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2018 Fishing Season: Gillnetting Begins For Salmon, Smelt In Limited Areas Of Mainstem Columbia
Posted on Friday, February 02, 2018 (PST)

Oregon and Washington approved periods of Columbia River tribal and commercial gillnetting for salmon and smelt, while also setting the last days for recreational sturgeon fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam.

At its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 30, the two-state Columbia River Compact set times when non-tribal commercial gillnetters can fish the lower river for salmon in select areas set aside so that the gillnetters can target hatchery spring chinook through mid-June, and late-returning spring chinook and Select Area Bright fall chinook after mid-June.


Gillnetting begins Feb. 5 for the winter season, mid-April for the spring season and June 18 for the summer season, with allowed fishing ending July 26.


The first 15.5-day tribal winter gillnetting period allowed only in The Dalles and John Day pools began yesterday, Feb. 1, and will end Feb. 16. Tribal winter platform and hook and line fishing in Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools are open Feb. 1 to March 21.


Given the uncertainty of the smelt run strength, the Compact said it is adopting a conservative research level fishery, opening commercial gillnetting in the lower river two days a week (Mondays and Thursdays) for seven hours each day, Feb. 1 through Feb. 26.


Smelt, or Eulachon, enter the Columbia River to spawn in the mainstem and several tributaries in December and the peak abundance in tributaries is in February, according to the Compact’s Winter Fact Sheet No. 1a (


Smelt were listed as threatened in 2010 under the federal Endangered Species Act and, according to Tucker Jones, ocean and salmon Columbia River program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is the only listed fish in the Columbia River that is directly targeted for harvest.


Finally, recreational white sturgeon fishing will end in the John Day pool at 12:01 am Feb. 12, and in the Bonneville pool at 12:01 am this weekend, Feb. 4. The Dalles pool had already closed Jan. 20. Bill Tweit, special assistant to the director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said closure in the Bonneville pool is to preserve fish for a summer recreational opening, while closing the John Day pool is because catch is approaching the annual limit of 110 adult fish. White sturgeon fishing in The Dalles and Bonneville pools will likely reopen this summer.


Retention of sturgeon is closed below Bonneville Dam and below Willamette Falls, although catch and release recreational fishing is allowed.


Several stocks of chinook make up the spring run:


Upriver spring chinook are those headed for areas upstream of Bonneville Dam, including Snake River summer chinook. Chinook passing Bonneville Dam between January 1 and June 15 are upriver spring chinook and Snake River wild spring/summer chinook. Upper Columbia wild spring chinook are components of this run and are listed under the ESA. Spring chinook returning to other tributaries above Bonneville Dam are part of this run but are not listed.


Based on the recent ten-year average, Bonneville Dam passage is usually 50 percent complete by May 8. The 10-year average number of adults is 204,600 (range 115,800 to 315,300), the fact sheet says.


Willamette River spring chinook have a broader migration timing. Wild spring chinook are listed. The 10-year average return is 58,600 fish, ranging from 26,600 to 107,700.


Spring chinook returning to tributaries downstream of Bonneville Dam are lower Columbia River spring chinook. These fish are destined for the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers in Washington, and the Sandy River in Oregon, as well as to select areas. With the exception of select area fish, wild components of this group are listed under the ESA. The combined 10-year average run is 19,100 fish (range 10,300 to 31,300) to the tributaries and 9,500 fish (range 2,600 to 23,100) to select areas.


The total number of spring chinook forecasted this year by the US v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee is 248,520, higher than the 2017 forecast of 227,890 and the actual 2017 run of 208,805 fish.


Of those, 81,820 are lower river fish, including 53,820 Willamette River spring chinook. The total lower river forecast in 2017 was 67,490 and the actual run was 92,984. The 2017 forecast for Willamette spring chinook was 38,090 and the actual run was higher at 50,774.


Of the full 2018 forecast, some 166,700 are upriver fish (few fish have passed Bonneville Dam as of Jan. 31). The 2017 forecast was 160,400 and the actual run was 115,821 fish.


Of the upriver run, the mid-Columbia run is forecasted this year to be 39,200 spring chinook, while the 2017 forecast was 45,300 and the actual run was 52,707.


The upper Columbia spring chinook forecast is 20,100, about the same as last year’s forecast of 19,300 (the actual 2017 run was lower at 11,166 fish). The Snake River spring/summer run forecast is 107,400 fish, higher than the 95,800 forecasted for 2017 (the actual run was 51,948).


TAC’s forecast for upper Columbia River summer chinook is 67,300. Last year’s forecast was 63,100 and the actual run was 68,204.


The 2018 forecast for sockeye is 99,000, with just 600 of the fish that are listed as endangered heading to the Snake River. Last year’s forecast was 198,500 fish and the actual run was far lower at 88,263. The forecast last year for Snake River sockeye was 1,400 fish and the actual run was 445.


Some 25,700 sockeye will head to the Wenatchee River (2017 forecast was 54,200 and actual was 34,861) and 72,600 will head to the Okanagan River (2017 forecast was 137,900 and the actual was 52,272). The Deschutes and the Yakima rivers each will see a forecasted 50 fish this year.


In addition to tribal gillnetting, platform and hook and line fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam (gillnetting is allowed only in The Dalles and John Day pools), the Compact opened select areas to non-tribal commercial gillnetting in the lower Columbia River. The biggest change from last year’s schedule, according to ODFW’s John North, is that the Compact staff, working with commercial gillnetters, incorporated more frequent fishing opportunities.


The tribal staff report, Winter Fact Sheet No. 1b, is at


The approved schedule for select area fishing is for winter, spring and summer periods. Dave Moscowitz of the Conservation Angler suggested in his testimony that setting such a long-term schedule is premature, but was assured that, despite the lengthy schedule, the Compact would continue to manage the fishery through all the seasons.


“All of the fisheries are managed. We could still rescind or modify any part of the schedule,” North said.


A series of day long and half day openings were approved for Youngs Bay. For the winter season, gillnetting begins Feb. 5 and ends March 26. The spring season is April 19 to June 15, and the summer season is June 22 to July 26.


Tongue Point/South Channel select area has similar short openings. Winter openings begin Feb. 5 and end March 23 (the last week allows gillnetting in the South Channel only). Spring openings begin April 19 and end June 15. Summer is open June 18 to June 29. For detail on select area openings, see the Compact Jan. 30 action notice at


The Blind and Knappa slough select areas open for winter gillnetting Feb. 5 and close April 3. Spring gillnetting is April 19 to June 15, and summer gillnetting in the sloughs is June 18 to 29.


Allowed ESA impacts to upriver spring chinook are allocated 80 percent to recreational fisheries and 20 percent to commercial fisheries. The majority of the commercial allocation is expected from the select area fisheries.


The smelt run is expected to be smaller than the 2017 return of smelt.


In response to the ESA listing in 2010, the states discontinued commercial and recreational smelt fisheries 2011 to 2013. Since 2014, the states have worked closely with NOAA Fisheries to conduct research-level smelt fisheries that provide biological sampling and pounds per landing (CPUE) data so that smelt status and run strength can be better assessed, the fact sheet says.


During 2014-2017, limited conservation-level commercial research fisheries were allowed in February each year, with fishing allowed in 2014 through early March. Fishing was limited to eight 7-hour periods over 4 to 5 weeks.


In addition, limited recreational fisheries have been allowed in the Cowlitz and Sandy rivers since 2014. The recreational fishery in the Cowlitz River has been restricted to 1 to 5 days and 5 to 6 hours per day, while the Sandy River was only open in 2014 and 2015 (2 to 4 days annually, 6 hours per day). WDFW will soon announce a brief opening for smelt retention in the Cowlitz, but ODFW will wait for more information before it decides to commit to a smelt fishing opening in the Sandy River.


Since 2014, mainstem Columbia River commercial landings have averaged 11,240 pounds (range 4,820 – 18,560) and tributary recreational harvest has averaged 159,060 pounds (range 540 – 290,770), annually, the fact sheet says.


The 2017 forecast for smelt was 3,000,000 pounds, down from the 2016 forecast of 5 million pounds.


Gary Soderstrom, one of the few commercial gillnetters that fish for smelt, said that the 250 pound per day limit and the infrequent schedule isn’t enough to develop markets for smelt. He suggested spreading out the catch opportunities to bring smelt to market slowly and develop that market.


Jim Wells of Salmon for All said the discrepancy between the commercial and recreational harvest has some room to readjust the harvest and give commercial gillnetters more of the take.


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