OLYMPIA – Anglers fishing for salmon on the upper Columbia River are being advised to make sure they can tell the difference between chinook and sockeye salmon for the purpose of determining their daily catch limit.
Failure to make that distinction could result in a citation, said Heather Bartlett, a regional fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"The daily bag limit for the upper Columbia is six salmon – no more than two of which can be adults," Bartlett explained. "The problem is that some anglers are confusing mature sockeye with chinook jacks and failing to count them as adults in their bag limit."
Some of that confusion no doubt stems from the fact that salmon fishing is new to many people on the upper Columbia River, said Bartlett, noting that this is the second season that salmon fishing has been allowed on that stretch of the river.
The fishery, which opened July 15 and continues through Oct. 15, includes the portion of the river between Priest Rapids Dam and Wells Dam and between the Highway 173 Bridge at Brewster and the Highway 17 Bridge at Bridgeport. The mouth of the Okanogan River is also open up to the Highway 97 Bridge.
Another possible cause for confusion is that the definition of an "adult salmon" varies by species, Bartlett said. Citing page 13 of WDFW's "Sport Fishing Rules" pamphlet, Bartlett explained that a chinook salmon is considered an adult salmon for purposes of calculating an angler's daily bag limit if it is 24 inches or more in length. A sockeye salmon, however, is considered an adult if it is just 12 inches long.
"The only way to calculate your six-fish bag limit correctly is to know what kind of salmon you have," Bartlett said.
The best way to distinguish between chinook jacks and sockeye is to look at their gum lines and tails, Bartlett said. Chinook jacks have a jet black gum line and spotted tails. Sockeye salmon have lighter gums and no spots on their tails.
Bartlett said WDFW enforcement officers have been issuing warnings to anglers who have too many adult salmon in their possession but may start issuing citations if the problem continues.
"Anglers have a basic responsibility to know what species are in their catch," Bartlett said. "Chinook salmon are the primary target of this fishery and sockeye stocks can sustain a fishery too, so long as anglers stay within the limit."
Bartlett noted that both chinook and sockeye stocks are in stable condition on the upper Columbia River and that neither are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.