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Tribes Poised for Record-Breaking Chinook Harvest

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 16, 2002

Lower Columbia River treaty tribes are poised for what could be their most bountiful commercial fall chinook harvest ever in the mainstem waters above Bonneville Dam.

The preseason forecast is for a return of 659,800 fall chinook to the mouth of the Columbia River -- he third largest return since 1948. The return is expected to include 273,800 "upriver bright" fall chinook, mostly wild fish headed for the Columbia's Hanford Reach. That upriver bright stock includes Snake River wild chinook listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The preseason forecast includes an anticipated return of 136,000 Bonneville pool hatchery fall chinook and 91,800 Mid-Columbia brights.

According to an agreement reached between the four Lower Columbia treaty tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington, the tribes can catch 23.04 percent and non-Indians 8.25 percent of the upriver bright return. That total, 31.29 percent, is a harvest cap imposed as a means of limiting the impact on the Snake River wild fish.

If the preseason forecast holds, that means the tribes could catch as many as 148,000 fall chinook, including upriver brights, BHP tules and other stocks, according to Mike Matylewich, fisheries chief for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. That would eclipse the 130,000 fish harvested in 1988 from the biggest upriver return since counts began in 1938.

Tribal fishers begin Aug. 19 with hoopnet, dipnet and hook and line fisheries approved Thursday by the Columbia River Compact. That fishery in Zone 6 (from Bonneville Dam upriver to near Pasco, Wash.) continues until further notice. Fishers intend to sell chinook, coho, steelhead, walleye and shad.

The Compact, an Oregon-Washington panel that sets mainstem commercial fisheries, also approved a tribal gillnet fishery that includes periods from 6 a.m. Aug. 28 to 6 p.m. Aug. 31; from 6 a.m. Sept. 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 7 and from 6 .m. Sept. 11 to 6 p.m. Sept. 14. The estimated catch during those three periods is 127,000 chinook and 13,000 steelhead, Matylewich said.

The Compact also approved non-Indian commercial fishery that includes five 10-hour stints on the lower river between the I-205 bridge in Portland to Beacon Rock below Bonneville Dam. The fishing periods start at 8 p.m. on Aug. 18, 20, 22, 25 and 27 and conclude at 6 a.m. each following day.

Non-tribal commercial gillnetters caught 7,947 chinook during five early August fishing periods. The anticipated non-tribal commercial catch through August is 25,000 chinook, including 5,400 upriver brights.

Meanwhile, Coastal anglers will get another chance to fish for salmon in the marine waters off Westport, Wash., during a two-day extension, Aug. 18-19, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced.

As previously announced, the salmon fishery in Marine Area 2 off Westport will closed Thursday(Aug. 15) at midnight, but reopens Sunday and Monday for two days of fishing under the same rules that have been in effect for the past week.

Under those rules, anglers in the Westport area may retain up to two salmon per day, although only one of those fish can be a chinook salmon. Anglers must release any chinook salmon measuring less than 28 inches in length along with any coho they catch that have not been marked with a clipped adipose fin.

The closure was designed to give fishery managers time to assess whether additional chinook salmon could be harvested in Marine Area 2 under the coastwide quota, said Phil Anderson, special assistant to the WDFW director. Catch rates over the past week indicate that enough chinook salmon remain under the quota for two additional days of fishing, he said.

"It's been a great summer for chinook fishing off Westport and the rest of the Washington coast," Anderson said. "But we have to stick to the seasonal catch limits to lay the foundation for strong returns in future years."

Although the salmon fishery in the Westport area will close for the year after the two-day extension, anglers still have plenty of opportunities to catch salmon in other coastal areas, Anderson said.

Coho fishing in marine areas 1 (Ilwaco), 3 (LaPush) and 4 (Neah Bay) is now hitting its prime and will remain open until the coho quota for each area is reached, Anderson said. While all of those areas have been closed to chinook salmon retention since Aug. 10, Anderson said Neah Bay and LaPush are expected to have enough coho available under their quotas to last until the scheduled season closure on Sept. 8. However, fishing in the Ilwaco area could close sooner than its scheduled closure date of Sept. 30 if current catch trends continue, he said.

In addition, the "Buoy 10" fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River has been picking up throughout the week with mounting catch rates expected for both coho and chinook salmon into September, said Tony Floor in the WDFW Fish Program. That catch rate increased dramatically from the first week of August (0.02-0.08 chinook per rod) to the Aug. 9-13 period (0.16-0.23).

"A majority of the salmon caught off the coast were headed for the Columbia River," Floor said. "Given the high catch rates in the coastal fisheries, we're expecting an excellent fishery at Buoy 10."

Daily counts at Bonneville Dam appear to be building, increasing from just a few hundred chinook per day last week to counts near or above 1,000 over the past six days.

Under current rules for the Buoy 10 fishery, anglers must release all chinook under 24 inches in length, as well as sockeye, chum and unmarked coho.

Barry Espenson
Tribes Poised for Record-Breaking Chinook Harvest
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 16, 2002

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