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Columbia Salmon Closure Possible

by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Daily News, March 28, 2006

Worried the Columbia River spring chinook run may be a bust, Washington and Oregon officials agreed Monday to keep commercial fishing on hold and to discuss late next week a possible sport closure in early April.

Through Saturday, just six spring chinook had been counted at Bonneville Dam. A year ago, the count through March 25 was 30. The 10-year average for the date is 1,894.

"It doesn't look too promising this year," said Charlie Erickson, an Eastern Oregon sport fisherman, in a bit of an understatement.

A run of 88,400 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the worst in six years. A return of 46,500 spring chinook is predicted to the Willamette, the worst in seven years.

But in 2005, the upper Columbia run was only 41 percent of the forecast and the Willamette run just 56 percent.

The commercial fleet has not fished since March 15. Its total catch is 1,033 spring chinook. The commercial fleet has used 27 percent of its upper Columbia allocation and 22 percent of its Willamette share, if the run forecasts are accurate.

Sport fishing in the lower Columbia is open daily downstream of Interstate 5 with a two-salmon limit. Catches are improving. The sport season is scheduled to last until April 19. From March 1 through Sunday, the sport catch was 953 spring chinook kept and 215 released. Only fin-clipped, hatchery-origin spring chinook can be kept in either the sport or commercial fishery.

"Fish passage conditions are not bad," said Curt Melcher, an assistant fish division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "The water's not too turbid or too cold. The run doesn't look larger than the forecast and there's a good chance it will be smaller."

With decent sport fishing reported and only a quarter of their catch allocations used, several commercial fishermen asked unsuccessfully for six to 12 hours of gillnetting tonight to test the strength of the run.

"The markets are going to say good night to us if we don't bring something to them pretty soon," said Robert Sudar, a Longview fish buyer.

The commercial fishermen also called for a sport-fishing closure.

"I don't subscribe to the axiom a sport-caught fish goes to heaven and a commercial-caught fish goes to hell," said Kent Martin, a Wahkiakum County gillnetter.

"If we go down, I think it's only fair everybody goes down," said Jim Wells of Salmon For All, an Astoria commercial fishing group.

Larry Swanson, a Vancouver sportsman, said keeping the season open until April 19 is too long if the run is as weak as it appears.

The upper Columbia run cannot be accurately updated until the peak hits Bonneville Dam about April 20 to 25.

Melcher said the next few days should give a better feel for the spring run. He and Bill Tweit, Columbia River policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said they have no problems allowing gillnetting in April if the salmon show some strength.

Traditionally, commercial spring chinook seasons are closed by April 1, when the sport armada mushrooms.

An early sport closure could happen, Tweit said. "We've got to be ready to act on that sport fishery," he said.

Previously: Spring chinook commercial fishing was planned in March and a sport season until April 19.

What's new: The Columbia spring chinook run looks weak. Commercial fishing, closed since March 15, remains closed. Sport fishing may close early.

What's next: Washington and Oregon officials will meet late next week to review the run and consider a sport closure.

Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
Columbia Salmon Closure Possible
The Daily News, March 28, 2006

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