Washington fishers might have a season on hatchery spring chinook salmon in part of the Snake River later this spring, but Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials say that option is still being negotiated with other state, federal and tribal fisheries managers.
A definitive answer won't likely come before mid-April, because of the complex factors involved in setting the season, said WDFW Regional Fish Program Manager John Whalen.
The forecast run of 168,400 Snake River spring chinook is good, but less than last year's return of 237,400 fish when a month-long fishing season occurred in May. It was the first spring chinook fishery on the Snake River in three decades. Southeast Washington has few tributaries to the Snake that produce spring chinook salmon. Only one– the Tucannon River– has experienced increased fish returns over the past few years, but it is still rebuilding a wild fish population from recent record lows. That means any Snake River season on spring chinook would have to be upstream of the Tucannon, and some of the best locations for a fishery are in the free-flowing portion that forms the boundary between Idaho and Washington.
Hatchery chinook returning to the Snake are mostly produced in Idaho and Oregon, where a portion are first reserved for broodstock, with the balance available for fishing. WDFW has to negotiate with these states for a portion of that catch. In addition, fishing seasons in the lower Columbia River also affect Snake River seasons.
Because wild Snake River spring chinook are listed as a threatened species, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires that the fishery on hatchery stocks be monitored closely to avoid impacts to wild stocks.