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First 2017 Hearing Setting Fishing Times:Spring, Summer Chinook, Sockeye, Smelt All Forecasted Down
Posted on Friday, February 03, 2017 (PST)

In its first hearing of the year, the two-state Columbia River Compact this week set spring fishing for commercial select areas and tribal gillnetters, but with fewer fish forecasted in 2017, the Compact took a conservative approach to setting fishing periods.

 

The spring chinook forecast – upriver and lower river chinook – is down 17 percent to 227,890 fish from the 2016 actual run of 274,652 fish.

 

The upriver summer chinook forecast is down about one-third, from an actual count in 2016 of 91,048 to 63,100 this year.

 

The combined Snake River spring/summer chinook is down about 18 percent to 95,800 from the actual count in 2016 of 116,282 fish. The forecast for Snake River wild spring/summer chinook is 15,100, down about 39 percent from last year’s actual count of 24,840.

 

The sockeye salmon forecast is down about 44 percent, from last year’s actual run of 354,466 to this year’s forecast of 198,500. Some 1,400 Snake River sockeye are expected this year, similar to the 2016 actual Snake River sockeye return.

 

Salmon forecast returns are based on U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee run reconstruction methodology and, at this point, is incomplete, according to the Compact’s Winter Fact Sheet No. 1.

 

Even the forecasted smelt run is down 40 percent from last year’s 5,000,000 pounds to an expected 3,000,000 pounds this year.

 

See the Compact Winter Fact Sheet No. 1 (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/FS/17/17_01_31wf1.pdf).

 

The January 31 meeting was marred by several interruptions targeting commercial gillnetters, causing Tucker Jones of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to stop testimony to ask for respect and quiet from the more than 35 people on the phone line.

 

The interruptions occurred only during testimony by commercial gillnetters. That could have been due to controversial changes to the two-state harvest reform policy by the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife commissions that would continue to allow some gillnetting on the mainstem Columbia River. The policy, which has been in transition since 2014, was to have entirely removed gillnetters from the mainstem, and provide off-channel or select area fisheries that result in less impact on upriver fish listed under the Endangered Species Act.

 

See CBB, January 27, 2017, “Oregon Harvest Reforms Differ From Washington In How Much Gillnetting Allowed,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438251.aspx

 

For this first meeting, the Compact had a far-reaching agenda to set tribal white sturgeon and gillnet periods in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools, eulachon (smelt) commercial gillnetting in the lower Columbia River, and periods for commercial select area (off-channel) gillnetting in the lower river.

 

-- Sturgeon

The abundance of white sturgeon in the pools behind the Columbia River’s lower three dams has also declined and this year that is resulting in lower harvest rates for tribal fishers as well as for sport fishers. All began fishing in January 2017.

 

The Sturgeon Management Task Force met January 25 to develop management recommendations for 2017 white sturgeon fisheries in Bonneville, The Dalles, and John Day pools, including potential modifications to harvest guidelines based on updated population assessments, the Winter Fact Sheet says. Harvest guidelines for Bonneville (325 each for treaty and recreational) and The Dalles (325 for treaty and 100 for recreational) pools did not change, but they did for the John Day Pool for the next three years as follows:

 

2017: 400 total including 295 treaty commercial and 105 recreational.

2018: 315 total including 210 treaty commercial and 105 recreational

2019: 280 total including 175 treaty commercial and 105 recreational

 

Recreational harvest so far this year in the Bonneville pool is just 5 percent (16 fish) of the allocation as of January 29. The Dalles catch is 15 percent of the allocation and the John Day catch is 7 percent.

 

-- Smelt

The smelt run into the lower Columbia River is expected to be considerably down from last year’s run that tallied 5,000,000 pounds. This year just 3,000,000 pounds are expected.

 

Beginning in 2001, a Washington and Oregon Eulachon Management Plan provided guidance in structuring smelt fisheries, identifying three levels of harvest based on expected adult run size, juvenile production and ocean productivity. Level 1, the level identified by the Compact to guide fishing this year, has the most conservative harvest guidelines.

 

Smelt were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010, causing the states to shut down commercial and recreational fisheries. However, the states have continued to work closely with NOAA Fisheries so that they can reinstate a research-level smelt fishery that provides biological data, fishery landing and catch per landing in pounds. The data is used to determine smelt status and run strength and is being used to set commercial and, eventually, perhaps recreational smelt fisheries.

 

“These are ESA-listed fish and the only species I know of where we have direct harvest,” said Ron Roler of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The harvest is (designed) to come up with some ideas to delist.”

 

Last year the commercial fishery was limited to eight 7-hour periods over four weeks in February and March. Recreational smelting was allowed for just one day in 2016 in the Cowlitz River in Washington and the Sandy River in Oregon. Between 2014 and 2016, commercial fishers harvested somewhere between 4,820 pounds and 18,560 pounds per year, while tributary recreational smelt fishers gathered in 141,050 – 290,770 pounds.

 

This week, the Compact opened commercial smelt fishing in zones 1 to 3 on the Columbia River Mondays and Thursdays, 7 hours each day, from February 2 through February 27.

 

Neither Washington nor Oregon is recommending recreational fishing in the Cowlitz or Sandy rivers at this time.

 

Smelt are already filling the river, according to Gary Soderstrom, a commercial gillnetter who fishes for smelt. He said the Columbia River and Gray’s River have been full of smelt for several weeks, asking why commercial gillnetting for the fish is set at the most conservative level.

 

“You’re taking away our bait market with the decline of sturgeon in recreational fishing,” he said, pointing to a decline in sturgeon harvest. “This is a small fishery, just a few of us can do it. There is no fishing unless there is a market for the fish.”

 

-- Spring chinook salmon

The US v Oregon management agreement specifies the non-Indian and Treaty fisheries occurring prior to a run size update be managed for a run size that is at least 30 percent less than the predicted upriver spring chinook run size, the Winter Fact Sheet says.

 

Based on the management agreement and the preseason forecast, ESA impacts for 2017 fisheries are limited to 10 percent. Some 1.7 percent of upriver spring chinook salmon impacts go to commercial and recreational non-Indian fisheries and 8.3 percent go for treaty Indian fisheries.

 

In accordance with the Columbia River Harvest Reform policies of both states, the allowed ESA impacts to upriver spring chinook are allocated at 80 percent to recreational fisheries and 20 percent to commercial fisheries.

 

The Willamette River Fisheries Management Plan (the river is not a two-state shared fishery, but it does include some harvest in the Columbia River) limits the ESA impacts on wild Willamette River spring chinook to equal to or less than 15 percent.

 

According to the Winter Fact Sheet, the Willamette River management plan includes a sliding scale for escapement goals based on abundance of hatchery fish and that determines the allocation of surplus hatchery spring chinook to recreational and commercial fisheries downstream of Willamette Falls. The escapement goals are also intended to allow for full recreational fisheries in the upper Willamette River.

 

A total of 38,090 wild and hatchery spring chinook are forecasted for the Willamette River. The harvestable surplus is 9,875 hatchery spring chinook based on an expected return of 32,550 hatchery fish and an escapement goal (how many fish must reach hatcheries) of 23,000 fish. The allocation downstream of Willamette Falls is 9,550 for recreational anglers and 325 for commercial gillnetters.

 

-- Treaty Indian Winter Commercial Gillnet Fishery

The tribes fished setlines during January and set a 6.5 day fishing period in the John Day pool February 1 to February 7, and a 17.5 day period in The Dalles pool February 1 to February 18, based on conservative catch potential this time of year.

 

The harvest guideline for the John Day pool is 295 spring chinook. A 3-year average catch per day suggests the guideline would take 13 days to achieve.

 

The harvest guideline in The Dalles pool is 325 fish. Based on a 3-year average catch per day, that would take 44 days to achieve.

 

There are no specific harvest limits for steelhead in winter season fisheries but the steelhead catch is low in the winter season averaging 77 in The Dalles and John Day Pools since 2001, according to the Winter Fact Sheet.

 

Platform fishing will be allowed from February 1 to March 21.

 

-- Select Area Fisheries

Select area commercial fisheries have averaged 9,400 chinook annually (2012-2016), including spring chinook during the winter and spring seasons (mid-February through mid-June) and both spring chinook and early returning select area bright fall chinook during the summer through July. Some 83 percent of fish harvested originated in the select areas. The 2017 harvest is forecasted at 6,100 chinook. About 430 of those are expected to be upriver spring chinook.

 

Fishing in Blind Slough and Knappa Slough has minimal impacts on upriver fish, according to the Fact Sheet. The Compact set several dates per week in February and March for winter fishing and again several days a week in April, May and June for spring fishing.

 

The Compact also set winter and spring periods for Tongue Point and South Channel select areas, as well as Deep River in Washington.

 

However, discovering that just 1 percent of 6-year old chinook would originate in Deep River, Jones said he’s not excited about this fishery. “They are just picking off upriver fish at this time of year, fish that aren’t local,” he said. “I’ll hesitantly agree to this recommendation, but this has got to be the last year of Deep River fishing.”

 

“We do have the potential to catch the 6-year fish,” Roler said. “The limitations on commercial fisherman have been great as of late and I want to make sure they have an opportunity….and, yes, this is the last year.”

 

-- Youngs Bay

The Winter Fact Sheet says that the Compact staff worked with commercial gillnetters to provide increased opportunity in the winter while minimizing the risk of encountering upriver stocks during the late winter and early spring timeframes. That includes:

--Continued winter fishing periods with reduced hours in March provide harvest opportunity, while minimizing impacts to upriver stocks.

--Similar to 2016, the spring season opening is delayed in an attempt to minimize impacts on upriver spring chinook, which have exhibited a later run timing in recent years.

--The spring fishery consisting of progressively increasing fishing time should maximize harvest of local stocks while minimizing impacts to non-local stocks.

--The expanded Youngs Bay summer fishery provides significant additional harvest opportunity while allowing for select area bright broodstock escapement.

 

The January 31 Compact Action Notice is at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/CAN/17/170131_notice.pdf.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, December 16, 2016, “Early Fish Forecast: Lower Returns Than Last Year Expected For Spring/Summer Chinook, Sockeye,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438095.aspx

 

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