The Columbia River Compact on Thursday OK’d an additional Columbia River mainstem summer chinook salmon commercial fishing season for treaty tribes that will allow for the first time since the 1980s the sale of white sturgeon in addition to salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp.
The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs Yakama tribal fishers in an initial summer season fishery June 16-18 in Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dam reservoirs caught 4,230 chinook and 602 sockeye and expected to catch 5,000 chinook and 2,000 sockeye in a 3 ½-day fishery that ended at 6 p.m. Thursday.
During the first fishery the tribes caught and kept 44 legal-size sturgeon for subsistence purposes.
The tribes estimated that they will catch about 4,500 chinook and 2,500 sockeye next week in the newly approved fishery, which begins at 6 a.m. Monday and ends at 6 p.m. Thursday in pool above Bonneville Dam, which is 146 river miles upstream from the river mouth.
Such a catch would bring the tribes’ total to 14,830, well within a state-tribal allocation of 27,136. The allocation is the tribes’ share of what is predicted to be a return of 91,100 adult summer chinook.
Because white sturgeon remain available under harvest allocations for all three pools, tribal fishers have requested that commercial sales be allowed, the Yakama Nation’s harvest manager, Roger Dick Jr., told the Compact, which sets Columbia mainstem fishing seasons. The Compact is made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors.
Dick said that white sturgeon sales had been allowed during the summer season (June15-July 31) up until the mid- to late 1980s. But an undue targeting of the big fish resulted in overharvest so the practice was stopped.
To prevent a targeting of white sturgeon during next week’s summer chinook fishery the tribe suggested that the use of “diver” gear (nets that extend almost to the bottom of the river where sturgeon spend most of their time) be prohibited. The Compact approved the fishery with the diver net prohibition.
Summer salmon arrivals headed upstream of Bonneville seem to be off to a relatively slow start. The adult summer chinook count at Bonneville’s fish ladders totaled 18,347 through Thursday compared to a 10-year average of 46,283 through June 23. Last year’s total through that date was 56,080. Daily counts since June 16 have ranged from 1,923 to 2,758.
The overall upriver summer chinook run (fish passing Bonneville from June 15-July 31 by the fish managers’ reckoning) last year totaled 72,300 adults to the mouth of the river. The forecast this year is for a return of 91,100 adults, which would be the highest return since at least 1980, and 141 percent of the 10-year average (64,800 adult fish).
The sockeye count through Thursday totaled 31,962 and appeared to building toward a peak. Since a count of six sockeye on June 3 the counts have increased every day, climbing to the high count so far of 6,641 on Thursday.
The 10-year average sockeye count through June 23 is 58,411 and last year’s count through that date was 164,432. The 2010 return to the mouth of the Columbia totaled 387,900 adults which was a record (since 1938) and the third consecutive strong return year, following the prior record returns of 2008 and 2009. The 2010 return included 66,300 Wenatchee River basin stock and more than 318,900 Okanogan stock. It also included 2,600 Snake River stock headed for central Idaho’s high country.
The forecast for the 2011 sockeye run is 161,900 adults to the Columbia River, which includes 33,000 (20 percent) to the Wenatchee, 126,800 (78 percent) to the Okanogan, and 2,100 to the Snake River. The 2011 forecast is 167 percent of the recent 10-year average.