By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Sport fishermen: Be sure you put those coho back in the water, is the message from the Department of Fish and Game.

The agency reported yesterday anglers are taking home the endangered species in large numbers this season.

Thats why were putting the word out, said Troy Swauger, information officer for the agency. We dont normally see this type of salmon in California and a lot of sport fishermen seem to be thinking this is some sort of hybrid of chinook and some other string.

Melodie Palmer-Zwahlen, associate biologist with the agency in Humboldt County, said another reason is the sheer number of coho this season.

The departments biologists believe that these salmon have migrated south from hatcheries in the Columbia River Basin along the Washington and Oregon border, she said, adding this may be why wardens are reporting a higher than normal number of violations for possession of coho salmon.

The agency does not have numbers of coho landings, but the other two salmon species, chinook and pink, are much higher than last year as well.

In the Klamath Mountain Zone, there have been 1,900 landed by 3,000 anglers, Palmer-Zwahlen said. Thats pretty high up there; almost two-thirds of a salmon per person. Plus theyre bringing back 25- to 30-pounders.

Fines for taking home the forbidden coho can range widely. Palmer-Zwahlen said they can be as high as $500 per violation.

Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn said he doesnt know how many coho are being kept, but he didnt believe local anglers are capable of making that kind of mistake.

Its very easy to tell the difference between chinook and coho, Blackburn said. These guys (fishermen) have seen coho before and they know darn well what they look like. There have been times, and recently too, that there have been so many coho it was ridiculous. If theyre keeping them, I dont know why.

I dont think its the experienced fishermen who are causing the problem, Palmer-Zwahlen said. I think its the ones who are taking their families out for the weekend.

According to Fish and Game, coho salmon can be identified in three ways:

The lower jaw has a black mouth with white gums at the base of the teeth, it has small black spots scattered on its upper back and on the upper lobe of the caudal fin, and if an angler rubs a fingernail along the rays of the tail it will feel like the edge of a dime.