OLYMPIA – Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today adopted fishing seasons for this year’s spring chinook fishery on the Columbia River, where the prized salmon are projected to return in the largest numbers since at least 1938.
Encouraged by a forecast of 559,900 returning fish, both states approved regulations that will provide Columbia River anglers with a full range of fishing opportunities above and below Bonneville Dam in March and April.
Last year, 222,000 spring chinook returned to the river.
But after watching spring chinook runs fall short of expectations for the past two years,
fishery managers exercised caution in setting fishing seasons below the dam. In calculating the number of fish available for harvest, they set aside a 40 percent “buffer” until the forecast can be verified by data collected once the run is under way.
If the forecast proves accurate, both recreational and commercial fisheries will get additional time on the lower river, said Guy Norman, southwest regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
“This approach gives us the flexibility to match fishing opportunities to the actual size of the run,” Norman said. “As we’ve seen in the past two years, it can create real problems when runs fall short of expectations.”
Norman said the 40 percent buffer on the estimated run size is designed to ensure that enough spring chinook pass upstream to meet obligations to tribal and non-tribal fisheries upriver from Bonneville Dam. It will also help to keep incidental impacts on wild chinook listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act within allowable limits, he said.
As in previous years, only hatchery-reared fish marked with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained. All wild spring chinook, identifiable by an intact adipose fin, must be released unharmed.
Norman said an update to the run forecast will likely be completed in early May, or when about half the fish have passed Bonneville Dam.
Until then, the recreational fishing seasons for spring chinook salmon established for March and April are:
- Buoy 10 upstream to the I-5 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1 through April 18, except closed on the following Tuesdays: March 9, 16, 23 and 30.
- I-5 Bridge upstream to I-205 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.
- I-205 Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam: Bank angling only, seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.
- Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam: Seven days per week from March 16 through May 31. Bank fishing only from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines, six miles downstream from The Dalles Dam.
Anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam will be allowed to retain one adult spring chinook salmon per day, while those fishing above the dam can retain two per day.
Although spring chinook salmon do not begin to enter the Columbia River in large numbers until mid-March, some catches have already been reported. Until March 1, the fishery is open under regulations described in the 2009-10 Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations).
As outlined in the rule pamphlet, anglers may retain shad and hatchery steelhead when fishing is open for spring chinook salmon.