The commercial fleet’s first spring outing – four hours total on Tuesday night – on the mainstem Columbia River was marginally productive with a catch of less than 10 spring chinook salmon per boat.
The states of Oregon and Washington, which co-manage mainstem fisheries, estimate that 1,263 chinook salmon and four sturgeon were sold in 150 deliveries to commercial buyers following the 7:30 to 11:30 pm. fishery.
Approximately two-thirds of the fish sold were upriver spring stock bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning areas above Bonneville Dam, located at river mile 146. The fishery was carried out in the lower Columbia, from Kelley Point at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers in Portland at river mile 101 down to the river mouth.
The commercial catch was less than half of anticipated harvest. Based on expected high participation and an observed per drift catch during a test fishery Sunday, Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staff had estimated that the fleet would harvest about 2,700 chinook (2,400-3,000 range), including about 1,581 upriver fish during the four-hour outing.
The weekend test fishery involving four boats had indicated that chinook abundance had increased markedly from a week earlier and that wild steelhead abundance has declined to less than the long-term average. The fisheries are scheduled to minimize impacts to winter steelhead, which have typically turned off the mainstem into their natal streams by April 1, and wild upriver spring chinook. The winter steelhead and wild upriver spring chinook are protected under the Endangered Species Act and harvests are limited to hold down impacts on the listed stocks.
The number of upriver spring chinook (kept catch plus release mortalities) available to the mainstem commercial fishery prior to a late run-size forecast update is 1,915 fish. Winter fisheries accounted for 53 fish, leaving a balance of 1,862 upriver chinook before this week’s fishery. The pre-season upriver spring chinook run-size forecast is normally updated by fishery officials in late April or early May based largely on dam counts from Bonneville’s fish ladders.
Though sport catches are showing an increased catch per unit of effort, the upriver spring chinook run has yet to show its strength. The cumulative count at Bonneville through Wednesday was 157 fish. That count through March is the second highest in the past six years, topped only by a tally of 433 last year.
Chinook passage at Bonneville has been timed later than the historic average in five of the past six years. The date at which 50 percent of the annual upriver spring chinook run as passed Bonneville has ranged from April 18 to May 13 over the past 10 years. The average 50 percent passage date is May 4.
A Columbia River Compact meeting is scheduled Monday to consider whether further mainstem commercial fishing will be allowed prior to the run-size update. The Compact, comprised for representatives of the ODFW and WDFW directors, sets mainstem commercial fisheries.