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Another Big Fall Chinook Return Expected;
Fishing Begins

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 5, 2003

Non-Indian and tribal commercial fishers, as well as sport anglers, on the Columbia River mainstem have begun to feast on what is expected to be another sizeable return of fall chinook salmon.

"They're really starting to catch fish in the sport fishery," Patrick Frazier, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Columbia River Management Program leader, said last week. "What that tells us is that there is a pile of fish in the river."

Fall chinook counts at Bonneville Dam spiked last week from several hundred to several thousand daily, meaning the procession has started to build toward its annual peak.

The Columbia River Compact, a mainstem fishery regulatory board representing the states of Oregon and Washington, on Aug. 22 approved 10-hour late August gill net fisheries for non-tribal commercial fishers in mainstem waters from Beacon Rock near Bonneville Dam downstream to Warrior Rock/Lewis River. The gill netters targeted salmon and sturgeon in fisheries that ended last week. The Compact meets again next week to decide whether more fisheries will be allowed.

The Compact also approved three tribal fishing periods, the last of which begins at 6 a.m. next Tuesday and ends at 6 p.m. Sept. 12.

More than 595,000 fall chinook are expected to reach the mouth of the Columbia, the fifth largest forecast since 1948.

The run includes 258,400 upriver bright fall chinook that spawn primarily in the Hanford Reach, as well as 116,900 lower-river hatchery fish, 101,900 Bonneville pool hatchery fish and 86,600 mid-Columbia brights.

The upriver bright run, as forecast, would be the second largest since 1989. The largest during that time was last year when 733,100 adult fall chinook, including 276,000 upriver fish, returned to the Columbia. The upriver run also includes Snake River fall chinook, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

About 429,000 coho salmon and 360,900 steelhead are expected to enter the river this fall. That coho count would be the smallest since 1999, but an upriver summer steelhead tally of 360,900 would be the fourth largest on record. A total of 478,000 returned last year. The record return of 630,200 upriver steelhead was in 2001. The 2000 return was 274,200.

"It's a good year. The fall chinook run above Bonneville is expected to be similar to last year," said Stuart Ellis, harvest management biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "There are fewer tule-type fish, but overall things are pretty similar. And the steelhead forecast in total is going to be strong again. So we will catch plenty of chinook and steelhead, and the coho run, although we don't catch many of them, should be pretty good."

The Lower Columbia treaty tribes are selling fall chinook salmon to the public through September. Fishers from Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes can also sell coho, steelhead, walleye and shad caught during the mainstem fisheries.

Tribal fishers are selling gillnet-caught fish throughout Zone 6, a 150-mile stretch of the Columbia between the Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam near Umatilla, during the following periods:

A commercial scaffold fishery, in which hoop nets, dip nets, and hook and line are used, remains in effect until further notice.

The tribes had predicted that they would catch more than 108,000 chinook by the time next week's fishery ends, of which about 50,700 would be upriver "brights." They also anticipate catching as many as 13,232 steelhead, including nearly 900 Snake river "B" run fish.

Under 1855 treaties with the federal government, members of these tribes reserved the right to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places in the Columbia River Basin. The fishing right includes ceremonial, subsistence and commercial fisheries.

The non-tribal commercial fishers have a goal of catching as many as 16,860 fall chinook, including 4,110 upriver brights, during the August fisheries. They caught 8,110 chinook, 159 coho and 2,143 sturgeon during four 12-hour fishing periods in early to mid-August.

All of the late summer/fall mainstem fisheries are managed with an eye on limiting overall impacts to the upriver bright stocks and to the B run steelhead. Snake River steelhead, as well as Lower, Middle and Upper Columbia and Willamette stocks, are ESA listed.

The overall impact limit on upriver bright fall chinook is 31.29 percent with the treaty fisheries getting 23.04 percent and non-Indian fisheries getting 8.25 percent. The non-Indian share is further split with commercial fishers getting 48 percent and sport anglers 52 percent. The prevailing management agreement gives the tribes a 15 percent impact on B steelhead while non-tribal fishers get 2 percent.

If the tribes achieve their projected catch through Sept. 12, it would represent a 19.6 percent impact on the upriver bright run and a 7.8 percent impact on the upriver steelhead run. That is based on the preseason forecast for the runs, which will be re-evaluated in season.

Over-the-bank sales help tribal fishers support their families and make it possible to continue their traditional livelihood. Tribal sellers can be found at various locations between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam. Major sales locations include the Marine Park at Cascade Locks, Lone Pine at The Dalles, Columbia Point at Richland, Wash., and the boat launch near Roosevelt, Wash. Buyers should bring sufficient ice and coolers to keep fish fresh. Sales are cash only. Customers can call toll-free (888) 289-1855 for more information.

For a map of sale sites and schedule within the Columbia Gorge, go to:

Sport anglers are taking advantage of the bounty too, with considerable success from the Columbia's mouth at Buoy 10 on up.

The upper end of the Columbia/Snake system expects angling success too.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Aug. 27 voted to raise the limits for the fall steelhead fishing season. The fall season opened Sept. 1. The daily bag limit will be three, the possession limit nine, and the season limit 20. Without the commission action, limits would have been two, four and 10, respectively.

As of August 24, 227,000 steelhead have been counted at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. Seventy-one percent of those are hatchery A-run fish. The 10-year average is 161,000, A and B runs, hatchery and wild fish combined.

At Lower Granite Dam, the last dam on the Snake River that the fish must pass to get to Idaho, 6,700 steelhead have been counted, compared to a 10-year average of 5,400. The current forecast for total run size above Lower Granite Dam is 151,000, compared to a 10-year average of 101,000.

If the forecast is accurate, it will be the third-largest run over Lower Granite since the dam was built in 1975. The success of this year's run can be attributed to good river flows that aided the young fish as they migrated to the ocean, and good conditions in the ocean which helped survival, according to the IDFG.

The daily bag limit was likewise raised to three marked hatchery steelhead as of Sept. 1 in several southeast Washington streams. The possession limit is twice the daily limit and the annual limit is 30 steelhead per person.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say the strong hatchery steelhead run warrants the increase. Only a relatively small number of the returning hatchery steelhead are needed for production purposes. Wild steelhead release rule is in effect.

Oregon has enacted a permanent rule change to allow retention of three hatchery steelhead per day in the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers. The change for Washington regulations ensures that fishers have consistent daily limits in boundary waters of the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers, as well as in nearby waters of southeast Washington.

Link information: IDFG: ODFW: WDFW:

Barry Espenson
Another Big Fall Chinook Return Expected; Fishing Begins
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 5, 2003

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