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Sport Fishers get Another Four Days in Lower Columbia

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - April 18, 2003

Fisheries officials this week pushed up their estimate of this year's upriver spring chinook salmon return thus allowing sport anglers to fish the lower Columbia River for the prized salmon for at least another four days.

During the winter state, tribal and federal officials involved in the Technical Recovery Team developed an estimate that 145,400 adult spring chinook would enter the mouth of the Columbia River on their way to hatcheries and spawning grounds above Bonneville Dam. Those forecasts are used as a basis for determining the total upriver spring chinook catch allocation, as well as the allocation of harvest between sport and commercial, as well as between tribal and non-Indian fisheries.

In a decision made this week the spring chinook sport fishery in the lower Columbia River, from the I-5 Bridge downstream to Buoy 10, remains open Wednesday through Saturday, but state fishery managers will meet again Tuesday reconsider whether the fishery will be further modified.

Catches of upriver spring chinook have been higher than anticipated and are being closely monitored as the sport fishery continues. The upriver fish include Snake River and Upper Columbia stocks that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Fish counts at Bonneville Dam indicate upriver fish are showing up earlier and in larger numbers than predicted in the overall run.

"We will need to continue to monitor the fisheries closely and be prepared to make changes as the run size is updated," said Cindy LeFleur, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Columbia River fishery manager.

Earlier this month, state fishery managers closed fishing from the I-5 Bridge to Bonneville Dam and trimmed the lower river fishery from the I-5 bridge downstream to four days a week, Wednesdays through Saturdays, in an effort to allow sport fishing to remain open without exceeding the allowable impact on the protected upriver fish set in a 2001 management agreement. A total 2 percent impact is allowed for non-tribal fisheries, with 1.11 going to the sport anglers, .59 to the commercial fishers and .30 reserved for select area commercial fishers, sport angling above McNary Dam and as a management buffer.

Because of the, relatively, strong counts at Bonneville Dam, TAC decided Monday to push the run estimate up to 174,000 adult fish -- the midpoint in an estimated range of from 158,000 to 190,000. The upgrade served to allow the sport anglers more fish under their allowed impact limit. Sport and commercial anglers also harvest chinook bound for lower Columbia mainstem tributaries. It is predicted, for example that the Willamette run will total 109,800 adults.

Through last weekend, approximately 123,000 angler trips have resulted in a catch of over 12,000 adipose-clipped hatchery spring chinook in the popular lower Columbia River fishery. The fishers had actually caught 19,487 chinook, but released nearly 7,000 unmarked fish that were potentially wild, protected spawners.

The catch brings the sport impacts to 0.817 percent out of the allowed 1.11 percent. Fisheries officials predict the sport anglers will catch 4,400 more chinook during the four-day period that ends Saturday -- an impact of .22. If that happens, the sport impact would be 1.037 percent under the current run forecast.

The overall non-tribal impact would be 1.87 percent when adding the results of past commercial fisheries in the lower river and planned "select area" commercial fisheries that begin next week, as well as the sport catch from this week.

An unanticipated high incidence of upriver fish in the lower river during earlier commercial fisheries pushed the gill netters well past their impact limit.

The commercial boats caught 5,700 chinook and released 2,500 unmarked but because of the high percentage of upriver fish and the assumed mortality rate for released fish, their impact now sits at 0.74 percent, well above their impact limit of 0.59 percent. The Oregon Department of Fish and Game's Patrick Frazier said the run would have to swell to 220,000 just bring the commercial fishers' impact percentage back down to 0.59.

The run thus far has been perplexing with relatively large numbers three-ocean or 5-year-old fish arriving earlier at Bonneville than historic averages. The preseason forecast estimated the run would include 110,800 4-year-olds and 34,600 5-year-olds. So far the vast majority of the fish counted at Bonneville and on sport creels are 5-year-olds. The latest estimate is that as many as 80,000 5-year olds could return.

"We underpredicted the 5-year-old component," LeFleur said. The jury is still out, however on the 4-year-olds, who have begun to show up in the river in greater numbers in recent days.

"This year's return is early even for being primarily 5-year-olds," LeFleur said. The 5-year-olds normally to return earlier than 4-year-olds.

LeFleur said that a clearer picture of the run size should be available by next week. The 2001 return was the largest, and also earliest timed, on record. About 38 percent of that run had passed Bonneville by April 14. So even if it is an early run this year, the best could be yet to come.

Corps of Engineer fish counts at Bonneville Dam through Wednesday totaled 83,594 spring chinook salmon adults, with the Wednesday count 4,832. The daily count spiked to nearly 8,000 fish Tuesday.

"The impacts had added up a whole lot faster than expected," Bill Tweit, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director's designee to the Columbia River Compact and bi-state sport hearings, said. He said it is necessary to limit the fishing to the area below the I-5 bridge until officials have a clearer idea of the true run size.

"That's what we're struggling to do-- keep open at least a part of it," Tweit said. He said he was hesitant to predict that the 4-year-old class will suddenly start flooding in in big numbers.

Steve King said that he was hopeful that the run would come in at the upper end of the estimated range. He represents the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife director.

The Compact on Tuesday did give the green light for spring commercial seasons at "select areas" in the lower reaches of the Columbia. The targeted catch will be hatchery produced spring chinook that are returning to areas where they were released from net pens. The Tongue Point and Blind Slough select areas will feature 16 nightly fishing periods that began Wednesday and stretch out to June 13. Fisheries are also scheduled at Youngs Bay and Deep River.

Fisheries anticipate that the select area harvest will be 12,000 hatchery fish with an incidental catch of 87 upriver spring chinook (a 0.05 percent impact).

"That would be similar to last year and that was the highest (select area spring chinook harvest) to date," said Patrick Frazier of the ODFW. The first harvest at Youngs Bay was in 1992 and Blind Slough and Tongue Point fisheries were launched in 1998.

Sport fishing in the area from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam remains open under the previously adopted season.

Related Sites:

Sport Fishers get Another Four Days in Lower Columbia
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 18, 2003

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