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Ecology and salmon related articles

Both Sides Seeking Big Spring Haul of Salmon

by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, November 20, 2003

It's no secret there's a monster run of upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon expected in 2004.

But how those salmon get will shared between sport and commercial fishermen is anyone's guess.

And a public meeting in Longview last week to narrow the range of allocation options accomplished nothing, except to have both sides profess to deserve the bigger share of the catch.

No formal forecasts have been completed, but initial calculations indicate a run of 350,000 or so spring chinook heading back for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.

That figure would be shy of the 416,100 in 2001, but a substantial improvement over 295,100 in 2002 and 208,400 this year.

A healthy return in the range of 90,000 spring salmon is anticipated to Oregon's Willamette River.

Spring chinook enter the lower Columbia beginning in February. The peak of the run is in April.

Spring chinook are the best of all Columbia River salmon. They bite reasonably well on sport gear, and are exceptional table fare. Commercial fishermen get $5 to $6 a pound for spring chinook, compared to 20 cents to 50 cents a pound for fall salmon.

After years of abysmal returns, spring chinook runs to the upper Columbia turned around in 2000. Sport fishing in the main river in April resumed in 2001 after more than two decades. As many as 3,000 fishing boats have been counted between Cathlamet and North Bonneville on weekends in April.

A two-year sharing agreement negotiated between sport and commercial interests and adopted by the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions expired this year.

Work has been underway since mid-August to craft a new allocation scheme.

Spring salmon sharing isn't just about dividing the harvestable surplus. It's much more complicated.

Wild spring chinook headed for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. An agreement between the states, federal government and treaty Indian tribes limits non-Indians to killing no more than 2 percent of the wild fish.

Sport and commercial seasons in the lower Columbia target the plentiful hatchery-origin chinook. Both groups release wild fish. Still, some wild fish die despite being released. Those dead fish are called "impacts.''

State biologists calculate and monitor during the season how fast those impacts are being used to ensure the 2 percent ceiling is not exceeded.

How those impacts are shared between sport and commercial fishermen drives the overall catch.

Five options have been drafted by sport and commercial representatives. The options include sport shares of 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, 65 percent and 70 percent of the impacts.

Washington and Oregon officials had hoped to reduce the options to three last week, but to no avail.

That's because a major piece of information -- the mortality rate assigned to the commercial fishery -- has not been determined.

Sportsmen have a 10 percent mortality assigned to their fishery. The states assume one of every 10 wild spring chinook caught and released dies. That is how the sport "impacts'' are determined.

Officials are awaiting the results of research done this spring to determine the commercial fishery mortality rate. Past studies have shown it ranging from 10 percent to more than 30 percent.

The results of the 2003 study are expected in early December.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will take public testimony on the sport-commercial sharing arrangement when it meets Dec. 6 at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend.

More testimony and a final decision will be made in Jan. 16 or 17 in Olympia. Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide on Jan. 9.

Washington and Oregon officials will meet Feb. 5 to adopt the specifics of the commercial and sport spring seasons.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian.
Both Sides Seeking Big Spring Haul of Salmon
The Columbian, November 20, 2003

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