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States to Decide Today on Spring Chinook Season

by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, April 6, 2006

Washington and Oregon officials will meet this afternoon to review the Columbia River spring chinook run and decide whether to continue the sport season downstream of Interstate 5. The conference call will begin at 2 p.m.

Fishing tentatively is scheduled to continue through April 19 downstream of I-5. The spring chinook count at Bonneville Dam has been abysmal.

There have been technical issues with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers counting system at Bonneville Dam, but through Monday the adult spring chinook count was 41 fish, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

During the past 10 years, an average of 4 percent of the run is past the dam by April 5, but that can range from 0.5 percent to 13 percent, said Robin Ehlke, a Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.

A year ago, 53 chinook had passed Bonneville through April 4. Two years ago, the number was 1,103, and in 2003 it was 26,427.

A run of 88,400 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia River headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the worst in six years, although much better than in the 1990s. In 2005, the actual upper Columbia run was only 41 percent of the forecast.

While dam counts are extremely low, the catch rate in the sport fishery last weekend was better than in comparable weekends from the past three years.

The catch rate of one spring salmon per 5.6 boat rods compares to one chinook per 17 rods in 2005, per 6.4 in 2004, and per 7.1 in 2003. This year's catch rate looks even better because the rate in 2003-05 included the high-catch area just downstream of Bonneville Dam.

Washington and Oregon biologists estimate that nearly 2,000 spring chinook were taken last week, bringing the sport total to about 3,100 fish.

Under federal Endangered Species Act guidelines, non-Indians are allowed to kill no more than 2 percent of the wild upper Columbia spring salmon run in the process of catching hatchery-origin chinook.

Washington and Oregon are managing the fishing to cap the harvest rate at 1.5 percent, thus building in a buffer in case the run is smaller than forecast. If the run turns out to be smaller than 55,000, the non-Indian harvest rate drops to 1 percent.

Commercial fishermen have been off the Columbia River since March 15 due to the poor dam counts at Bonneville. The commercials have landed 1,033 spring chinook, including 27 percent of their upper Columbia allocation and 22 percent of their Willamette share, if the existing forecasts are accurate.

Allen Thomas
States to Decide Today on Spring Chinook Season
The Columbian, April 6, 2006

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