OLYMPIA – Following a conservation agreement reached last week between tribes, the federal government and Washington and Oregon, the states Tuesday approved a non-Indian sport selective fishing season beginning March 12 in the lower Columbia River.
The mainstem sport fishery is now open on the Columbia River downstream of the I-5 bridge, and anglers may keep any fish. Beginning March 12, the fishery area will expand to cover the entire lower Columbia mainstem, from the mouth of the river upstream to the Bonneville Dam. At that time, it will shift to a selective fishery, in which adipose fin-clipped chinook and steelhead, and shad may be kept. Any non-adipose fin-clipped chinook salmon and steelhead must be released unharmed.
The selective fishing season is expected to continue to the end of April but could end earlier if the sport allocation is met.
The season-setting follows an unprecedented multi-year conservation and rebuilding agreement reached last week by the four Columbia River Treaty tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington. The agreement focuses on rebuilding Snake River spring and summer chinook, Upper Columbia spring chinook and Snake River sockeye, by adjusting harvest rates based on the number of wild fish projected to return in a given year.
The agreement is expected to provide the cornerstone for a new, comprehensive Columbia River fisheries management plan expected to be completed by December, 2003. Leaders from the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes and the governors of four western states, including Gary Locke of Washington and John Kitzhaber of Oregon, called completion of that plan pivotal if Columbia River wild salmon recovery goals are to be met. A major objective is to begin the work necessary to achieve rebuilding fish runs on the Columbia to 5 million fish within 25 years.
The federal government is expected to endorse the plan as consistent with the conservation requirements of the endangered Species Act (ESA).
Tribal and state fisheries managers said the agreement will provide stability in both harvest and hatchery production and will allow managers to focus more of their efforts on addressing difficult hydro power and habitat issues important to salmon recovery -- issues that are expected to be particularly challenging this year because of drought conditions.