OLYMPIA – The lower Columbia River will remain closed to steelhead fishing until further notice to avoid the incidental catch of protected upriver spring chinook salmon, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon announced today.
The announcement effectively delays a fishery for hatchery steelhead scheduled to open May 16 from the Interstate 5 Bridge downriver to the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line a few miles east of Astoria.
The steelhead closure could extend as late as June 15, unless returns of upriver spring chinook begin to pick up, said Cindy LeFleur, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator.
“With returns of upriver spring chinook falling far short of expectations, we need to do everything we can to conserve protected runs,” she said. “At this point, that means some fisheries that have only an incidental impact on upriver chinook will be affected.”
That also includes commercial salmon fisheries at Youngs Bay, Blind Slough, Tongue Point and Deep River, which were delayed for a week by today’s action. Although those fisheries primarily target chinook salmon returning to lower Columbia River tributaries, they do intercept some upriver fish, LeFleur said.
Today’s announcement follows a decision by WDFW late last week to close the last remaining spring chinook fisheries on the Snake and mid-Columbia rivers a month early. Columbia River treaty tribes also agreed to close all mainstem spring chinook fisheries, effective May 11, in response to the run shortfall.
LeFleur said the closures were triggered by an updated spring chinook run forecast of 180,000, down from 269,300 fish initially projected by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon, she said.
“Before today’s action, we took a close look at the weekend fish counts at Bonneville Dam, but they weren’t encouraging,” LeFleur said. “At this point, the updated projection of 180,000 fish probably reflects the upper range of the run.”
For updates on the lower Columbia River steelhead season, LeFleur recommends that steelhead anglers check WDFW’s website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/) or call the Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500).
While the opening date remains uncertain, LeFleur said the steelhead season will not get started later than June 16, when most spring chinook salmon have returned to hatcheries or spawning areas.
“At that point, the focus switches to summer chinook,” she said. “We really hope those runs are more encouraging than this year’s spring chinook returns.”