December 18, 2003
Joe Foster, (509) 754-4624
Kirk Truscott, (509) 664 1227
Art Viola, (509) 665-3337
Upper Columbia and Methow rivers will close to steelhead fishing Dec. 21
OLYMPIA – The fishery for hatchery-reared steelhead on the upper Columbia and Methow rivers will close Dec. 21 to comply with provisions of a federal permit that authorized fishing in those waters, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
By the closing date, anglers will have caught more than 2,500 steelhead since the fishery opened Oct. 8, say WDFW fish biologists, who base their estimate on daily creel surveys. Those surveys also indicate anglers will have released all but about 700 of those fish, which are reared in hatcheries and marked for identification with a clipped adipose fin.
As in previous years, anglers are required to release any wild steelhead they catch on the upper Columbia River and its tributaries, where the fish are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the terms of the federal permit, WDFW must close the fishery when hooking mortality for wild steelhead reaches 2 percent of the estimated run.
“ Our on-the-water surveys indicate we are closing in on that threshold,” said Bob Leland, WDFW steelhead manager. “Anglers saw a lot of action this year and caught some nice hatchery fish. But the permit says we have to close the fishery when we reach the 2 percent threshold, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Now in its third consecutive year, this year’s fishery was conducted amid the second-highest return of steelhead to the Columbia River and its tributaries in 15 years. The fishery was authorized under a 10-year agreement between WDFW and the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has responsibilities for enforcing the ESA.
The agreement allows WDFW to conduct a variety of fish-management activities – including fisheries – on those rivers so long as they do not conflict with ongoing efforts to recover wild steelhead populations listed for federal protection. In years like this, with high returns of hatchery fish, recreational fisheries can actually benefit natural production of wild steelhead on the spawning grounds, Leland said.
“Competition for space on the rivers can get fierce during years with high returns,” Leland said. “Recreational fisheries targeting hatchery-reared steelhead can improve spawning success for wild steelhead, so long as adequate controls are in place.”
According to observations of WDFW enforcement officers and fish checkers on the fishing grounds, anglers did a good job of observing the rules, Leland said.
“I think everyone recognizes that the future of this fishery depends on good behavior,” Leland said.
The closure, effective at one hour past sunset Dec. 21, includes the mainstem Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam upstream to Chief Joseph Dam and the section of the Methow River that opened to steelhead fishing Oct. 8.
Two tributaries to the upper Columbia River will remain open to fishing for hatchery-origin steelhead with an adipose fin-clipped and a healed scar in the location of the missing fin. These include:
- The Okanogan River from the mouth upstream, excluding the closed waters from Zosel Dam downstream to one-quarter of a mile below the railroad trestle. The area from the Highway 97 Bridge at Omak to a line across the river 500 feet above the mouth of Omak Creek will close February 16, 2004. Night closure and selective gear rules are in effect for all species, although motorized vessels are allowed. Fishing is closed to all species except adipose fin-clipped steelhead from the highway bridge at Malott upstream.
- The Similkameen River from the mouth to 400 feet below Enloe Dam. Selective gear rules and night closure are in effect and whitefish gear rules do not apply.
In both of these areas, anglers are permitted to harvest two steelhead with clipped adipose fins daily, so long as they are at least 20-inches in length. Fin-clipped steelhead containing a disk tag may also be harvested. All wild steelhead must be released unharmed.
Through March 31, 2004, fishing is limited to whitefish on the Methow River and Similkameen River above Enloe Dam, where whitefish gear rules are in effect. Bait is allowed but anglers must use a single barbless hook, 3/16-inch (size 14) or smaller, measured point to shank.