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Ecology and salmon related articles

Mainstem Fisheries Near ESA Limit

Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 24, 1999

The pursuit of fall chinook salmon in the mainstem Columbia River likely will end soon as harvest totals approach allowed impact levels on the Snake River populations listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Oregon and Washington state fishery managers that comprise the Columbia River Compact on Tuesday approved a treaty fishery proposal that had tribal fishers spreading their nets at 6 a.m. the following day.

By the time the fishery ends at 6 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 25) the Technical Advisory Committee predicts the treaty tribes will have had a cumulative 24.9 percent impact on upriver bright fall chinook, of which the threatened Snake River fish are a component.

"I think we'll probably be done" fishing Saturday, Mike Matylewich said of the tribes' commercial fishing season. The tribes are allowed a 25.3 percent impact under conditions of a one-year agreement reached between the federal agencies, the Lower Columbia treaty tribes and Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Those negotiations are done under the auspices of the tribal fishing rights case U.S. v Oregon, which created the TAC to evaluate run status and fishery impacts.

The fish management agreement is geared to mirror impact limits established in a biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service this summer. It also allocated the allowable impacts, initially giving the treaty tribes 23.3 percent and non-Indian sport and commercial fishermen 8 percent.

But the agreement also stipulated that the tribes would get 25.3 percent and non-tribal fishers 6 percent if the upriver bright run came in greater numbers than was anticipated by preseason forecasters. The shift of 2 percent in impacts to the tribes was intended to allow them a better chance of reaching their treaty-guaranteed 50 percent of the "harvestable surplus" fall chinook as counted at the river mouth.

The agreement guaranteed the non-tribal fishers at least 6 percent, even if treaty tribes do not get their 50 percent allocation.

The tribes, if the harvest forecast holds true, would probably save the remaining fourth-tenths of a percentage point for ongoing ceremonial and subsistence platform fisheries, said Matylewich, manager of fisheries management for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

The tribes expect to take 7,170 chinook during the three-day period, including 6,660 upriver and 1,260 Mid-Columbia brights and 250 tules. Also anticipated is a catch of 4,370 steelhead including 580 wild "A" and 140 wild "B" fish.

The BiOp and agreement allow a 15 percent tribal impact on the endangered wild B steelhead. Through Saturday it is expected the B impact would be 13.3 percent. The tribes have had three earlier commercial fisheries.

If the harvest goes as expected, the tribes will have harvested 69,940 fall chinook, including 404 wild Snake River fall chinook, and 17,220 steelhead (480 B's).

Estimates of updated total run sizes and harvest impacts will be considered when the Compact reconvenes Monday.

The Sept. 16 update projects 160,000 upriver brights will enter the river. That's compared to a preseason forecast of 102,000

The latest projections are that the tribes will harvest about 43 percent of the harvestable surplus, Matylewich said, because of the "given set of circumstances that happened and the agreement." The treaty harvest allocation is based on all fall chinook, which includes Bonneville Pool hatchery "tules" and mid-Columbia and upriver brights. The ESA impact limits only consider upriver brights.

The tribes would have had to have harvested more of the tule run, which is of shorter duration than the bright run, to have come close to their 50 percent allocation, Matylewich said. Now with few tules in the water, the ESA bright impacts mount rapidly.

When the run size estimates were increased by TAC Sept. 10, and again Sept. 17 the non-tribal share of impacts shrunk. So the Compact was forced to choose between limiting non-Indian sport and commercial fisheries to stay within the 6 percent impacts.

On Sept. 10, Oregon and Washington officials decided to prohibit sport anglers, beginning Sept. 14, from keeping fall chinook in the fishery from Bonneville to the river's mouth. It was projected that the sport anglers' catch, when combined with the catch from previous sport fisheries and planned commercial fisheries, would breach the 6 percent limit.

"We're not closing the door on the possibility of reopening" that section of the river to sport anglers, but such a reopening would likely happen in October, said Guy Norman of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Compact Friday, Sept. 17 approved two non-Indian coho salmon fisheries that includes some take of fall chinook and sturgeon. Those fisheries were to take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 20-22 and Sept. 27-29. Those fisheries anticipated taking 34,000 coho and 3,100 chinook.

If that catch materializes the non-tribal impact would 5.93 percent. A planned, but as-yet unapproved, October sturgeon fisher would add .46 percent to the fall chinook impact, pushing the non-tribal impact past the 6 percent limit.


Barry Espenson
Mainstem Fisheries Near ESA Limit
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 24, 1999

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