Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon on Tuesday set a spring chinook fishing season for the Columbia River that is expected to entice nearly 100,000 angler trips this year.
The decisions were made during a joint state sport hearing of officials representing the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife. The officials also met as the Columbia River Compact to set commercial spring chinook salmon and white sturgeon seasons.
An overriding goal this year was to spread the lower river (below Bonneville Dam) fishery out geographically to, hopefully, help relieve the boat congestion that prevailed last year in the Portland area.
Last year the river was open to boat angling from Buoy 10 at the river mouth up to the Interstate 5 bridge at Portland from March 1 through April 18 and from the I-5 bridge to the Interstate 205 a few miles upstream, plus fishing from Oregon and Washington banks between I-205 and Bonneville Dam, from March 1-14.
This year spring chinook fishing is currently open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge. Under the new rules approved this week, the fishery will be expanded 22 miles upriver to Rooster Rock from March 1 through April 4 and bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from Rooster Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam during that time.
Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said fishing seasons reflect the number of fish available for harvest within the states’ conservation guidelines.
"We’re expecting an average return of spring chinook this year, with a fairly high number of large fish in the mix," LeFleur said.
According to the preseason forecast, 198,400 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River this year, close to the 10-year average. To guard against overestimating the run, the states will manage the fishery with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated in late April or early May.
"If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in spring," LeFleur said.
Initial seasons announced this week allocate 7,750 upper river spring chinook to the sport fishery below Bonneville Dam, 1,650 to anglers fishing above Bonneville and 2,100 to the commercial fleet. Those guidelines do not include the catch of spring chinook returning to Columbia River tributaries such as the Willamette, Cowlitz, Lewis and Wind rivers.
The Willamette River in Oregon is open to retention of adipose fin-clipped adult chinook salmon and adipose fin-clipped steelhead seven days a week the entire year, and ODFW is leaving that regulation in place based on an expected return of 104,000 spring chinook, which is comparable to last year. The bag limit on the Willamette below Willamette Falls is two adipose fin-clipped chinook. Above the falls, one additional adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be retained under regulations for the combined salmon/steelhead bag limit.
As in years past, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared fish, marked with a clipped adipose fin. All unmarked wild spring chinook must be released unharmed.
Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines during that time.
Anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one hatchery-reared adult chinook per day as part of their catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked hatchery chinook per day.
Large, 5-year-old fish are expected to make up an unusually high portion of this year’s catch, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. More than 100,000 5-year-old spring chinook -- each weighing 18 to 30 pounds -- are predicted to pass through fisheries en route to the Willamette River or the upper Columbia River this year.
By comparison, only about 26,000 five-year-old fish returned to those areas last year, despite a strong run of 423,000 spring chinook to those waters.
"We’re not expecting as many total fish back this year, but we are expecting a lot of big ones," Hymer said. "Some of those fish are already starting to show up in the catch."
In other business the agencies took the following actions:
-- Adopted the 2011 Winter/Spring Pre-Season Commercial Fishing Plan and General Commercial Spring Chinook Fishery Regulations, which sets gear types and season structures.
-- Set commercial fishing seasons for Select Area fisheries, including Blind Slough/Knappa Slough, Tongue Point/South Channel, Deep River and Young's Ba