OLYMPIA - With steelhead returns to the upper Columbia River expected to reach the second-highest level in 15 years, anglers can start catching hatchery fish with clipped adipose fins in the upper Columbia, Methow and Okanogan rivers Oct. 8.
Those fisheries for marked steelhead - plus another one set to begin Nov. 15 on the Similkameen River - were announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in conjunction with a 10-year agreement on steelhead management in the upper Columbia River and its tributaries.
Under the agreement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries) approved a 10-year permit authorizing WDFW fish-management activities on the upper Columbia River and its tributaries, provided they do not conflict with ongoing efforts to recover wild steelhead populations listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Consistent with that permit, anglers must release any wild steelhead - identified by an intact adipose fin - they catch on the Columbia River above Rocky Reach Dam, or in the Methow, Okanogan or Similkameen rivers. Any fish with a disk tag also must be released unharmed in those areas.
General freshwater rules will be in effect for all species on the mainstem Columbia, but selective gear rules will apply on the Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. Night fishing closures will also be in effect on all three tributaries and on the mainstem Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam to Chief Joseph Dam.
Anglers will be allowed to keep two marked, hatchery steelhead a day. Only hatchery fish missing an adipose fin and a healed scar at the location of the missing fin may be retained.
These restrictions are similar to those in effect during the past two years, when NOAA Fisheries approved selective fisheries on a trial basis. WDFW Director Jeff Koenings said careful monitoring has shown that the fishery has not interfered with the substantial increase in the number of steelhead returning to the spawning grounds.
"This plan reflects a shared commitment to promote recovery of wild steelhead while allowing anglers to harvest surplus hatchery fish," Koenings said. "As we've demonstrated on the upper Columbia and elsewhere in the state, we can achieve both of these goals under a plan based on sound science, selective fisheries and careful monitoring. This is an important step forward for steelhead recovery, outdoor recreation and communities throughout the region that realize substantial economic benefits from these fisheries."
As part of the overall plan, unmarked hatchery fish in the upper Columbia River are being used in an experimental program to jump-start steelhead recovery. Given the large return of steelhead to the upper Columbia River and its tributaries for the third straight year, Koenings said marked hatchery steelhead can be safely harvested without interfering with the recovery effort.
"This agreement takes hatchery and harvest management to a new level," said Rob Walton, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries' Salmon Recovery Division. "It is the culmination of a lot of hard work and cooperation by a lot of different people and is tailored to factors unique to different areas of the upper Columbia River basin."
Parties to the agreement include NOAA Fisheries, WDFW, Chelan Public Utility District, and Douglas Public Utility District.
Areas that will open to fishing for hatchery steelhead under WDFW emergency regulation include:
- The mainstem Columbia River, which will be open from Oct. 8 until further notice from Rocky Reach Dam upriver to Chief Joseph Dam. General freshwater rules will be in effect, including the requirement that all steelhead with an intact adipose fin be released. A night closure will be in effect for all species, and anglers will be required to release any steelhead with a disk tag.
- The Methow River, which will be open from Oct. 8 until further notice from the Highway 97 bridge at the river mouth to the confluence with the Chewuch River in the town of Winthrop. Selective gear rules will be in effect, except motorized vessels will be allowed. A night closure will be in effect, and anglers will be required to release any steelhead they catch with an intact adipose fin or disk tag.
- The Okanogan River, which will be open from Oct. 8 until further notice from the mouth upriver to one quarter-mile below the railway trestle below Zosel Dam. Selective gear rules for all species will be in effect, except that motorized vessels will be allowed. A night closure will be in effect for all species, and anglers will be required to release any steelhead they catch with an intact adipose fin or disk tag.
- The Similkameen River, which will be open from Nov. 15 until further notice from the river mouth to a line 400 feet below Enloe Dam. Selective gear rules and a night closure will be in effect, and anglers will be required to release any steelhead with an intact adipose fin or disk tag.