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A Million Fish Spurring Record Fall Chinook Catch Rates; Tribes See Best Zone 6 Harvest Back To 1938
Posted on Friday, September 27, 2013 (PST)

A modern-day record fall chinook spawning run up the Columbia and Snake rivers is, obviously, providing huge bounty for fishermen -- sport, commercial, tribal.

Through Sept. 22, an estimated 29,307 adult fall chinook had been caught and kept by anglers in the lower Columbia fishing zone from Astoria near the river mouth upstream to Bonneville Dam at river mile 146.

That kept catch, and fishing is ongoing, in 130,883 angler trips has surpassed the previous high of 28,169 fish in 2011. The catch record was made despite the fact that the effort this year ranks second (147,343 trips also in 2011) since at least 1969.

The Buoy 10 fishery between the river mouth and Astoria from Aug. 1 through Sept. 1 includes fall chinook catch projections (kept catch plus release mortalities) of 28,000, the highest since at least 1988.

And the mainstem sport fishery from Bonneville upstream to the Highway 395 bridge (in Pasco) just north of the Oregon-Washington border has an in-season catch expectation of 14,000 fall chinook.

The lower river, non-tribal commercial fishery has also been producing. The August commercial season, consisting of eight daily outings, netted 45,600 chinook. The “late” fall season from Sept. 15-23, produced a haul of 29,000 chinook, with an additional fishery planned this week.

And an estimated 222,277 adult fall chinook will have been caught by the end of this week by tribal commercial fishers in Columbia River reservoirs upstream of Bonneville. A fishery scheduled for next week is estimated to bring in nearly 24,000 more.

“This year’s harvest will be the highest commercial catch in Zone 6 ever,” Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission fishery biologist Stuart Ellis said of the above-Bonneville fall chinook catch. That record would date back to 1938, the year Bonneville went into operation.

Both non-Indian and tribal fisheries remain within catch limitations set to protect wild salmon and steelhead within the run that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The fish are there for the taking. The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee met on Sept.16 to update forecasts of the upriver chinook run, which includes upriver brights, Bonneville Hatchery Pool tules, and a portion of the Mid-Columbia bright return. The URB run was upgraded to 832,500 adult fish to the mouth of the Columbia River, which would be a record.

The BPH run, mostly hatchery fish bound for Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in the Bonneville pool, was pegged at 69,000 at the mouth. That’s nearly double the preseason forecast 36,000.

The latest Mid-Columbia Bright forecast is for a return of adult 154,300 fish to the Columbia. That’s up from a preseason forecast of 97,600, which would have been similar to the 10-year average.

The total upriver fall chinook run forecast (fish headed upstream of Bonneville) is a record run with 1,055,800 upriver fall chinook expected to enter the Columbia River. TAC expects over 950,000 upriver fall chinook to pass Bonneville Dam.

The big return is allowing state fishery managers to loosen catch restrictions almost across the board.

As an example, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, last week decided, beginning Sept. 21 that fishing for salmon with two poles will be permitted in the Hanford Reach area from the Hwy. 395 Bridge in Pasco to Priest Rapids Dam if the angler possesses a two-pole license endorsement.

The daily bag limit was also boosted from two to six salmon, up to three of which may be adult salmon. Once the daily limit of adult salmon is retained, anglers may not continue to fish for any species for the remainder of the day.

The WDFW also opened the closed water boundaries at the Priest Rapids Hatchery discharge channel, commonly referred to as Jackson/Moran Creek, to angling by boat only. Boat anglers are not allowed to fish in the hatchery discharge channel, but may fish in the Columbia River adjacent to the channel. The shoreline within the normal closed area boundary will remain closed to bank angling for safety and security of the hatchery.

The current in-season run update is for 114,300 adult natural-origin fall chinook to return to the Hanford Reach spawning grounds, which is far in excess of the target spawning escapement. In addition, record returns of hatchery chinook to Priest Rapids and Ringold Spring hatcheries are anticipated, the WDFW says.

Upstream of Priest Rapids the limit was also raised. In the reservoir between Wanapum Dam the limit is now six chinook. Two of those fish may be adult chinook . Minimum size 12 inches. That limit is good until Oct. 15. Anglers may retain any legal size chinook regardless of whether the adipose fin has been clipped or not.

Current estimates for the fall chinook run far exceed the forecast. There are currently close to 20,000 adult fall chinook returning to the Wanapum pool, which is four times the 10-year average.

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