A better-late-than-never surge of spring chinook salmon over the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam has brightened the fishing picture for non-Indian sport and commercial and tribal fishers.
The Columbia River Compact on Tuesday approved, effective that evening, the sale or retention of chinook, steelhead, sockeye, coho, walleye, shad, yellow perch, catfish, bass, and carp caught by tribal fishermen from traditional river side platforms with hook and line or dip or hoop nets. The fishery in Zone 6 reservoirs between Bonneville and where Columbia wanders north from the Oregon-Washington state line is open until further notice.
The Compact, which sets mainstem Columbia commercial fisheries, on Wednesday approved a 14-hour non-tribal commercial fishery on the lower Columbia from Kelley Point at the confluence with the Willamette River at Portland down to the river mouth. The fishery was to begin at 3 p.m. Thursday. The gill-netters can catch and sell fin-clipped chinook, sockeye, shad and white sturgeon.
The gill-net fleet has been off the water since an April 6 as fishery managers awaited signs that the 2011 run was going to be as big as advertised. The Compact is made up of representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
They got the news Monday with the declaration by the Technical Advisory Committee that the members felt the upriver spring chinook return is going to be “at least” as big at the preseason forecast of 198,400 adults, as counted at the mouth of the river. TAC met again Wednesday and raised the forecast to 210,000 after a couple more days of counts of nearly 10,000 at Bonneville’s fish ladders.
The total count at Bonneville’s fish ladders through April 25 was only 4,884 adult fish, which was the second lowest total through that date since at least 1970. The lowest total through that date was in 2006.
But during the next 15 days 120,749 adult spring chinook have poured over the dam to bring the total to 125,594. Daily counts since April 25 grew from 4,787 to a high count, at least so far, of 15,766 on May 1, and have remained in the 6,478 to 10,131 range. Tuesday’s count was 9,754.
Additionally it is estimated that 8,000 adult upriver spring chinook have been harvested so far in non-Indian sport and commercial fisheries and about 1,000 in tribal ceremonial and substance harvests in the lower river (Bonneville to the mouth). Upriver fish are bound for spawning grounds and hatcheries above Bonneville in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Wild Upper Columbia and Snake river stocks that are a part of the upriver run are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes had an overall catch of 11,504 chinook through May 7 for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.
A joint state hearing will be held this afternoon (Friday) to decide if the mainstem sport fishing season will be reopened.
“We would be considering fishing (to start) next week at the earliest,” said Cindy LeFleur, the WDFW’s Columbia River policy coordinator. The sport season below Bonneville closed April 20 and the area above Bonneville was closed to chinook and steelhead retention May 10.
Shares of the upriver salmon resource are allocated based on the size run -- the bigger the run, the more fish in the non-Indian and tribal shares. The harvests are monitored with the goal of splitting the take evenly between the tribes and non-tribal fishers.
The gill-net fleet had, given the run-size update, a total of about 3,600 upriver fish (kept and estimated post-release mortality) left on its allocation for the season, which ends June 15. Fishers must release fish that haven’t been marked in a hatchery with an adipose fin clip. Fishery managers estimate that about 1,750 in upriver mortalities would result from this week’s commercial fishery.
Tribal fishers are ready to serve up some salmon for the public.
“The delay in the spring chinook returns has kept our customers waiting but we are excited to share the tribal tradition and tribal fishery with the general public,” said Paul Lumley, executive director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The tribes pride themselves on offering a local, top-quality product that allows them to support their families and rebuild their communities.”
Tribal fishers may be found selling fish at a number of locations along the river: Marine Park at Cascade Locks, Lone Pine at The Dalles and the boat launch near Roosevelt, Washington. Commercial sales will not occur on Corps of Engineers property at Bonneville Dam.
Information on where the day’s catch is being sold is available by calling CRITFC’s salmon marketing program at (888) 289-1855 or visiting the salmon marketing website http://www.critfc.org/harvest. Price is determined at the point of sale and sales are cash only.
The tribal fishery is protected by treaties made with the federal government in 1855, where the right to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places in the Columbia River basin was reserved. The tribal treaty right extends beyond ceremonial and subsistence fisheries to commercial sales.
If sufficient upriver spring chinook remain available either due to a lower platform catch than expected or a larger run size yet, the tribes may consider a commercial gill-net fishery later in the spring season. TAC will meet again Monday to review harvest data, dam counts and other data and consider whether another run-size forecast is appropriate.