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Poachers rob spawning fish from traps, threaten steelhead populations

COQUILLE, Ore. — Poachers took spawning fish from the fish trap and destroyed surveillance cameras to hide their crimes during the winter steelhead run in Woodward Creek near Powers, Oregon according to ODFW and OSP officials. They request the public’s assistance in identifying these individuals.

Multiple people accessed the trap. One person, identified through surveillance footage, entered the trap to net fish, then shot one camera and stole another. Troopers caught up with Kaine M. Horner, 24, formerly of Myrtle Point, while he was fishing illegally in a closed section of the South Coquille River on Feb 22. They seized his rifle, net, and fishing gear. Charges include Criminal Mischief II, Unlawful Taking Steelhead, and Angling Prohibited Area, according to OSP Sergeant Levi Harris, who is leading the investigation. Harris is disappointed by this behavior.

“These are not legal anglers,” he said, “These are opportunistic people who have no respect for the vulnerability of these fish while they are in the traps. And they might not understand the importance of these traps to ODFW.”

ODFW biologists first discovered problems in early 2021 during the winter steelhead run. Several times they found the Woodward Creek trap empty after volunteers reported seeing fish, according to Mike Gray, who is the Coos-Coquille-Tenmile District Fish Biologist.

“We would get a call from a volunteer saying there were six or seven fish in a trap,” Gray said, “Then when we got there, the trap was empty, or there was only one fish in it. We found evidence that the trap had been damaged, so we knew someone was getting in there.”

District staff contacted OSP Fish and Wildlife troopers, and mounted trail cameras to monitor the traps and nearby waterway. The first night, they saw at least three people enter the area, access the trap and then use a net to remove fish. The thefts came during a shortage of spawning fish in the Bandon Hatchery breeding program.

Woodward Creek is a tributary to the South Coquille River, located near the town of Powers. The fish trap is in an area closed to the public and not easily accessed. ODFW volunteers monitor fish traps daily and when they find fish, they contact the hatchery. Biologists collect the fish, spawn them, and raise smolts which are then released back into the river of origin.

Gray rattles the numbers off by memory.

“In the South Fork, our management goal is to release 70,000 smolts. With typical egg and fry loss, we need more than 120,000 eggs to do that. Every hen (female steelhead trout) has roughly 3,000 eggs. The math adds up to us needing about 40 pairs of fish for that waterway,” he said.

Biologists netted fish in the river to meet stock quotas after the traps were robbed. Poachers also likely removed fish left in broodstock boxes near area boat ramps, according to Gray. Broodstock boxes, which are anchored offshore and submerged in water, offer anglers an option to contribute live, healthy fish they catch to the breeding program.

Poaching fish from the broodstock collection program has jthe potential to cause a shortfall in hatchery steelhead production, affecting future catch opportunity. If you have information on thefts from hatchery fish traps or broodstock boxes, or if you know of or suspect other crimes against fish, wildlife or habitat, please report to the Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line. 1-800-452-7888 or *OSP (*677) from a mobile phone. Or send an email: TIP@osp.oregon.gov between the hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon-Fri.

The Stop Poaching Campaign educates the public on how to recognize and report poaching. This campaign is a collaboration among hunters, conservationists, land owners and recreationists. Our goal is to increase reporting of wildlife crimes through the TIP Line, increase detection by increasing the number of OSP Fish and Wildlife Troopers and increase prosecution. OHA manages the TIP reward fund. This campaign helps to protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitat for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Contact campaign coordinator Yvonne Shaw for more information. Yvonne.L.Shaw@odfw.oregon.gov.