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Lower Columbia Spring Chinook
Fishing Ends Day Early

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 8, 2016

More Fishing Depends on Updated Run-Size

Joe Hymer of Vancouver, Wash., a state Fish and Wildlife biologist, reels in a spring chinook salmon on the Lower Columbia River. (Mark Yuasa) The early phase of recreational spring chinook season on the lower Columbia River ends today, one day earlier than the Saturday deadline set in January by the two-state Columbia River Compact.

The Compact agreed at its hearing yesterday to close the fishery based on projections that the catch of upriver chinook salmon will reach the initial 7,515-fish harvest guideline a day ahead of schedule. The closure also applies to steelhead and shad in the 145 mile stretch of river from Buoy 10 at the river's mouth to Bonneville Dam to protect the migrating salmon.

Fisheries upriver of the dam remain open through May 6 or until anglers meet the more than 1,000 fish guideline. In addition, the lower Willamette River remains open to retention of adipose fin-clipped chinook salmon and adipose fin-clipped steelhead seven days a week.

"I am very disappointed that we have to close this season early," said Tucker Jones, ODFW's Ocean Fisheries and Columbia River program manager and Oregon's lead representative with the Compact. "If there is a silver lining, it is that a lot of people got out early and caught a lot of fish, and that our upriver fisheries are tracking as expected."

Commercial gillnetters fished one more day this week -- Tuesday -- making two days of fishing for them during the early season. However, the Compact set catch limits of just four fish per boat, as gillnetters approached their early allocation of the fish. The decision to place limits on a boat's catch was due to the limited number of fish still available to the gillnetters after last week's catch of nearly 900 upriver spring chinook (the allocation is 1,222).

However, with over 10,000 fish expected to be caught by recreational anglers by the end of today, and 99 percent of the pre-season allocation of upriver spring chinook reached (7,515), also by Friday, spring chinook recreational fishing below Bonneville Dam ended.

The two-state Columbia River Compact made those decisions this week as spring chinook salmon are arriving at Bonneville Dam at slightly less than the 5-year average.

That doesn't mean that spring chinook fishing is over for the year, according to Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fisheries in the lower Columbia River could reopen later this spring if the number of spring chinook passing the dam in the coming weeks reaches or exceeds preseason expectations, he said. The decision will be based on an updated run-size projection, expected in late April or early May.

"For the next few weeks, all eyes will be on the number of spring chinook passing Bonneville Dam," Roler said. "Fishing has been good so far this year, but the count of chinook salmon at the dam lagged until just a week or two ago. The next few weeks will tell the tale or whether we can reopen the fishery."

Sportfishers were complimentary of the Compact staff for predicting so closely their angling success and for timing the season within a day of when anglers reached their lower river allocation. However, they wondered if the notice would be too short for some anglers who may show up on the river to fish Saturday.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, reminded the Compact staff of the economic benefits the fishery brings to the Columbia River basin.

"Every day that fishing is open every (sportfishing) outlet adds an additional $15,000 in sales," she said. "It's important to recognize the importance of this fishery. There is a lot of unmet demand on this river."

Compact staff did consider where more spring chinook could be gained for the sports anglers, but found that any more fish given to lower river anglers would reduce the number of upriver fish for anglers above Bonneville Dam (1,002 fish allocated) and in the Snake River (1,005 fish allocated).

"I don't see a ton of space to find more fish," concluded Jones, as he and Guy Norman, Compact lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, made the final decision.

They also ruled on two days of white sturgeon fishing in the Bonneville Dam pool: June 18 and July 1 for 38 inch to 54 inch fish. The fishing area is Bonneville Dam upriver to the sturgeon sanctuary 1.8 miles below The Dalles Dam.

In December, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee predicted some 188,800 upriver spring chinook would arrive this year at the Columbia River mouth. That's down from 232,500 expected last year, although the actual run of spring chinook in 2015 totaled 289,000 fish.

But so far this season, just 824 spring chinook had passed Bonneville Dam as of April 6. According to the Compact staff Fact Sheet #8, based on the pre-season forecast and five-year average timing, about 900 fish would be expected by that date. TAC expects half the fish to pass Bonneville by May 7.

Commercial gillnetters in the mainstem Columbia River caught 1,222 upriver spring chinook during this early season over two days of fishing -- Tuesday last week and Tuesday this week (1,222 allocated). Some 69 upriver fish have been caught by commercial select area gillnetters in the lower river (198 allocated). They continued to fish this week in upper Youngs Bay.

According to the fact sheet, upriver fish taken through late March matched their pre-season modeling, but since then the number of anglers and their catch rate has exceeded staff expectations. As of April 3rd, anglers had kept 6,954 fish from 67,831 angler trips.

However, the staff's latest catch projection for April 4-9 (fishing was closed Tuesday April 5 to accommodate commercial fishing) was 4,448 adults from 23,195 angler trips, for a total of 11,402 fish from 91,026 angler trips. That compares to 80,700 angler trips the staff had projected at the beginning of the season. An additional 3,775 upriver fish are expected by staff to be taken April 4-9. So, 8,515 upriver fish were projected to be taken through April 9. That would be 113 percent of the 7,515 upriver fish available to the sport fishery prior to the early May run update.

In total, 10,969 upriver spring chinook were allocated to the combined recreational and commercial fisheries. If the recreational fishery would have been allowed to continue through Saturday, the total taken would have reached 11,958 fish or 990 more than was allocated for this early season fishery.

According to Jeff Whistler, ODFW and lead of TAC, US v Oregon mandates that commercial and recreational fishing allocations be based on the run size estimate with a 30 percent buffer. So, when TAC predicted a run size for upriver spring chinook of 188,800 fish for this year, fishing allocations prior to the run size update in early May are really based on 30 percent fewer fish, or in this case 132,200 fish.

TAC prefers that about 50 percent of the run passes Bonneville Dam before tackling an update of the run size. Last year, TAC made its update April 29, but that's unusual, Whistler said. Early May is more likely and could be as late as May 9, he said.

"There is no guarantee of a May fishery," Whistler said. "However, if the run size update matches the preseason forecast, then we'll have 30 percent more fish to catch."

The winter sturgeon season in the Bonneville pool had ended February 8. The pool's annual allocation of kept sturgeon is 325, down from 1,100 last year. So far 157 have been caught, leaving 168 fish available for harvest, according to the Compact Fact Sheet #8. The summer season catch rate averages 96 fish per day, although the last two years the rate has been 53 fish per day.

Catch rates in The Dalles Pool have been averaging around 3 kept fish per week, therefore the fishery could extend into May. The annual allocation is 100 fish and 18 remain available.

In the John Day Pool, 81 percent of the quota (500) remains available.

Related Pages:
Lower Columbia Gillnetters Hit The River For Spring Chinook; Bonneville Passage Slow So Far by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 4/1/16
Early 2016 Salmon Run Projections: Spring, Summer Chinook Higher Than 10-Year Average, Sockeye Lower by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 12/18/15

Related Sites:
Winter Fact Sheet #7, nontribal commercial mainstem fishery
Compact Action Notice for nontribal commercial mainstem fishery
Winter Fact Sheet #8, recreational fisheries
Compact Action Notice for recreational salmon and white sturgeon fisheries

Lower Columbia Spring Chinook Fishing Ends Day Early
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 8, 2016

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