OLYMPIA– The second straight year of high returns of steelhead to the upper Columbia River will allow a sport fishery for marked hatchery fish to open tomorrow (Oct. 12) in parts of the Hanford Reach, the upper Columbia, Methow and Okanogan rivers, and on Nov. 15 in the Similkameen River.
The recreational fishing opportunity, approved today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), was structured by state fish managers to complement wild steelhead recovery efforts underway in the region.
Selective gear rules for all species will be in effect in the Columbia River tributaries and anglers will be required to release any wild, unmarked steelhead they catch. Night fishing closures are in effect for all species in the mainstem Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam to Chief Joseph Dam, and in the Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. In addition to wild steelhead release, any fish with a disk tag must be released unharmed in all areas.
Anglers will be allowed to keep two marked, hatchery steelhead a day. Hatchery steelhead can be identified by a healed scar where either their adipose or ventral fin has been removed. However, in the Hanford Reach area steelhead must have both adipose and ventral fins removed in order to be kept.
“We are pleased we could work with federal fisheries officials to craft a sound fishery that allows anglers to benefit from a large returning run of hatchery steelhead without impacting wild steelhead recovery,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
“This fishery is a credit to successful state and local recovery efforts,”said Rob Jones, branch chief for NOAA Fisheries hatchery and inland fisheries. “Fisheries like this one are important to local economies, and are designed to allow us to continue our progress toward recovery of wild steelhead.”
Recreational hatchery steelhead fishing was opened last year in the upper Columbia River for the first time since 1997. Careful monitoring showed that even with the fishery, the number of steelhead on the spawning grounds increased substantially in 2001.
In the upper Columbia River, unmarked hatchery fish are being used in an experimental program to jump-start steelhead recovery. In addition, marked hatchery steelhead are also released each year as a reserve population, in case only small numbers of fish return from the ocean.
This year, with the large returns the area is experiencing, all the goals for spawning fish will be exceeded by naturally-spawned fish together with the unmarked hatchery fish. This means that the marked hatchery steelhead can be safely harvested without interfering with the recovery of steelhead in the upper Columbia.
At Priest Rapids Dam, sampling indicates this year’s returning upriver run exceeds spawning escapement and broodstock requirements and is the second-largest return in the past 15 years. Up to 9,282 marked, hatchery steelhead are expected to return to the Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. Fish managers estimate that up to 6,200 marked, hatchery steelhead will return to WDFW’s Ringold Hatchery in the area of the Hanford Reach that will be open to fishing.
Areas that will be open to fishing for hatchery steelhead include:
- The Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River, which will be open from Oct. 12 through March 31, from the Highway 395 bridge at Pasco to the old Hanford town site power poles just upstream of the Ringold Hatchery. General statewide rules will be in effect, except that kept fish must have both adipose and ventral fins removed. All other steelhead must be released.
- The mainstem Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam upriver to Chief Joseph Dam, which will be open from Oct. 12 through March 31. General freshwater rules will be in effect, including the requirement that all wild steelhead be released. Nigh closure will be in effect for all species.
- The Methow River, which will be open from Oct. 12 through March 31 from the mouth to the confluence with the Chewuch River in the town of Winthrop. Selective gear rules for all species will be in effect except motorized vessels are allowed. Anglers will be required to release any wild, unmarked steelhead they catch. Night closure will be in effect for all species.
- The Okanogan River, which will be open from Oct. 12 through March 31 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 motorized vessels will be allowed. Anglers will be required to release any wild, unmarked steelhead they catch. Night closure will be in effect for all species.
- The Similkameen River, which will be open from Nov. 15 through March 31 from the river mouth to a line 400 feet below Enloe Dam. Selective gear rules will be in effect for all species and anglers will be required to release any wild, unmarked steelhead. Night closure will be in effect for all species.