Anglers will be allowed to retain adult hatchery chinook salmon along the 70-mile stretch of the lower Columbia River during a weeklong pilot fishery that started Monday and runs through Sunday, Sept. 16.
The first time fishery is taking place from the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line just upstream of Astoria, Ore., up to Warrior Rock near the mouth of the Lewis River.
The new pilot fishery approved by Oregon and Washington fishery managers aims to provide sport fishing opportunity at a time when chinook retention has typically closed in that stretch of the river. The lower river reach has in recently been closed in recent years to avoid the harvest of Lower River tule fall chinook salmon, which are a part of the Lower Columbia chinook stock that are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“They are the most constraining stock” as regards fishery management in the lower river, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Cindy LeFleur. Typical management involves the closure of lower section of river from early to mid-September through the end of the month to allow the Lower River tules to move off into their natal streams, tributaries to the Columbia downstream of Bonneville Dam.
The daily catch limit during the pilot fishery is two adult hatchery salmon, two hatchery steelhead, or one of each. Only one of the salmon may be an adult chinook. Anglers must release any chinook salmon, coho salmon or steelhead not marked as a hatchery-raised fish by a clipped adipose fin.
Guy Norman, southwest regional director for WDFW, said the new pilot fishery is the first of its kind for fall chinook in the lower Columbia River.
"We wanted to give anglers an extra week of chinook fishing and reduce the number of excess hatchery fish, while minimizing impacts to wild fish," Norman said. "This approach provides a way to do that."
The fishery got under way a day after the close of the regular chinook fishery, during which anglers have been allowed to retain both marked and unmarked chinook. The area upstream from Warrior Rock remains open for chinook retention, as described in WDFW’s 2012 fishing pamphlet.
Norman said the new pilot fishery will be closely monitored to determine catch rates and compliance with the rule requiring the release of unmarked fish.
"This is a test for both the anglers and the fishery," Norman said. "Because healthy stocks of some wild upriver chinook are not marked, anglers will likely have to release more fish than in other mark-selective fisheries on the river." The fall chinook return includes wild fish bound for the mid-Columbia’s Hanford reach. That population is considered healthy and is not ESA-listed.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon in preseason predicted a strong run of 655,000 fall chinook salmon to Columbia River this year, including stocks originating both above and below Bonneville, which is located at river mile 146. The upriver run fish bound for the Snake River basin are listed as threatened.
Both states approved the new pilot fishery in July, but high catch rates last month in the Buoy 10 fishery near the river’s mouth raised questions about whether it would open as scheduled.
However, Norman said further analysis of the Buoy 10 fishery showed a higher ratio of hatchery fish in the catch than expected, allowing the pilot fishery to proceed.
"We’re on target with our conservation goals for wild chinook in the lower Columbia River," he said. "That will allow us to test the feasibility of a new mark selective fishery and give anglers an extra week to catch hatchery chinook in the process."
For more information on the pilot fishery, see the emergency rule update on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .