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Columbia Rules Focus of Meetings

by Associated Press
Statesman Journal, February 5, 2005

On table is whether to raise incidental mortality rate

Oregon and Washington officials are set to review and approve rules for sport and commercial fishing on the Columbia River for spring-run chinook salmon. Sport anglers and people from conservation groups are expected to be out in force today and next Friday when officials in Washington and Oregon review and approve rules for sport and commercial fishing on the Columbia River for spring-run chinook salmon.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is meeting today in Olympia.

Friday, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meets in Troutdale.

At issue is a decision by officials from the federal NOAA Fisheries to allow an incidental mortality of up to 6 percent of the run of nonhatchery native winter-run steelhead, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Previously, officials for both states had approved sport and commercial seasons for spring-run chinook based on the previous allowed incidental mortality rate of 2 percent.

The Washington commission is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt the raised ceiling today. That vote could set the tone for the decision by the Oregon commission on Friday.

Sportfishing groups, wild-fish conservation groups such as the Native Fish Society and Trout Unlimited all oppose lifting the limit.

Previously, officials for both states meeting in Vancouver, Wash., approved the rules that are nearly identical to 2004, which could be modified if the mortality ceiling for protected steelhead is raised. Overall, a run of about 413,000 spring chinook are expected to migrate up the Columbia and Willamette rivers this year:

This rule will be in effect for all vessels less than 30 feet in length from Feb. 15 through May 15 upstream of the Rocky Point-Tongue Point line.

Of the total run, about 70 percent are expected to be marked by a missing adipose fin that designates them as hatchery keepers.

Biologists estimate a total Columbia River harvest of about 35,000 hatchery-bred spring chinook, split between sport anglers and the commercial fishing industry.

Fish managers set the Columbia River spring chinook fishery based on the number of fish expected to return from the ocean, and on the allowable impact to wild salmon and steelhead stocks listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"Impacts" are the unintended mortalities associated with handling and releasing wild fish.

The allowed non-Indian impacts are 2 percent of the total runs of ESA-listed Snake River spring/summer chinook and Upper Columbia River spring chinook.

Biologists will analyze the sport harvest and the impacts to wild fish one or two days a week from April 5 through May 15 to determine if the season length or bag limit needs to be made.

If changes need to be made, it would be in the following order:

Associated Press
Columbia Rules Focus of Meetings
Statesman Journal, February 5, 2005

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