Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington on July 15 announced that the sockeye salmon season on the Columbia River between the Astoria-Megler Bridge near the river mouth and Highway 395 Bridge near Pasco, Wash., as well as the retention of adult chinook downstream from Bonneville Dam, would be closed Monday, July 18 through July 31.
The rules adopted at a joint state hearing of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife mean that retention of adult chinook salmon is prohibited beginning this past Monday from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam, and retention of sockeye will be prohibited from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge. The fall chinook season is scheduled to open on Aug. 1. The sockeye retention season will be closed through the end of the year.
Retention of adipose fin-clipped chinook jacks (12-24 inches) and adipose fin-clipped steelhead remains open between the Astoria-Megler and Bonneville Dam under permanent regulations.
Upstream of Bonneville Dam to the Highway 395 bridge retention of adipose fin-clipped chinook, both adults and jacks, and adipose fin-clipped steelhead is allowed under permanent regulations.
The closure was necessary because the allowable non-Indian impact limit to ESA-listed Snake River sockeye had been reached. In addition, closing the chinook fishery downstream of Bonneville Dam was necessary to ensure that upriver recreational and tribal fisheries would not be constrained.
“This is some of the best fishing we've seen in recent years for both summer chinook and sockeye," said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This year's catch has exceeded expectations, and is pushing up against our harvest guidelines."
Through July 15, anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam had caught and kept 5,285 summer chinook salmon -- twice as many as last year -- and released 2,553 others. They also caught 1,564 sockeye and released 390 others, the highest number of sockeye taken by anglers since at least 1980.
The overall sport toll in the 146 miles of river from Bonneville down to the mouth was an estimated 5,668 adult summer chinook and 1,623 sockeye when the kept catch and estimated post-release mortality are combined. State managers estimate that about 15 percent of the summer chinook and sockeye released by anglers later perish.
LeFleur said the closure was necessary to keep the catch within allowable harvest limits.
"For summer chinook salmon, we have to make sure we meet our conservation goals and leave enough fish for fisheries further upstream," she said. "Sockeye salmon bound for the Snake River are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and have catch limits of their own."
The summer chinook sport harvest exceed the lower Columbia harvest allocation of 3,800 fish but fishery officials expect the total non-tribal catch to stay within the overall allocation of 19,711. That allocation is split between a lower river commercial fishery and sport fisheries below Bonneville, between Bonneville and Priest Rapids Dam, and above Priest Rapids. Those non-treaty fisheries include Colville and Wanapum tribal fisheries.
“We believe all of the fisheries will be able to continue as planned,” LeFleur said. Fishery officials estimate that 137 chinook and 205 sockeye had been caught from June 16 through July 11 in the mainstem between Bonneville Dam and Priest Rapids.
The summer chinook are swimming toward hatcheries and spawning grounds above Priest Rapids. The vast majority of the sockeye are headed for the Wenatchee and Okanagan river systems in central Washington and/or southern British Columbia. An estimated 2,100 sockeye, as counted entering the Columbia, are headed up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon to central Idaho’s high country.
In two eight-hour fisheries in June the commercial fleet caught 5,076 summer chinook and 52 sockeye.
According to current projections, 80,000 summer chinook and 186,500 sockeye are expected to return to the mouth of Columbia River. Such a summer chinook run would be the second largest since 1980 and the sockeye run would be the fourth largest.
Through Monday a total of 60,801 summer chinook and 182,322 sockeye had been counted climbing up and over Bonneville, the first hydro project they encounter on their way upstream.
A total of 28,890 summer chinook have been counted at Priest Rapids through Saturday. One of the management goals is to make sure at least 20,000 of the summers make it past Priest Rapids, the fifth hydro project they hurdle.
The count through Monday at the lower Snake’s Lower Granite Dam was 863 sockeye; Monday’s tally was 88. Lower Granite in southeast Washington is the eighth dam the sockeye pass on their way to Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley.
Ongoing summer chinook fisheries above Bonneville Dam and sockeye fishing above the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco will not be affected by the closures scheduled further downstream.
Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist, noted that hatchery-reared steelhead are still providing good fishing on the lower Columbia River and that fishing for fall chinook will open Aug. 1.
"The fall chinook run is also looking very strong," Hymer said. "Salmon fisheries are far from over on the Columbia River this year."