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 (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/FS/18/18_04_11wf7.pdf)/.
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 (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/FS/18/18_02_21wf3a.pdf).
“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)
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
(See CBB, February 23, 2018, “States Set
Columbia River Spring Chinook Fishing, Hear Concerns About Upriver
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
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 (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/CAN/18/180411_notice.pdf). 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
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
--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,
--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
For Oregon information, including regulation
updates, go to ODFW’s online fishing reports at www.myodfw.com.
-- CBB, February 2, 2018, “2018 Fishing
Season: Gillnetting Begins For Salmon, Smelt In Limited Areas Of Mainstem