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States Set Schedule Of Angling Closures Aimed At Protecting Low Numbers Of Wild Steelhead
Posted on Friday, June 16, 2017 (PST)

With forecasted numbers of wild summer steelhead at annual lows, Oregon and Washington Friday, June 9, released a plan for rolling angling closures in the Columbia River and its tributaries to protect the fish.

 

Some 130,700 summer steelhead – hatchery and wild fish – are expected to return to the Columbia River this year, the lowest forecast since 1980, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife information. Of particular concern to the two states is the expectation of a very weak return of wild steelhead to the Snake River and to the upper Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam.

 

Some 1,100 of those fish are wild B-run steelhead, the large steelhead that head to the Snake River, and that are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

 

At this point, a total of 7,300 B-run fish (steelhead larger than 78 centimeters, nearly 31 inches) are forecasted by the U.S. v Oregon Technical Management Committee. Last year, the wild B-run size was 6,465 fish and the total B-run was 42,103 fish. TAC will make another estimate later in June.

 

All the new regulations set for summer steelhead this year were designed specifically to protect the B-run steelhead and the “retention prohibitions were set to reduce wild B encounters,” said Ron Roler, Columbia River fish manager for WDFW. Both Roler and Tucker Jones, Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, added that the rolling angling closures for steelhead were largely developed by both states.

 

To conserve these wild steelhead runs and to ensure enough hatchery steelhead make it to Columbia River basin hatcheries, both state fish and wildlife agencies are reducing daily catch limits, prohibiting night fishing and closing entirely sportfishing for steelhead in some waters during months when those fish are passing through.

 

"Many of the fish returning this year were subjected to drought conditions in the Columbia Basin in 2015 and unusually warm water in the ocean through 2016," Roler said of the low numbers of returning fish. "We saw the effects of these conditions in last year's upriver steelhead return, and this year they're even more pronounced."

 

For the summer season, TAC is forecasting a return of 63,100 summer chinook, 130,700 upriver summer steelhead and 198,500 sockeye salmon, all lower than last year’s actual returns. Those returns were 91,048 summer chinook, 184,044 upriver steelhead and 354,466 sockeye.

 

Angling for summer steelhead, as well as for summer chinook, begins today (June 16), but the one-to-two month rolling closures don’t begin until August and then they progress upriver following the steelhead return to reduce take of both hatchery and wild fish, according to WDFW. Rolling closures affect the mainstem Columbia and the lower reaches of specific tributaries.

 

When and where fishing is allowed, all wild steelhead must be released. Washington and Oregon will allow one hatchery steelhead per day and prohibit fishing at night.

 

In the mainstem Columbia River from the Astoria-Megler Bridge to Highway 395 in Pasco, fishing for steelhead, as well as for summer chinook, is open June 16 through July 31.

 

The river from Buoy 10 to the Astoria-Megler Bridge is closed for both salmon and steelhead through July. Upstream of the bridge and to the Hwy 395 bridge beginning June 16, the daily bag limit is two hatchery salmonids per day, only one of which can be a hatchery steelhead. Sockeye salmon can be counted as a salmon. The summer chinook season is expected to remain open through July.

 

The fall season begins August 1, and includes the Buoy 10 fishery near Astoria and the fall “upriver bright” chinook season in the mainstem Columbia. Fishery managers are forecasting that 582,600 fall chinook will enter the river this year, which is down from about 640,000 returning fall chinook in 2016. The fall season also includes rolling closures for steelhead.

 

Both states added special steelhead regulations for Columbia River tributaries. In August, anglers must release all steelhead in the Columbia from Buoy 10 to The Dalles Dam.

 

These tributaries are also limited to a bag limit of one hatchery steelhead per day:

 

-- Cowlitz River, downstream from the Lexington Drive/Sparks Road bridge.

-- Lewis River, downstream from the confluence with the East Fork Lewis River.

-- Wind River, downstream from Shipherd Falls.

-- White Salmon River, downstream from the county road bridge.

 

These tributaries have scheduled closures:

-- Drano Lake, closed for steelhead retention August 1 through September 30.

-- Deschutes River (downstream of Moody Rapids) open June 16 – December 31, except closed to angling September 1 – 30.

-- John Day River (downstream of Tumwater Falls), June 16 – December 31, except closed to angling September 1 – October 31.

 

Rolling steelhead closures in the Columbia River are:

-- The Columbia mainstem from The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam in September.

-- John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam during September and October.

-- McNary Dam upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco in October and November.

 

Roler said that commercial and tribal salmon fisheries in both states will also be constrained by efforts to conserve summer steelhead this year. For example, the non-tribal commercial salmon fishery in fall will likely be restricted to six days under a harvest agreement reached during this year's North of Falcon season-setting process. Last year, that fishery extended for 13 days and has averaged 26 days per year over the past decade. Tribal fisheries will also be constrained under harvest rates established under the requirements of the ESA.

 

"Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia River Basin," he said. "Now that ocean conditions have shifted – as they do on a recurrent basis – we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly."

 

Dave Moskowitz, executive director of The Conservation Angler, believes the new regulations will not be enough to protect this year’s run of wild steelhead.

 

Moskowitz said the organization is considering options for a challenge to the regulations.

 

Most recently, The Conservation Angler (and Willamette Riverkeeper) sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (May 22) over releases of hatchery produced summer run steelhead in the upper Willamette, saying that the Corps is in violation of the Endangered Species Act due to the impacts of its hatchery summer steelhead program on wild winter steelhead in the Willamette and Santiam rivers. (See CBB, June 9, 2017, “Groups Sue Corps Over Upper Willamette Summer-Run Steelhead Hatchery Releases; Says Harm Wild Fish,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439056.aspx)

 

“The agencies do not have the means to monitor the encounter rates in the fisheries that they permit,” he said. “The proposed closures are abruptly opened when the wild steelhead are still present as their migration patterns are extremely diverse and they respond to temperature refugia at river mouths unlike the migrating salmon.”

 

WDFW angling information is at http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/jun0917b/. Also see WDFW's 2017-18 Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/. Emergency fishing rules that take effect prior to July 1 are at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.

 

ODFW information is at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2017/06_jun/061217b.asp and up-to-date and detailed rules are at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/reg_changes/columbia.asp.

 

For fishery purposes, the spring run of chinook salmon ends June 15, a time when the run of chinook over Bonneville Dam transition from spring to summer chinook. Angling in the Columbia River mainstem has been closed since April 23 downstream of the dam and since May 5 upstream.

 

The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee run size forecast of spring chinook was changed this week from 118,000 fish at the mouth of the river to 115,000 fish, according to Ellis, TAC lead for 2017 and harvest management biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Some 110,000 spring chinook are expected over Bonneville Dam. In order to maintain that forecast, the count over the dam would need to remain at 1,600 fish per day through June 15. As of June 13, 103,993 salmon had passed the dam at a daily pace of more than 1,600.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, June 9, 2017, “Spring Chinook Run Forecast Stays At 118,000 As Harvest Managers Move Into Summer Chinook Season,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439057.aspx

 

--CBB, June 2, 2017, “Spring Chinook Run Size Estimate Upgraded; Still Low Passage Numbers In Upper Columbia, Lower Snake,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439008.aspx

 

--CBB, May 19, 2017, “Spring Chinook Return Downgraded To Half Of Early Season Prediction; Angling Closed,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438951.aspx

 

--CBB, May 12, 2017, “Spring Chinook Return Had A Little Bounce Then Back To Low Numbers; Insufficient Data For Run Update,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438901.aspx

 

--CBB, May 5, 2017, “5,192 Springers Pass Bonneville By May 3 (10-Year Average That Date, 75,463 Fish); Good Late Run?” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438854.aspx

 

--CBB, April 14, 2017, “Lower Columbia Spring Chinook Fishing On Upward Trend, Two Five-Day Angling Periods Added,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438715.aspx

 

--CBB, April 7, 2017, “Harvest Managers Extend Springer Fishing Citing Poor Water, Fishing Conditions,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438673.aspx

 

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