Following the direction of the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions, the directors of the states' fish and wildlife departments today announced that sport anglers in the Columbia River spring chinook fishery will be allowed 60 percent of the incidental impacts to upriver fish listed under the Endangered Species Act and commercial fishers will get 40 percent.
In reaching their decision, the officials noted that fisheries managers are to approach season planning with these percentages as hard targets. Both states directed the sport and commercial fisheries to be closely held to the agreed-upon percentage allocation. However, as in any fishery, a minimal amount of flexibility will be allowed to respond to unanticipated changes in run timing, river conditions or other factors, the commissions agreed.
"These fisheries are set very conservatively to protect wild fish-while allowing harvest opportunity for healthy, hatchery stocks," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Jeff Koenings, Ph.D. "As always, conservation is paramount in conducting sustainable fisheries."
The allocation figures will be used to set fishing seasons for what is expected to be the second-largest spring chinook run on record. Those seasons will be determined Thursday, Feb. 5, in a Columbia River Compact meeting in Oregon City, Ore.
In addition to setting the upriver-impact allocation, the directors reiterated the importance of avoiding conflicts between recreational and commercial fishers when setting seasons. The directors agreed pre-season planners need to emphasize commercial fishing opportunities earlier in February and March to avoid gear conflicts, as much as possible, with anglers during recreational seasons in April.
The allocation figures reflect how the allowable impact on wild fish is shared between non-tribal sport and commercial fishers. Although all fishers target hatchery-produced chinook, some wild fish are inadvertently caught and die from handling stress. Upper Columbia and Snake River wild spring chinook are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act and the allowable "impact" on wild fish is limited to 2 percent of the wild run in non-tribal fisheries.
Koenings and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Director Lindsay Ball stressed that pre-season planning for the spring chinook fisheries also should be based on a federally-established limit of 2 percent incidental impact to wild steelhead. This figure reflects incidental catches of wild steelhead that occur as the steelhead co-mingle with spring chinook during a portion of the fishing season.
Koenings and Ball credited past efforts to develop selective fisheries for the opportunities that await anglers this season. Noting that avoiding impacts on wild steelhead will be emphasized in setting upcoming fishing seasons, the directors called on commercial spring chinook fishers to step up efforts to avoid handling wild steelhead.
"The commercial fishery has come a long way in becoming selective, but we want to continue to work with the industry to be creative in finding ways to avoid handling steelhead," Koenings said. "In doing so, we are creating the stable, sustainable fishery so necessary to develop high-value harvests."
This year's total run of Columbia River spring chinook is predicted to be the second-highest on record since counting began in 1938 at Bonneville Dam. More than 497,000 wild and hatchery spring chinook are forecast to enter the Columbia River this year.
Koenings also credited federal funding for Columbia River hatchery operations as an important factor in providing overall fishing opportunity, but noted the federal Mitchell Act funding that mitigates negative effects of the hydropower system is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.