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Net's Half Empty this Season

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, May 6, 2004

Low returns could mean an early end to salmon seasons

Late-returning salmon are not likely to arrive at all.

Salmon managers in the Columbia River basin have adjusted the predicted return of spring chinook downward and are closing some seasons.

They now are saying 200,000 spring chinook bound for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers will return to the mouth of the Columbia River. That's down from a preseason forecast of 360,000.

That means this year's Columbia and Snake river salmon run probably won't be the second largest since Bonneville Dam was constructed in 1938. It also means some salmon seasons will close earlier than expected.

"There doesn't appear to be a large mass of upriver fish moving through the lower Columbia or the huge mass everybody is still keeping their fingers crossed for," says Joe Hymer of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Vancouver.

Because of the revised Columbia River forecast, Washington will close the chinook fishery near Little Goose Dam and the one from Wawawai Creek to Red Wolf Crossing in Clarkston Saturday. But the department will not immediately close its boundary waters fishery from Southway Bridge to Heller Bar.

Glen Mendel, regional fisheries manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Dayton, says when the new forecast is factored in, Washington already has reached the number of wild fish it is allowed to catch.

Washington will also close salmon fishing on the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam and has already closed salmon fishing below Bonneville Dam.

Officials at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are unsure how the updated run forecast will affect its fishing seasons.

Anadromous fisheries manager Sharon Kiefer at Boise says the number of fish the state is allowed to keep, as well as the number of wild fish anglers are allowed to catch and release, likely will be reduced. Because of that, fishing seasons could close earlier than expected.

But she says there are no plans to close or alter the current seasons.

"At this point we don't see a reason to change the regulations that are actually in effect."

States and tribes split the number of salmon considered to be in excess of what hatcheries need to produce the next generation of fish. While fishing, tribal and nontribal anglers also are allowed to incidentally kill a certain number of wild fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. When either quota is met, fishing seasons are closed.

Biologists for the department are studying how specific stocks of Snake River hatchery fish are performing, according to Kiefer. It's possible, she says, that salmon bound for Rapid River and Dworshak National Fish Hatchery are returning as expected.

Kiefer says even if the state's share of fish is reduced, it may not mean an early close to seasons.

"We may achieve our targets quicker, then again we may not because catch rates are in many instances the effect of the density of fish in the river."

Fisheries managers and anglers who watch dam counts saw the number of fish crossing Bonneville Dam drop from a peak of 13,030 April 22 to 1,076 April 29. The numbers have rebounded somewhat, with more than 8,000 counted there Sunday and 6,400 Monday.

But the bump was too small and too late to convince members of the Technical Advisory Committee, made up of fisheries managers from state, tribal and federal agencies, to stick to their original forecast. The group revised the expected return Monday.

Fisheries managers have not released updated forecasts specific to the Snake River.

Mendel says anglers at the Wall near Little Goose Dam have averaged 11 hours for each chinook caught.

Department officials have not interviewed any anglers who have caught chinook while fishing Lower Granite Reservoir between Wawawai and Red Wolf Bridge.

Anglers in the boundary waters fishery have averaged 31 hours of fishing for each fish caught.

Anglers who fished the lower Clearwater River Tuesday averaged 26 hours of fishing for each fish caught.

Eric Barker
Net's Half Empty this Season
Lewiston Tribune, May 6, 2004

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