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Spring Chinook Seasons Set For A Forecasted Modest Return; Idaho, Tribes Say Too Much Early Fishing
Posted on Friday, February 01, 2013 (PST)

Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington on Wednesday set spring chinook salmon seasons for the Columbia River that will allow anglers to roam up and downriver from the Portland-Vancouver area, but in doing so risk a somewhat earlier closure.

The officials convening for a joint state hearing also set recreational sturgeon seasons for the Columbia. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Steve Williams also announced that a sturgeon retention season is scheduled on the Willamette for Thursday through Saturday, July 11-13 and Thursday through Saturday, July 18-20. Staff will review catch rates after each retention period and may adjust seasons, if necessary, to stay within the 1,733-fish allowable harvest.

With relatively low numbers of available fish, catch allocations for spring chinook salmon and sturgeon are down this year for both sport and commercial fishermen. Williams and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Guy Norman led the joint state hearing, and also convened as the Columbia River Compact, which sets mainstem Columbia commercial seasons.

The Columbia River spring chinook seasons are based on a preseason forecast of 141,400 adult upriver spring chinook returning to the mouth of the Columbia. This compares to a 2012 actual upriver return of 203,100, and is about 75 percent of the most recent 10-year average.

Upriver spring chinook are fish heading for tributary spawning grounds and hatcheries upstream of Bonneville Dam in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Bonneville is 146 river miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia at the Pacific Ocean. The upriver run includes Upper Columbia spring and Snake River spring-summer chinook salmon components that are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Harvests are held in check to avoid undo impacts on the wild, listed part of the run.

The 2013 preseason forecast includes 83,600 lower river spring chinook, most of which are expected to turn off at Portland and head up the Willamette River. The Willamette forecast is for a return of 59,800 adults to the mouth of the Columbia. That compares to an actual return of 65,100 last year.

According to a state-tribal harvest management matrix, a forecast of 141,400 would allow a harvest in the near term of 5,010 upriver fish in the sport fishery downstream of Bonneville Dam.

The spring chinook season for the lower Columbia downstream of Portland’s Interstate 5 bridge opened Jan. 1 under permanent rules.

The season adopted Wednesday will take effect March 1 and opens much of the mainstem between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam to salmon retention. The fishery is expected to extend through April 5. The state officials also scheduled a spring salmon fishery from March 15 through May 5 on the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and the point upstream where the big river veers north away from the two states’ border.

The adopted season reflected the ODFW-WDFW staff recommendation, and the most favored alternative considered by Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group’s citizen members.

Norman and Williams weighed options that would have eliminated or reduced fishing opportunities between I-5 and Bonneville. In that area the chinook catch would be almost exclusively upriver fish and as a result would more quickly eat up ESA impacts. The catch downstream of Portand includes both upriver and lower river chinook.

“Fishing above I-5 can cost you some days,” Williams said of the need potentially to close down the fishery early if the upriver quota has been reached. But providing more fishing space for an eager and relatively large sport fleet also has advantages too.

“It will spread out the fleet and open up some more boat ramps,” Norman said.

The states are managing early fisheries with a 30 percent buffer. In other words they are allowing a harvest of only 70 percent of the overall allocation, which is now based on the preseason upriver spring chinook forecast, prior to a run-size forecast update. That update is made normally at the point where an estimated 50 percent of the upriver run has passed over Bonneville, which in recent years has been in early May. The midpoint last year was May 11.

If they updated forecast is at or better than the preseason forecast, more fishing would likely be allowed. The “spring” salmon season technically runs through June 15 in the lower river.

The total pre-update, non-Indian allocation is 7,325 upriver spring chinook.

In addition to the lower river sport share, the above Bonneville sport allocation is 670 fish, the upper Columbia/Snake River sport share is 360, lower river commercial fishers get 1,135 and impacts in so-called “select areas” can total as many as 150 fish before the May update.

Select areas are off-channel sites in the lower estuary where few wild upriver chinook are encountered. At those sites hatchery raised fish are acclimated, then released. When they return to the sites they are targeted mostly by commercial gill-netters but also to some degree by anglers.

Norman and Williams on Wednesday heard testimony from tribal representatives and an Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman that encouraged a more conservative start to the season to assure that more spawners are allowed to proceed upstream, especially because the run is expected to be below average.

“The fishing [in the lower Columbia] is going to have a greater impact” because of a modest run size, said the IDFG’s Pete Hassemer. Based on last year’s larger forecast, the IDFG projected that it would need about 5 percent of the spring chinook return to make it back to Idaho to provide broodstock for the next generation of fish. This year with a smaller return they need 8 percent to meet hatchery needs.

Idaho production from four hatcheries has in recent years provided about 48 percent of the below-Bonneville catch, Hassemer said.

Hassemer and Bruce Jim, who represented the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, both said the timing of the downstream harvest is crucial to upstream harvest, and genetic needs. CRITFC members include the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes, all of which participate in Columbia harvests for ceremonial and subsistence needs, and for commercial sale.

“There is no reason to concentrate too much fishing effort in the lower river in the first part of the run,” Jim said. “The tribes also recommended scheduling breaks in the early season non-Indian fisheries to allow fish to move upstream.

“The breaks will also distribute harvest impacts across a wider range of the run. It is not wise management to continually focus mainstem fisheries on the earliest portions of the run,” Jim said.

The fisheries being considered Wednesday take a big bite out of the early part of the run, a large share of which is headed for Idaho. Production at hatcheries and in the wild are better served with representation from across the span of the run to maintain genetic diversity.

“Fifty percent of the catch can be taken before 1 percent of the fish get to Bonneville,” Hassemer said of the harvest allowance from March 1 through April 5.

“In a year like this it would be better to distribute the catch over more of the run,” he said.

The new season also brings a barbless hook requirement for anglers fishing for salmon, steelhead or trout on the Columbia and Willamette (below the falls) rivers and Oregon selected tributaries.

The following is a summary of recreational fishing seasons adopted this week.

CHINOOK SALMON

Columbia River from Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam

Prior to March 1, permanent rules, as outlined in the 2013 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations, remain in effect.

From March 1 through April 5, boat fishing will be allowed seven days per week from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock. Bank fishing will be allowed during the same timeframe from Buoy 10 upstream to Bonneville Dam. This fishery will be managed to the available guideline of 5,010 upriver spring chinook and may be shortened or extended depending on catch and effort. The recreational fishery will be closed on March 26 and April 2 (Tuesdays) to allow for potential commercial fisheries.

The daily bag limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook. The rules also allow retention of up to five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day.

Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington border

Effective March 16, this area will be open to retention of adipose fin-clipped chinook through May 5. This fishery will be managed to the available guideline of 670 upriver spring chinook and may be shortened or extended depending on catch and effort.

The daily bag limit is two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, and up to five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day.

Fishing for salmon and steelhead from a boat between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines, approximately six miles downstream from The Dalles Dam, is prohibited. Bank fishing is allowed throughout this area.

Select Areas

Permanent fishing regulations for recreational harvest in Oregon waters within the Youngs Bay and Blind Slough/Knappa Slough are listed in the 2013 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations.

Effective March 1 through June 15, on days when the lower mainstem is open to recreational chinook harvest, the daily salmonid bag limit will be the same as mainstem Columbia bag limits. On days the mainstem Columbia is closed to chinook retention, the permanent bag limits for select areas will apply.

Willamette River

The Willamette River remains open to retention of adipose fin-clipped adult chinook salmon and adipose fin-clipped steelhead seven days a week.

The bag limit on the Willamette below Willamette Falls is two adipose fin-clipped chinook. Above the falls, one additional adipose fin-clipped steelhead may be retained under regulations for the combined salmon/steelhead bag limit.

STEELHEAD/SHAD

Effective March 1 – May 15, 2013 the mainstem Columbia River will be open for retention of shad and adipose fin-clipped steelhead ONLY during days and in areas open for retention of adipose fin-clipped spring chinook. Beginning May 16 permanent rules resume as listed in the 2013 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations.

In other business the agencies took the following actions:

Adopted the 2013 Winter/Spring Pre-Season Commercial Fishing Plan and General Commercial Spring Chinook Fishery Regulations, which sets gear types and season structures.

Set commercial fishing seasons for Select Area fisheries, including Blind Slough/Knappa Slough, Tongue Point/South Channel, Deep River and Young's Bay.

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