OREGON CITY, OR. - The states of Washington and Oregon Thursday adopted non-Indian sport and commercial spring chinook fishing seasons in the Columbia River that provide abundant opportunities for harvesting expected large returns of hatchery-bred fish while protecting wild salmon and steelhead by significantly limiting their catch and handling.
The recreational seasons adopted Thursday allow spring chinook angling every day below the Interstate 5 Bridge now until a guideline is reached in the spring. Above the I-5 Bridge to McNary Dam, the season opens March 16. The states also adopted a new rule that prohibits anglers from totally removing a wild salmon or steelhead from the water during the mainstem Columbia River fishery. The recreational angling season will close when the allowable number of "impacts" to wild fish are reached. Fishery managers hope to keep the extremely popular fishery open through April and into May.
"Because the sport fishery will be managed on impacts, the end date of the fishery is not precisely known," said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We don't have a crystal ball."
Fish biologists from the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife predict the total run of Columbia River spring chinook will be the second-highest since 1938, when counting began. About 500,000 wild and hatchery spring chinook are forecast to enter the Columbia River in 2004. Of the total run, 70-80 percent are marked by a missing adipose fin to designate them as "keepers." Biologists estimate a total mainstem harvest of about 50,000 hatchery-bred spring chinook, split between sport anglers and the commercial fishing industry.
Spring chinook provide tremendous economic benefit to both the commercial and sport-fishing industries because the meat is prized for its flavor and it is the first fresh non-farmed salmon of the season to reach barbecues and specialty markets.
The commercial seasons adopted Thursday would allow fisheries not longer than 16 hours from the mouth to Kelley Point on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays if test fishing results from Sundays and Wednesdays indicate very few wild fish present in the river. The first test fishery is scheduled for Feb. 22, with the earliest possible fleet fishery on Feb. 24. The commercial seasons were set to target spring chinook destined for Willamette River hatcheries, to reduce wild steelhead impacts, and to minimize conflicts with sport anglers.
Commercial fisheries may include a combination of tangle net and large mesh fisheries. The number of test fisheries and the required mesh size for the large mesh fisheries were increased for 2004 to decrease the number of wild steelhead handled.
For large mesh fisheries, fishers will be required to use nets not longer than 150 fathoms with mesh size between 9 and 9.75 inches and have recovery boxes on board for any wild fish caught. During the tangle net portion, fishers must use 4.25 inch maximum size mesh. In addition, on-board observers will determine the number of wild fish caught and released. Thursday's decisions established a delayed mortality rate of 40 percent for wild spring chinook and 30 percent for wild steelhead caught in large mesh commercial nets. The mortality rate for wild spring chinook and steelhead released from the tangle nets was established at 18.5 percent.
The states also adopted commercial seasons for tribal and non-tribal fishers for shad harvest, spring chinook select area fisheries, and anchovy and herring bait fisheries.
Fish managers set the Columbia River spring chinook fishery based on the number of fish expected to return from the ocean and 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 chinook, Upper Columbia River spring chinook, and Columbia Basin winter steelhead.
Thursday's decision splits the total 2 percent allowable impact 1.2 percent to the sport fisheries and 0.8 percent to the commercial fishers for the 2004-2005 fisheries. Fishery managers will use the test fisheries, short commercial openers and early season "checkpoints" to prevent both the commercial and sport fisheries from exceeding their allowable impacts.
The directors of the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments said last week that pre-season planning for the spring chinook fisheries, should be based on the federally-established limit of 2 percent allowable impacts to wild steelhead. The states' decision today complies with that direction. Adjustments may be made if NOAA Fisheries allows a higher impact rate and the fish and wildlife directors initiate a public review process before a final decision is made.
The rules adopted Thursday for sport anglers include:
- For the mainstem Columbia River from the mouth at Buoy 10 upstream to the Interstate 5 Bridge, the season for adipose fin-clipped spring chinook, adipose fin-clipped steelhead, and shad is open seven days a week now until the allowable impacts are reached or May 15, which ever occurs first. Anglers may retain two adult spring chinook or steelhead in Oregon. In Washington, anglers may retain two adult spring chinook and two steelhead. From the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line in the Columbia River estuary upstream to I-5, anglers are prohibited from totally removing from the water any salmon or steelhead required to be released from Monday, Feb. 16, through the end of the fishery.
- For the mainstem Columbia River from the Interstate 5 Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam and from the Tower Island power lines upstream to McNary Dam and the Oregon bank between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines (about 6 miles below The Dalles Dam), the season for adipose fin-clipped spring chinook, adipose fin-clipped steelhead, and shad is open seven days a week Tuesday, March 16, until the allowable impacts are reached or May 15, which ever occurs first. Anglers may retain two adult spring chinook or steelhead in Oregon. In Washington, anglers may retain two adult spring chinook and two steelhead. Anglers are prohibited from totally removing from the water any salmon or steelhead required to be released.
- Biologists will analyze the sport harvest and the impacts to wild fish one or two days per week April 6 - May 15 to make in-season adjustments. If modifications are necessary to keep within the allowable impacts, they will be made in the following order: 1) Reduce the number of fishing days each week between the I-5 Bridge and Bonneville Dam; 2) End the fishery between the I-5 Bridge and Bonneville Dam; 3) Reduce the number of fishing days each week below the I-5 Bridge; and 4) End the fishery below the I-5 Bridge. In addition, the fishery above Bonneville Dam will be managed to provide similar fishing opportunities as those below the I-5 Bridge.