he pulled out of the river looked lifeless. After placing his 20-pound catch into the resuscitation tank, he watched to see whether it would revive the fish.
The gills opened and closed. The salmon began to wobble.
''We've actually seen fish jump out of the box'' after a few minutes of treatment, said Ihander.
He picked up the salmon, heaved it overboard and watched as it slithered beneath the surface and disappeared.
''We haven't lost one yet,'' he said.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.