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Ecology and salmon related articles

Steelhead Fishing Closed on
Large Section of Columbia River

by K.C. Mehaffey
NW Fishletter, September 4, 2018

"Many factors are clearly taking a toll on our steelhead populations right now, including difficult ocean conditions,"

Graphic: Snake River Steelhead are in steep decline.  NOAA Fisheries is refusing to admit it though, this is the grahic that shows the Early Warning Indicator has been tripped.

Washington and Oregon closed a large section of the Columbia River and the lower John Day River to steelhead fishing on Aug. 27 due to poor returns.

The emergency rule was prompted by new estimates of this year's upriver returns of summer steelhead. A revised estimate of total steelhead expected to go past Bonneville Dam went from 182,400--made before the season began--to a new projection of 110,300 fish. That's lower than last year, when steelhead fishing was closed in the Columbia River and many of its tributaries and the run totaled about 113,000 steelhead.

As of Aug. 29, 60,635 total steelhead had crossed Bonneville Dam, including 24,126 wild or unclipped steelhead. Hundreds of fish continue to cross daily.

Anglers must now release any steelhead they catch from Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia River to U.S. Highway 395 in Pasco, and are urged to treat any steelhead they catch with best fishing practices on release.

In addition to the requirement to release steelhead in the lower Columbia, a cool-water sanctuary for steelhead at the mouth of the Deschutes River is still in place, as are closures for night fishing for all salmon and steelhead from Buoy 10 to Pasco, and at the Wind River and Drano Lake, two tributaries of the Columbia River.

Warm water in the Columbia River and some tributaries in August also spurred fishing closures and other restrictions in both Washington and Oregon to protect adult steelhead, sockeye and summer Chinook.

The fish, which may be remaining in cooler waters at the confluence of some tributaries to avoid the warmer-than-normal water temperatures, can suffer when water temperatures exceed 68 degrees.

At its Aug. 3 meeting, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission directed its Department of Fish and Wildlife to close the lower Deschutes River, from its mouth upstream, to all fishing, including catch-and-release, until temperatures drop below 68 degrees, an ODFW news release said. The action was taken to protect summer steelhead. Fishing won't likely resume until late September.

"Concerns about the vulnerability of fish to fishing pressure in the mouths of some tributaries of the Columbia River were sparked by the historically low returns of the Snake River-bound summer steelhead in 2017. At that time, the states of Oregon and Washington adopted unprecedented restrictions to several fisheries to reduce mortality on these fish," the release said.

"Many factors are clearly taking a toll on our steelhead populations right now, including difficult ocean conditions," Ryan Lathrop, Columbia River fishery coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a news release. "We need to do what's necessary to protect these runs."

Washington's news release said the closure will be in effect until further notice, and tributaries may also be closed to steelhead fishing in coming weeks.

A news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the closure is scheduled to continue through the end of 2018, although the states will monitor returns and could lift some restrictions if numbers improve.

K.C. Mehaffey
Steelhead Fishing Closed on Large Section of Columbia River
NW Fishletter, September 4, 2018

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