OLYMPIA – After a delay of nearly a month, the sport fishery for hatchery-reared steelhead on the lower Columbia River will open Friday, June 12 under an agreement reached Wednesday by fishery managers in Washington and Oregon.
Fishing rules adopted by both states will allow anglers to catch and retain hatchery steelhead, along with sockeye salmon and hatchery jack chinook salmon, upriver from Rocky Point to the Interstate 5 bridge. Hatchery-reared steelhead and chinook salmon are marked with a clipped adipose fin.
Those rules will effectively give anglers four days of fishing in that stretch of the river before summer seasons begin June 16, said Bill Tweit, Columbia River policy leader for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Starting June 16, anglers may retain any jack chinook – marked or unmarked – but must release any adult chinook salmon they catch until June 22, when the Columbia River opens for summer chinook fishing below Bonneville Dam.
Fishing rules, both before and after June 16, are described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations).
“We would have liked to give anglers more of a spring fishery,” Tweit said. “But only now, when most spring chinook salmon have passed Bonneville Dam, are fishery managers feeling confident that we can meet state and federal conservation goals.”
Tweit explained that the month-long delay in the lower Columbia River was spurred by an updated run forecast for upriver spring chinook, indicating that only about half as many of those fish would return this year as originally expected. A portion of that run is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, requiring the states to take action, Tweit said.
Spring chinook fisheries were cut short throughout the Columbia River, but fishery managers were still concerned about impacts on wild spring chinook caught and released in the steelhead fishery, he said.
“We conduct these fisheries under strict federal limits on incidental mortality rates,” Tweit said. “When the run size is lower than expected, there is very little margin for error.”
Under the initial run forecast, nearly 300,000 upriver spring chinook were expected to return to the Columbia River this year. The latest forecast, issued June 8, anticipates a return of 165,000 fish – up 5,000 from the previous estimate.
“That small increase helped tip the balance to provide these four days of fishing,” Tweit said.