Two More Days Of Spring Chinook Fishing, But Harvest Managers Wonder If Looking At ‘Really Poor Run’

Though
Oregon and Washington added two more days of fishing for spring chinook in the
lower Columbia River — Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14 — there are signs
of a lower than forecasted return of spring chinook.

 

Just
184 fish have crossed Bonneville Dam, 9 percent of the 10-year average of 2,027
fish and the eighth lowest return on that date in the past ten years. There has
also been a drop in test fishing results.

 

That
had Bill Tweit, at a two-state Columbia River Compact hearing Wednesday (April
10), wondering if spring chinook angling should stop until biologists had more
certainty that the forecasted chinook return materializes.

 

Tweit
represents Director Kelly Susewind for the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife at the Compact.

 

Others,
including lower Columbia River tribes, recreational advisors and some guides
said angling should stop for at least a week to see if the forecasted run of
99,300 upriver spring chinook materializes. That forecast is 86 percent of last
year’s actual run of 115,081 fish and half the 10-year average of 198,200 fish.

 

Bruce
Jim, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indians’ Fish and
Wildlife Committee, urged Oregon and Washington to allow more chinook to pass
Bonneville Dam before reopening fishing downstream of the dam. Otherwise, he
said, the tribes may need to limit their fishing in the near future if the fish
are not allowed over the dam now.

 

“I
hope the states will delay this fishery so we can see what will be available
for our ceremonial fishing,” said Casey Mitchell of the Nez Perce Tribe. “There
is no way to count the number of fish below Bonneville Dam and so that leaves
all the conservation efforts on the tribes.”

 

Fishing
conditions are poor. With recent rains and runoff, the Columbia River at the Vancouver,
Wash. gauge is nearing flood level of 16 feet today and, according to some
guides, water is murky, with visibility about two feet. Catch rates this week
have been low, with no fish checked in at Camas, Wash. or at Bonneville, April
9, according to Harry Barber, a Columbia River recreational advisor.

 

“I’ve
taken a poll of guides,” said guide Bill Monroe Jr. “They are saying that maybe
we should step back, give it a week, then fish the weekend of April 19 to 21 or
April 26 to 28. We don’t need to rush this with the dirty water.”

 

Rick
Stillwater from the upper Columbia River urged a conservative approach, as
well, warning that the Leavenworth Hatchery in the upper Columbia “just barely
made its broodstock goals last year.”

 

Fishing
for spring chinook has been allowed since March 1 and ended yesterday, April
10, but only in the Columbia from Warrior Rock at St. Helens, Ore. upstream
roughly to Bonneville Dam. The lower river boundary was established to allow
broodstock to reach hatcheries in the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers, both in
Washington.

 

The
estimated catch of chinook through April 7 was 1,282 kept fish, with 238
released from 21,442 angler trips. Some 16 steelhead had been released during
this period. The Compact staff estimated total catch through April 10 would
rise to 1,800 from about 25,700 angler trips.

 

Upriver
mortalities through April 10, according to the April 10 Winter Fact Sheet No.
10
https://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/FS/19/19_04_10wf10.pdf, is 1,661 chinook,
or 45 percent of the 3,689 mortalities available to this fishery prior to a run
update.

 

According
to Geoff Whisler, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and lead for the U.S.
v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee which forecasts Columbia River fish runs,
TAC would not likely consider a run update until early May. Typically, half the
run crosses the dam by May 8.

 

“Given
the significant balance on the pre-season buffered allocation of upriver spring
Chinook (2,028 fish remain available), there is potential for additional
angling opportunity,” the staff wrote in Fact Sheet No. 10. “Considering the
limited in-season information available regarding the upriver spring Chinook
run, staff recommends a conservative approach moving forward with this fishery,
including shifting to a limited days-per-week structure for any additional
fishery openings. This will provide additional recreational opportunity while
allowing staff the time to closely monitor the run and harvest.”

 

Tweit
worried that either the run forecast is wrong or the fisheries agencies have
overestimated the daily harvest rate. “If it’s the former (the forecast), then
we’re looking at a really poor run that’s not correctable” if we continue
taking fish now. “My preference is to shut down and wait,” he said.

 

Tucker
Jones of ODFW, representing Director Curt Melcher, thought the Compact staff
recommendation based on the 30 percent buffer was conservative and that fishing
conditions are poor anyway, approving of the three day extension. As a
compromise, he agreed to add the two days of fishing over the weekend beginning
Saturday, rather than the three days proposed by staff, which would have begun
Friday.

 

The
open area remains unchanged from earlier this season, which is the Columbia
River mainstem from the Warrior Rock deadline upstream to Beacon Rock, for both
boat and bank angling, plus bank angling only from Beacon Rock upstream to the
Bonneville Dam deadline.

 

The
states also decided to close the recreational white sturgeon fishery in
Bonneville Pool effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday April 13. Catch projections
indicate harvest will be approaching the annual guideline for this reservoir by
then, according to an ODFW news release. Retention seasons in The Dalles and
John Day pools closed earlier this year. Catch and release angling will remain
open in all three pools except in designated sturgeon sanctuaries that are in
effect during May-July.

 

For
more information, see the April 10 Joint State Action Notice at
https://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/CAN/19/190410_notice.pdf

 

Oregon
also rescinded a total of eight hours of commercial gillnet fishing in the
Youngs Bay Select Area in the lower Columbia River estuary. The new regulation
rescinds four hours of fishing April 11 – 12, and four hours April 18. See the
April 10 Oregon State Action Notice at
https://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/CAN/19/190409_notice.pdf

 

In
addition, Oregon set a spring chinook fishery on the Hood River April 15
through June 30. The Hood River flows into the Columbia in the Bonneville pool.
Fishery managers are predicting a return of 1,200 hatchery fish to the river,
slightly less than last year’s strong return, ODFW said. For details, see the
ODFW news release at
https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2019/04_Apr/041019b.asp

 

There
will not be a spring salmon season on the Deschutes River this year due to
predicted poor returns of both hatchery and wild fish.

 

Also
see:

 


CBB, February 1, 2019, “For 2019 Columbia/Snake Spring Chinook, Sockeye Returns
Forecasted To Be Well Below Average,”
http://www.cbbulletin.com/442083.aspx

 

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