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States Reject Call to Halt
Spring Chinook Angling

by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, April 13, 2009

Tribes want delay until more salmon cross Bonneville

State officials on Monday rejected pleas by tribal and gillnet fishermen to shut down the huge lower Columbia spring chinook sport fishery until more salmon pass upstream of Bonneville Dam.

The count at Bonneville through Sunday is just 1,110 spring chinook, compared to a 10-year average of 23,938. The count through April 12 a year ago was 4,311.

A big run of 298,900 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia headed for upstream of Bonneville, but as in recent years passage at the dam is far behind average.

Stuart Ellis, a biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told Washington and Oregon officials there never has been a run of 200,000 chinook with so few fish over Bonneville Dam at this late date.

Yet through Saturday, state biologists estimate a sport catch for the season of about 12,000 chinook kept and 2,800 released. The gillnet catch so far is 3,280 kept and 784 released, with a another commercial fishery open today.

Bruce Jim of the Warm Springs tribe said Monday the total tribal ceremonial catch is slightly more than 100 fish.

"We're not getting any fish up here at all," Jim said. "What's going to happen if there are no fish?"

Raphael Bill of the Umatilla tribe called for a sport and commercial fishing closure in the lower Columbia for a week to 10 days.

Non-Indian commercial fishermen, who gillnet between Hayden Island and Beacon Rock, offered to postpone fishing for a week or more to accommodate the tribes.

"The gillnetters always have been willing to stand down to help the run," said Fred Ostling of Cathlamet. "It's a must the sports stand down at the same time."

Jim Wells of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial fishing group, suggested the tribes come down to the lower Columbia to get their chinook.

"Let these sport fishermen and legislators know you've never given up your right to the lower river," Wells said.

Another possibility to help the tribes, Wells said, is to close sport fishing in the high-catch area between Beacon Rock and Bonneville Dam.

The non-Indian commercial fishermen have about 2,900 spring chinook to catch on their April allocation. They are netting today between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and are expected to catch between 2,000 and 3,000 chinook.

Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the Bonneville Dam count is no longer an accurate predictor of the run size early in the season.

If it were, this year's run would range between 10,000 and 60,000 chinook, he added.

Had the non-Indian gillnetters postponed today's fishing for a week to 10 days, they would be fishing on the peak of the run and it might not be impossible to design a period where their catch was less than 3,000, said Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Netting then would have to wait until closer to the tail of the run in mid- to late May, she added.

Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said he suspects the low count at Bonneville is a combination of cold water temperatures and sea lions.

The count should jump soon, he added.

"I think we're right on the cusp of when we think we're going to see some movement of fish," Williams said. "It is in the next week we should start to see a climb."

Allen Thomas
States Reject Call to Halt Spring Chinook Angling
The Columbian, April 13, 2009

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