The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has expanded the popular fishing area at the mouth of the Wind River in the southwest part of the state by moving the outside boundary about 250 yards out into the Columbia River.
Working with a crew from the U.S. Geological Survey, state personnel recently finished anchoring a white buoy line marking the new boundary, just as the number of spring chinook salmon passing Bonneville Dam was picking up nine miles downriver.
Upriver spring spawning runs in recent years have been later timed than historically when the peak of the return-- the highest daily counts at Bonneville and halfway mark in run passage -- was in late April.
That zenith has over the past seven years or so slipped into early May and would seem headed in that direction this year.
Counts of upriver fish – those headed for Wind River, which flows out of Washington into the Bonneville pool, and elsewhere in Idaho, Oregon and Washington upstream of Bonneville – had lagged until recent days. The yearly total on April 13 was only 257, with a high daily count of 41 on the previous day. But Bonneville passage has quickly climbed, with 4,376 passing on Monday to bring the 2012 spring chinook total of 10,683 through April 23. The count Tuesday was slightly higher, 4,873 adult upriver spring chinook, to bring the season’s total to 15,556.
The preseason forecast is for a total return of 314,200 adult upriver spring chinook to the mouth of the Columbia. The Bonneville count does not include natural mortalities in the lower river, or sport and commercial harvests. Bonneville Dam is about 146 river miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia. State officials estimate that more than 15,000 upriver spring chinook will have been caught by sport (11,129) and commercial (4,696) fishers through this past weekend.
Lower Columbia mainstem sport salmon fishing was closed as of the end of the day Sunday. No additional sport fisheries are scheduled. Both spring seasons (through June 15) could be revived if early May run-size updates indicate the 2012 upriver run is big enough to support additional fisheries.
A 10-year state-tribal fishing agreement allocates harvests based on the size of the return. Limits are imposed to protect the listed wild fish.
John Weinheimer, a WDFW fish biologist, said the fishing area was expanded to help relieve crowding at the mouth of the Wind River, where up to 200 boats a day often compete for space during the peak of the spring chinook season in late April and May.
Sediment from the river has contributed to the problem by crowding boats into areas still deep enough to fish, he said.
"The public has asked us for years to move the fishing boundary out into the Columbia," Weinheimer said. "We're trying it this year on an experimental basis to see if we can do that without a significant impact on federally protected spring chinook bound for the upper Columbia River."
The upriver spring chinook run passing by the mouth of the Wind include wild fish headed to the Snake River and upper Columbia that are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The 10-year federal-state-tribal agreement puts limits on impacts associated with state and tribal harvests to assure certain levels of escapement for natural production.
Weinheimer said the boundary line will be readjusted during the course of the season if catch monitoring shows a high catch of upper Columbia chinook.
The experiment would not be possible, he said, without financial support from the Columbia River endorsement fee paid by anglers who fish in the Columbia or its tributaries.
The Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement Advisory Board, which allocates that funding, approved spending $33,300 to hire temporary staff to monitor the catch and analyze the data over a three-month period.
"This is exactly the type of action the sport fishing community has requested be funded with the endorsement dollars," Weinheimer said.
Approximately 8,400 hatchery-reared adult spring salmon are expected to return to the Wind River this year, up from 7,800 last year. The fishery for hatchery-reared salmon on the Wind River will remain open through June 30, regardless of the regulations in effect on the mainstem Columbia River.
The hatchery returns are the results of releases of fish produced at nearby Carson National Fish Hatchery.
For a depiction of the new fishing boundary see http://bit.ly/Ij5s59