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Summer Chinook Season Opens on Monday

by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, June 17, 2009

Fourteen days of summer chinook fishing begin Monday in the lower Columbia River, a chance to catch, arguably, the best salmon in the Northwest.

Angling will be allowed daily through July 5, with a two-fish daily limit. A catch of about 3,000 chinook is anticipated. Any chinook can be kept, not just those with a clipped adipose fin.

The season between Bonneville and Priest Rapids dams will be July 1 through 31, with a catch expectation of 1,000 summer chinook.

Sportsmen and gillnetters will be fishing the lower Columbia concurrently this summer.

The Columbia River Compact last week adopted a 12-hour gillnet season from 6 p.m. today until 6 a.m. Friday from the mouth of the river upstream to the Longview Bridge.

The netters will fish from the coast to Beacon Rock from 7 p.m. Wednesday until 7 a.m. June 25 and 7 p.m. June 30 to 7 a.m. July 1.

Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said commercial fishing would be at night to lessen conflicts with sportsmen.

Ed Wickersham of the Coastal Conservation Association suggested instead to close sport fishing one day a week and let the netters fish during the day. CCA is on record that fishing at night spawns a variety of law enforcement issues.

The net fleet also has an allocation of 4,000 summer chinook. The Colville tribe of Eastern Washington contributed 1,000 summer chinook from their share to lower Columbia sport and commercial fisheries.

A run of 70,700 summer chinook are predicted to enter the Columbia. A year ago, the return was 55,500, Ehlke said.

Spring chinook headed for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers returned at only about 55 percent of the initial forecast this year, and state officials plan to keep a close watch on the summer chinook, said Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Summer chinook once migrated up the Columbia into Canada. Those fish include the fabled "June hogs,'' which would weigh as much as 80 pounds.

When Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1941, more than 500 miles of the upper Columbia -- not including tributaries -- were lost to summer chinook.

Now, the fish do the best they can with the bits of habitat remaining in the Wenatchee, Okanogan, Methow, Similkameen, Chelan and Entiat rivers, plus the main Columbia itself.

Summer chinook are not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Annually, sport fishing interests argue whether the fishery should be selective, with only fin-clipped fish retained.

That would allow the season to last longer than 14 days, but also require sportsmen potentially to release the biggest salmon of their lives.

Harry Barber of Washougal, an advocate for releasing non-clipped summer chinook, has prepared an economic estimate that values the fishery at $1.6 million if only fin-clipped chinook are kept.

Allen Thomas
Summer Chinook Season Opens on Monday
The Columbian, June 17, 2009

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