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Commercial Fleet Gets Chinook Fishery Today

by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, April 8, 2008

State officials have adopted a 16-hour commercial fishing period today for spring chinook salmon in the Columbia River.

The Columbia River Compact on Monday approved a net season from 7 a.m. through 11 p.m. today between the west Hayden Island power lines and Beacon Rock.

Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the commercial fleet is projected to catch about 2,500 spring salmon today.

In 10 hours last Tuesday, the commercials landed 674 spring chinook and one sturgeon.

Last week's catch, plus today's projected catch, will bring the commercials to about half of their allocation of about 6,000 chinook.

A week ago, about 30 boats participated in the commercial fishery.

This week, that number will double, said Jim Wells, president of Salmon For All, a commercial group based in Astoria, Ore.

Bruce Jim of the Warm Springs tribe urged the compact to be cautious.

Only 552 spring chinook had passed Bonneville Dam through Sunday, and the tribes only have caught seven for ceremonial purposes, Jim said.

Noting that the sport fleet had caught 4,400 chinook through March alone, Jim suggested shutting down the recreational fishery for two or three days to improve passage at Bonneville Dam.

"We have great concerns of the possibility the counts are not going to be as high as thought," Jim said.

A run of 269,300 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the third-best since the late 1970s.

John McKinley, a Wahkiakum County commercial fisherman, told the compact the sport fleet is "a commercial hook-and-line fishery up there and it's out of control."

Ehlke said this the fourth consecutive year in which the spring chinook counts at Bonneville Dam have been later than normal.

Cold water, low streamflows and an abundance of marine mammals might be contributing to the delay, she added.

"The CPUE (catch per unit of effort) in the sport fishery tells us the salmon are definitely there," Ehlke said.

Les Clark, a commercial fisherman from Chinook, said the spring run looks strong, and the fish are fetching a high price.

"You don't have to catch a lot to make some money," he said.

Commercial fishing, and the remainder of the sport season, in the lower Columbia is restricted to upstream of the Hayden Island power lines to protect spring chinook headed for Oregon's Willamette River.

While an excellent upper Columbia River run is forecast, a weak return of just 34,000 is predicted for the Willamette River.

State officials will meet again next Monday to consider commercial fishing on April 15

Allen Thomas
Commercial Fleet Gets Chinook Fishery Today
The Columbian, April 8, 2008

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