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Low Bonneville Dam Passage For Spring Chinook Results In One More Fishing Day In Lower Columbia
Posted on Friday, April 13, 2018 (PST)

Despite few fish crossing Bonneville Dam and a spring chinook salmon run that for now doesn’t seem to be gaining steam, Oregon and Washington agreed to add one more day of fishing Saturday, April 14 for recreational anglers downstream of Bonneville Dam.


It was a contested decision: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Bill Tweit wanted to shut down fishing in the lower river until the US v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee reassesses its early run size forecast, expected in early May; Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Tucker Jones wanted to add the two days recommended by the Columbia River Compact staff.


Tweit is a fishery manager with WDFW: Jones is manager of ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program. Each represents their respective department’s directors as leads on Compact decisions.


The Compact met Wednesday afternoon, April 11, for more than a two-hour hearing to decide on staff proposals to add two days to the early recreational lower river spring chinook season, up to 10 days of recreational white sturgeon fishing downstream of the Wauna powerline at Puget Island, a one-day sturgeon opening in the Bonneville and The Dalles pools, and several commercial Select Area fisheries openings near Astoria.


Just 111 spring chinook had crossed Bonneville Dam by April 11. The 10-year average on that date is 2,665, more than 20 times this year’s passage. Last year, some 255 spring chinook had passed by April 11. On average, about one-half of the run passes the dam by May 8.


Recreational fishing for spring chinook downstream of Bonneville Dam was open March 1 to April 7, and during that time, anglers caught 4,769 fish and released 697 from 60,472 angler trips. Some 92 steelhead were kept and 122 were released, according to the Compact’s Winter Fact Sheet #7 (


Mortalities of upriver spring chinook, some listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, totaled 3,680 fish, which is 51 percent of the 7,157 fish available to this fishery prior to a TAC run update. TAC’s preseason forecast for upriver spring chinook is 166,700. Last year’s actual run was 115,821, but the early run size forecast was far higher at 160,400 fish. A run size of 75,000 upriver fish would be sufficient to allow the 3,680 upriver fish already taken, Compact staff said.


Over the past ten years, adult runs have averaged around 204,600 (range 115,800 to 315,300), according to the Compact’s Winter Fact Sheet #3 (


“We’re very concerned about the spring chinook run,” said Leland Bill, Treasurer of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and a member of the Yakama Nation. “It’s the lowest recorded run since the construction of Bonneville Dam. Tribal members are struggling to catch enough spring chinook for ceremonial use and we’re opposed to reopening recreational fishing downstream, at least until passage at Bonneville picks up and we know for sure that the actual size of the run will cover the (ESA) impacts.”


A constraining stock, upper Columbia River spring chinook are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and take by recreational anglers, according to NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion, is not allowed to exceed 1.7 percent of the wild run. Compact staff expects the early spring chinook fishery to take 0.54 percent of the upriver wild run.


(See CBB, February 23, 2018, “States Set Columbia River Spring Chinook Fishing, Hear Concerns About Upriver Allocations,”


Lance Hebdon, Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s anadromous fish manager, told the Compact that Idaho wants its fair share of the harvest this year. “Last year we had trouble meeting our hatchery needs for the Clearwater River,” he said. “Postpone this fishery to at least the end of April or until TAC’s run update.”


Dave Moskowitz of the Conservation Angler asked the Compact to put off the decision to reopen recreational spring chinook fishing in the lower river due to the low forecasts, such as the expected low returns of the fish to the Hood and Deschutes rivers, as well as due to equity issues for upper river anglers and tribes.


Concerned about overfishing a sensitive stock, Moskowitz asked ODFW Director Curt Melcher in an April 9 letter, not to open the Deschutes River to recreational spring chinook fishing as ODFW has planned because, at the low end of the predicted run, the wild run of fish to that river would make up an even lower percentage of the total run in 2018 than in 2017 when the state agency had closed the river to spring chinook retention.


A fishing charter owner, Jeff Keatly, from Ilwaco, Wash. at the Columbia River mouth also called for a temporary halt to the fishing. “I really want to go fishing, but also want to assure the future of this fishery, so wait until the bulk of the run is over the dam,” he said.


If there is good news it’s that the number of fish in the lower river is rising. Some 2.3 fish per drift were taken test fishing April 8 by WDFW field staff, compared to 0.9 fish per drift April 1. However, peak chinook per drift rates observed in recent years are higher, including 2.7 in 2016 (April 3) and 7.8 in 2017 (April 9), according to Winter Fact Sheet #7.


This year’s returning spring chinook may have had to contend with the worst ocean conditions of the past 20 years. Fish returning this year entered or were in the ocean in 2015 through 2017.


According to the ODFW’s John North, of the past 20 years, ocean conditions in 2015 were the 17th worst, while 2016 was 19th and 2017 was 15th worst.


“The forecast for this run is higher than we would have expected considering the poor ocean conditions,” Tweit said after hearing testimony for two hours. “Given the uncertainty in front of us I don’t have confidence that we should reopen this for even one more day.”


“I disagree. With the 30 percent buffered run (the calculation for the early season allowed impacts on upriver fish is buffered due to uncertainty about a pre-season forecast), the run would have to be the lowest on record,” said Jones. “We’re only talking about two days in April.”


The states settled on a one day opening April 14 from Buoy 10 located downstream of Astoria up to Beacon Rock near Bonneville Dam for boat anglers, and up to the dam for bank anglers.


Allowed are two adult adipose fin-clipped salmonids (chinook, coho, or steelhead only) per day, only one of which may be a chinook, according to the Compact April 11 Action Notice ( Barbless hooks are required, according to a WDFW news release.


Tweit said the one-day fishery is designed in part as a "make-up day" for the last Saturday of the initial opener, when stormy weather kept many anglers off the water.


Fishery managers from both states are taking a cautious approach to extending the fishery given the low number of spring chinook observed passing up the fish ladders to date at Bonneville Dam.


"We're taking this a step at a time," Tweit said. "We know more fish are moving into the river, but we need to see signs of higher numbers of fish passing the dam before we consider reopening the fishery again. If the run meets or exceeds expectations, we can give anglers more time to fish below the dam. But right now, we need to make sure we can meet conservation requirements and our obligations to fisheries farther upriver."


Ten days were set for recreational angling for white sturgeon downstream of the Wauna Power lines to Buoy 10, including Youngs Bay. The Compact is allowing a catch of 2,960 sturgeon of legal size, 44 to 50 inches fork length. The openings are Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the weeks of May 14, May 21 and May 28. Monday, June 4, is the tenth day. The daily bag limit is one fish and the annual bag limit is two. Green sturgeon must be returned to the river.


Due to the decline of legal-size fish and other indicators during 2008 to 2012, retention fisheries downstream of Bonneville were closed during 2014-2016, ODFW said in a news release. However, based on the increasing trend for legal-size white sturgeon in the lower Columbia River during that timeframe, both state fish and wildlife commissions approved limited sturgeon seasons in 2017, and again in 2018.


“This season represents a very conservative and cautious approach to restoring this fishery,” Jones said.


A one-day white sturgeon recreational fishery will open June 15 in both the Bonneville and The Dalles pools. In the Bonneville pool, sturgeon must be 38 - 54 inches, with the same daily and annual bag limit. For The Dalles pool, size must be 43 -54 inches.


ODFW fishery managers said they were not prepared to recommend a white sturgeon fishery for the mainstem Columbia River from Wauna powerlines upstream to Bonneville Dam or in the lower Willamette River at this time, but will consider limited seasons later in the year.


Openings added to commercial select area fisheries by Compact action are:


--Youngs Bay, open 4pm to 8 pm, Thursday, April 12, upstream of the old Highway 101 Bridge.

--Youngs River, open 7 pm to 11 pm, Monday, April 16, upstream of overhead powerlines that are 500 yards downstream of the Walluski River.

--South Channel, open 11 pm Thursday, April 12 to 3 am Friday, April 13, and 8:30 pm, Monday, April 16 to 12:30 am Tuesday, April 17.

--Blind Slough, open 7 pm, Thursday, April 12, to 7 am, Friday, April 13, and 7 pm, Monday, April 16 to 7 am, Tuesday, April 17.


For Oregon information, including regulation updates, go to ODFW’s online fishing reports at


Also see:


-- CBB, February 2, 2018, “2018 Fishing Season: Gillnetting Begins For Salmon, Smelt In Limited Areas Of Mainstem Columbia,”

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