Increased salmon return forecasts, and a reduced “handle” of endangered sockeye salmon, could enable continued tribal commercial fishing through the end of the summer season in the 140 miles of the Columbia River mainstem upstream of Bonneville Dam.
The Columbia River Compact on Wednesday approved a 3 ½-day commercial fishery the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes next week from 6 a.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Thursday. The tribes can catch and sell chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp. They can catch and keep, but cannot sell, sockeye.
The Compact, made up of Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife officials, sets mainstem commercial fisheries. Sport and commercial fisheries are co-managed where the mainstem Columbia represents the two states’ border.
It will be the sixth weekday tribal commercial fishery of the summer season (June 16-July 31).
“The catch for next week is expected to remain within the treaty harvest limits,” according to a July 13 fact sheet prepared by the tribes and ODFW and WDFW. “An additional opening in the last week of July is anticipated. The tribes will monitor catch and effort to ensure the fishery remains within management limits.”
The tribes estimate they will have caught 16,979 summer chinook and 11,135 sockeye by the end of this week’s 4 1/2-day fishery at 6 p.m. today. Under 2008-2017 U.S. v Oregon management agreement guidelines, the four tribes are allowed to catch up to 7 percent of the forecast sockeye run and half of the allowed harvest of summer chinook.
The sockeye harvest is limited in order to protect Snake River spawners that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Columbia River summer chinook originating from above the mid-Columbia’s Priest Rapids Dam are not listed, but harvest is controlled to assure adequate escapement to upriver spawning grounds and hatcheries.
A continued strong pulse of sockeye passing over the Columbia’s Bonneville Dam allowed the sockeye forecast to be increased Monday from the preseason estimate of 161,100 to 181,500 adults to the mouth of the Columbia. The count through Wednesday at Bonneville, which is 146 river miles from the river mouth, was 173,476 sockeye with 3,139 passing over the dam Wednesday.
The latest summer chinook forecast is for a return of 80,000 to the river mouth. The count at Bonneville through Wednesday was 55,636; the daily count was 927 Wednesday. Non-tribal sport and commercial harvest below Bonneville had totaled nearly 10,000 summer chinook through July 10.
Based on the new forecasts, the tribes are allocated a harvest of up to 22,974 adult summer chinook and 12,705 sockeye this year.
The tribes estimate that they will catch about 2,500 summer chinook and 250-500 sockeye next week, which leave them with a balance of 3,495 chinook and 1,070 sockeye to catch, potentially, during the final week of the summer season.
Under the previous forecast the tribes appeared poised to catch their share of sockeye this week. But they chose to limit the use of commercial gear to nets with relatively large mesh size, 7 ¼-inches at minimum. Larger mesh sizes allow most sockeye to escape while still ensnaring the larger chinook.
During the last week in June and the first week of July, with fishers allowed to target sockeye with small mesh nets, the tribes harvested 4,515 and 4,194 sockeye respectively. With the mesh-size restriction, the tribes estimated that they’ll catch about 500 sockeye this week.
In proposing a fishery for next week, they chose to continue on a conservative path.
“Sockeye catches remain very close to the 7 percent harvest rate limit,” the fact sheet says. “Therefore the tribes will maintain the minimum mesh size restriction and prohibition of commercial sales of sockeye in next week’s gillnet fishery.”