OLYMPIA – With the Columbia River spring chinook fishery under way and scheduled to expand March 12, anglers are reminded they are required to relinquish the heads of certain salmon to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists for data collection purposes.
Anglers also are reminded that the fishery this year on the mainstem Columbia is a selective fishery, meaning that any salmon with adipose fin intact must be released immediately unharmed; only those fish with the adipose fin removed and a healed scar at the location of the missing fin may be kept.
The fishery on the mainstem currently is open from the I-5 bridge downstream to the mouth of the river. Beginning March 12, the fishery expands upriver to the Bonneville Dam. As usual, fish biologists with the WDFW will be on hand at boat ramps and sandbars to sample and monitor the catch. Monitoring helps ensure accurate forecasting for setting fisheries and for complying with the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, which is administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"Having a fishery depends on the monitoring. That's how we determine when we've reached the impact levels for the fishery," said Joe Hymer, fish biologist with the WDFW.
As anglers return to the boat ramps or sandbars, biologists will ask them how many fish they kept and how many were released. Scale samples also will be taken from the catch, and biologists will run an electronic wand over the snouts of adipose fin-clipped fish to determine whether they have a coded wire tag. Anglers are required to relinquish the heads of the salmon that have coded wire tags so scientists can analyze data such as age and origin of the fish.
In the past, the clipped adipose fin-flagged fish contained coded-wire tags. In recent years, however, fin-clip marking has been much more broadly used. Instead of being reserved only for fish implanted with coded-wire tags, now millions of hatchery-produced chinook are marked for selective fishing – allowing anglers to distinguish catchable hatchery salmon from protected wild stocks that must be released. Hymer said about 85 percent of adipose fin-clipped spring chinook returning this year will have tags.
To avoid processing large numbers of heads that don't contain coded-wire tags, the department will rely only on fish that have been sampled by the biologists. Beginning this year, the department will no longer accept voluntary recoveries, marked fish heads the angler dropped off at various recovery locations.
The cash lottery that was associated with coded-wire tag recovery program also has been discontinued. In its place for the Columbia spring chinook fishery, Hymer said, WDFW biologists will try to provide a quick turn-around on information they gather. At the time of sampling, anglers may request to be notified of the age and origin of their fish, and they will receive that information by postcard once data analysis is completed.
Fish managers are using selective fishing as a means of providing recreational fishing opportunity while also addressing a years-long trend in declining numbers of some Pacific northwest wild chinook and coho salmon and endeavoring to save those stocks. Fishers who catch a chinook salmon with the adipose fin intact are reminded not to remove the fish from the water and to avoid netting the fish whenever possible to avoid loss of protective scales. Many anglers are successfully using a recommended de-hooking device which can be made with a wooden dowel fitted with a threaded cup hook in the end.
To release a fish, grip the line-leader 12 to 18 inches from the fish's mouth, leaving the fish in the water, and slide the eye-hook on the de-hooker down the line to the bend of the hook in the salmon's mouth. Lift the de-hooker with the eye-hook pointed toward the water while dropping the hand holding the leader toward the water. The weight of the rising fish will result in a quick release, especially if barbless hooks are used. However, barbed hooks are allowed during this fishery.
Fishers are reminded they need to purchase a 2001-2002 freshwater license before fishing the mainstem Columbia in April. The current year's license is valid through March 31.
Those who wish to report illegal catches are asked to call the Enforcement Emergency/Incident Hotline, 1-800-477-6224 and provide detailed information such as the incident, the specific time, day and location and, if possible, a description of the person and/or vehicle and license number.
This is the first year the Columbia River spring chinook sport fishery has been a selective fishery. A record return of about 364,000 adult spring chinook returning to the upper Columbia and Snake rivers was the impetus for the season. Recently the Columbia River Treaty tribes and the states of Washington and Oregon agreed to a multi-year conservation agreement that established a catch range so that fisheries may be based on the expected returns.