With fall chinook and coho salmon returns turning out to be slightly better than expected, Oregon and Washington fishery managers decided this week to give both commercial and sport fishers additional opportunity on the lower Columbia River mainstem.
The Columbia River Compact on Wednesday approved three more fall fisheries for the non-tribal gill-net fleet. An outing last night (from 7 p.m. Thursday through 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 15) and another Sunday night target the tail end of the upriver bright fall chinook run with 8-inch mesh nets in the Columbia from Longview, Wash., up to Bonneville Dam. The third fishery, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday is intended to catch primarily coho in Zones 1-3 (the river mouth up to Longview) with smaller mesh gill nets.
Five late fall commercial fisheries in the lower Columbia through Oct. 11 have resulted in a catch of 8,332 chinook, 6,534 coho, 23 chum salmon and 1,047 white sturgeon.
Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staff determined before the Compact that additional URB fall Chinook “impacts” remain available and thus recommended that the Compact approve this week’s fishery. Under the terms of a 10-year management agreement between federal, state and tribal managers, tribal and non-tribal harvests are allowed a certain level harvest on certain various fish stocks, such as Group B steelhead bound for Idaho and URBs, in order to limit impacts on the portions those runs that are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Compact, which sets mainstem commercial fisheries, is made up of representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors.
The current run-size estimate for the upriver brights – fish headed for the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach, the Snake River basin and elsewhere upstream of Bonneville – is 326,500, which is higher than the preseason forecast of 319,200.
Coho returns appear to be tracking at or above preseason expectations for both the early (188,000 adults to the mouth of the river) and late stocks 98,600), “with 78 percent of the total expected return already accounted for,” according to the Oct. 13 ODFW-WDFW Joint Staff Report. The coho count at Bonneville Dam, (102,290) has already exceeded preseason expectations (83,000) with a strong pulse of fish still climbing the dam’s fish ladder this week. Daily coho counts have ranged from 1,942 to 6,057 over the past week.
The fall chinook counts at Bonneville, which is located 146 miles upstream from the river mouth, are on a downward trajectory, eroding from a peak of 21,612 on Sept. 5 to counts of less than 200 in recent days.
Four treaty tribes conducted a commercial fishery this week from 6 a.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Wednesday in Columbia mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs tribal members were allowed to catch and sell, or keep for subsistence, salmon, steelhead, walleye, shad, yellow perch, catfish, bass and carp.
The total catch in fall treaty fisheries through Sept. 30 is 136,674 adult and jack chinook and 24,043 steelhead. The catch through the end of September included an estimated 10,867 Group B steelhead, which represented 14.7 percent, of this year’s run, and 81,625 URBs, 15.8 percent of that run. Under the terms of the management agreement the tribes can catch up to 20 percent of the B steelhead and 25 percent of the URB run.
The tribes estimated that they would catch another 2,300 chinook and 3,000 B steelhead this week.
Oregon and Washington officials this week also decided to reopen today the lower river, from Buoy 10 at the river mouth 88 miles upstream to the mouth of the Lewis River at Longview, to sport retention of chinook salmon.
That stretch of river had been closed for chinook since Sept. 12 to reduce impacts to federally-listed wild “tule”-stock chinook salmon destined for several lower Columbia River tributaries. They exhibit a different life-history than “bright”-stock fall chinook, which typically spawn later and migrate farther up the Columbia.
“The tule chinook have moved into the tributaries, so we are able to reopen this area to allow fishing access to other chinook stocks,” said Chris Kern, assistant fisheries manager for ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program. “The chinook run is definitely winding down and we don’t expect many to be caught from here on out but there are still some upriver brights available.”
Under the rule change, the entire Columbia is open to chinook, coho and steelhead fishing through Dec. 31. The daily bag limit is two adult salmon and steelhead in any combination. Steelhead must be adipose fin-clipped in order to be retained, as must coho in all areas downstream of the Hood River. Chinook may be retained whether they are fin-clipped or not.
“Essentially, this change will bring the entire Columbia River back under permanent Oregon fishing regulations for salmon and steelhead, as outlined in the 2010 fishing pamphlet,” said Kern.