Tribal commercial fishermen will focus next week on taking another bite out of their summer chinook salmon harvest allocation while trying to avoid as best they can any additional harvest of sockeye salmon.
The Columbia River Compact on Thursday approved a 4.5-day commercial fishery that begins at 6 a.m. Monday in Columbia River mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribal fishermen will be allowed to catch and sell chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp.
The Compact, made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors, sets mainstem commercial fisheries.
Sockeye have been eligible for harvest and for sale but the treaty tribes estimate they will have drawn close to their harvest limit by the time this week’s fishery ends at 6 p.m. today.
Sockeye catches were higher than anticipated (4,515) during a June 27-30 fishery and were expected (a 4,500-fish projection) to be high again this week. The tribes estimate they will have caught 10,091 by the end of this week, which would leave a balance of 392 sockeye from an overall allocation of 11,333 fish.
Under management agreements between the states and tribes, the tribes are allowed to harvest up to 7 percent of the sockeye run. This year, the preseason forecast is for a return of 161,900 to the mouth of the Columbia. The harvest caps are intended to limit the harvest of Snake River sockeye, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Most of the returning sockeye are unlisted fish bound for the Wenatchee River system in central Washington and the Okanogan River system in northern Washington/British Columbia.
Through Thursday, a total of 147,349 sockeye had been counted climbing up and over Bonneville’s fish ladders this year. The peak count so far this year was 11,685 on June 3. The daily counts have declined since that peak but remain relatively strong for this late in the season. The tallies were 6,724 on Wednesday and 7,650 Thursday.
The strong counts raise hope that the Technical Advisory Committee will upgrade the forecast when it meets next week, according to Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission biologist Stuart Ellis.
During next week’s fishery the tribes will require the use of nets with large enough mesh that the sockeye can swim through and continue their journey. The nets will ensnarl summer chinook, which on average are much larger than the sockeye. During lower river, non-tribal commercial fisheries in June the average chinook weight was about 17 pounds while the sockeye averaged about 4 pounds.
Despite a reduced overall summer chinook forecast the tribes still have plenty to catch. TAC on Monday downgraded its forecast from 91,100 adult returns to the mouth to 77,000. TAC is comprised of federal, state and tribal fishery officials.
As a result the four tribes’ share of the overall run dropped from 27,136 to 21,849. The four tribes get 50 percent of the available harvest (the total run size minus targeted levels of escapement to spawning grounds and hatcheries).
The summer chinook headed for the mid-Columbia are considered a healthy population and are not ESA listed.
By week’s end the tribes estimate they will have caught 14,355 summer chinook so far this year. That leaves them with an available harvest of 7,494 based on the new run-size forecast. They estimate they’ll catch from 3,000-3,500 chinook and 250 sockeye next week.
The “summer season” is from June 16 through July 31. The fall season begins Aug. 1. From that point on, fish passing over Bonneville are considered by state managers to be fall chinook.