Confident that the “B” steelhead and fall chinook salmon harvest will stay within allowable limits, state officials on Thursday approved the third commercial season of the fall season on the Columbia River mainstem for four treaty tribes – the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama.
The tribes estimate that the catch during a 3.5-day fishery next week in mainstem reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams will net about 16,000 bright and 5,400 tule fall chinook and about 690 B steelhead. Such catches would likely leave room under harvest caps for more fishing later even if run-size forecasts shrink as expected, according to Stuart Ellis, biologist for the tribes’Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
The fall chinook counts at Bonneville, located at river mile 146, “are tracking below average for this time of year,” and the B steelhead run is “likely well below forecast,” Ellis said. The preseason forecast is for a return of 52,800 B steelhead, which would be near the 10-year average. But with counts lagging, that forecast could slip below 35,000, or even below 20,000.
The Technical Advisory Committee, made up of federal, state and tribal fishery officials, is expected to do run-size forecast updates as soon as next week for the upriver chinook stocks and for B steelhead.
Harvest allocations are created in order to limit impacts portions of the runs that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Wild Snake River fall chinook, which are a part of the URB run, are listed as threatened, as are Snake River steelhead. The B steelhead are Snake River fish bound for tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho. Both rivers feed into the Snake.
The tribes estimate that at the end of next week the B steelhead catch would represent a 9.8 impact on a run of 18,000. That would be well below the harvest cap of 13 percent on a B run of that size.
The bright catch total for the season would also be “well below the allowed limit at any reasonable run size,” according to a Sept. 6 tribal fact sheet.
A Columbia River Compact made up of Tony Nigro and Guy Norman agreed. The representatives, respectively, of the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife department directors, approved the fishing request. The Compact sets mainstem commercial fishing seasons. Fisheries are guided by a 10-year allocation agreement developed by the states and tribes.
Next week’s fishery runs from 6 a.m. Tuesday through 6 p.m. Friday. Chinook, coho, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish and carp caught during the fishery may be sold or retained for subsistence.
August commercial tribal fisheries resulted in a catch of 14,142 adult, including 9,700 brights and 4,443 tules. Most were caught in gill-net fisheries. The tules are, primarily, fall chinook produced at the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery, which is located above Bonneville. The brights include both URBs and Mid-Columbia brights.
The estimated tribal catch during this week’s fishery (Tuesday through Saturday) was expected to total 27,800 chinook, including 21,200 brights, and as many as 800 B steelhead.
“There is very high effort this week,” said Ellis. An estimated 749 nets have been deployed by the tribes.
The non-tribal commercial gill-net fleet hauled in 23,583 fall chinook salmon during a series of overnight fisheries conducted in August. The non-tribal commercial fishers cast their nets in the Columbia River mainstem in areas downstream of Bonneville down to the river mouth.