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Managers Approve
Rare Summer Chinook Sport Fishery

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 6, 2003

With a second straight strong summer chinook return anticipated, Oregon and Washington fishery managers decided last week to open a summer chinook sport fishery in the Columbia River for only the second time in the past 30 years.

Biologists estimated earlier this year that 87,600 adult summer chinook will enter the Columbia River this year, which would be the second largest run since 1969. In 2002, 129,000 summer chinook entered the Columbia in June and July.

Last year was the first time the Columbia River was open to summer chinook fishing since 1973. Historically, summer chinook were known as "June hogs" because of their large size and run timing. Most are bound for tributaries and hatcheries above Priest Rapids Dam on the mid-Columbia River and above Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River. Wild summer chinook destined for the Snake River are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Historically, the vast majority of the summer chinook spawning occurred in the upper Columbia. Much of that spawning territory was blocked by construction of Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941.

Dwindling numbers of the fish - which had long fueled summer commercial harvests -- have forced cutbacks since 1943 (when June closures began) and 1952 (half of July was closed to commercial fishing). There have been no commercial fisheries targeting summer chinook since 1965.

Even with sport and commercial fishing closures, a minimum spawning escapement goal of 80,000 to 90,000 adult summer chinook over Bonneville Dam had not been achieved -- until last year -- since 1969. The upriver summer chinook runs from 1973 through 2000 have ranged from 15,000 (in 1995) to 38,700. The 2001 run totaled 76,377. Only 30,651 adults returned in 2000.

The summer chinook count last year at Priest Rapids was 96,300 adults -- four times the recent five-year average and the largest count since the dam was built in 1959. An estimated 4,400 wild Snake River fish returned last year, larger than the 1979-2001 average of 3,700. Fisheries officials estimate that 22,159 summer chinook made it as far as Lower Granite last year, including 3,552 wild fish.

The season adopted will allow angling for adipose fin-clipped summer chinook and adipose fin-clipped steelhead from June 16 through July 31, from the Tongue Point/Rocky Point line near Astoria upstream to the U.S. Highway 395 Bridge near Pasco, Wash.

The daily bag limit for Oregon licensed anglers is two adult adipose fin-clipped salmon or steelhead and five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon. All other permanent angling rules apply, as printed in the 2003 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations. The daily limit for Washington anglers will be six salmon with a minimum size of 12 inches, no more than two of which may be adult fish.

Retained chinook must have a missing adipose fin and a healed scar in its place to indicate hatchery origin. All wild chinook as well as all sockeye, chum and wild coho must be released unharmed.

The fishery will be managed to allow 85,000 summer chinook to pass Bonneville Dam during the period from June 1 through July 31. Under the current run forecast, that would leave 2,600 hatchery fish for mainstem sport anglers. WDFW and ODFW staff members have said that a run-size forecast update could be made as soon as late June.

With that tight margin, no non-Indian commercial fishery is planned in the mainstem below Bonneville. A tribal gill net commercial fishery is possible, but unlikely, said Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission staff. A state-tribal management agreement would allow harvest of 5 percent (4,380 fish) of the forecast run.

"The trouble is how to do it," Ellis said. The harvest could mount fast using the gill nets if there was a large turnout of fishers in the pools above Bonneville Dam. That could threaten to breach the allocation limit.

In addition, managers will monitor the catch to ensure that non-Indian impacts to wild summer chinook are limited to less than 1.0 percent of the total run, as defined in a mainstem Columbia River interim management agreement between the two states and lower Columbia treaty tribes.

A similar fishery was held last year, but opened June 28 when it became apparent that the run was larger than the 77,000-adult preseason estimate. The fishery produced a total catch of 2,297 chinook of which 1,352 were kept and 945 adults were released. The department's calculated that the fishery exacted a 0.27 percent impact on the listed summer chinook.

The department staffs estimate that this year's fishery will result in between 2,000 and 3,500 chinook being handled, and from 1,000 to 2,000 marked hatchery fish kept by the fishers. That would represent an impact on the wild fish of from 0.23 to 0.40 percent from hooking mortality -- released fish that do not survive. Officials estimate that between 50 and 60 percent of the migrating fish will be marked.

"As part of the effort to rebuild the Snake River wild chinook population, it is essential that anglers in this fishery carefully release every chinook with an intact adipose fin," said Tim Flint, salmon manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The opening for summer chinook coincides with the standard opening for hatchery steelhead above the I-5 Bridge. Through June 15 only hatchery chinook jacks may be retained from the I-5 Bridge downstream to the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line concurrent with the hatchery steelhead fishery in that area.

CBB Staff
Managers Approve Rare Summer Chinook Sport Fishery
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 6, 2003

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