Fishers and interested others can learn about the new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) 10-year agreement that allows fishing on Upper Columbia River hatchery steelhead at a public meeting Friday, Nov. 7, 6:30 - 9 p.m., at Pateros High School Gymnasium, 344 W. Beach St., Pateros, in Okanogan County.
The agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), and both Chelan and Douglas Public Utility Districts, authorizes 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).
The public meeting will cover the criteria of the agreement that govern how, when and where steelhead fisheries can be allowed in the Columbia River between Priest Rapids and Chief Joseph Dams and the major tributaries within that reach. Important among these criteria are size of the steelhead run each year and numbers of wild steelhead in the run, but several other aspects of the agreement will also be discussed.
With steelhead returns to the upper Columbia River expected to reach the second-highest level in 15 years, WDFW this year opened the upper Columbia, Methow and Okanogan rivers to fishing for adipose-fin-clipped hatchery steelhead on Oct. 8 and will open the Similkameen River on Nov. 15.
As directed under the NOAA Fisheries agreement, 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 are in effect for all species on the mainstem Columbia, but selective gear rules apply on the Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers. Night fishing closures are also in effect on all three tributaries and on the mainstem Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam to Chief Joseph Dam.
The fisheries remain open until further notice, depending on whether catch rates indicate significant incidental mortality on wild fish.
The restrictions are similar to those in effect during the past two years, when NOAA Fisheries approved selective fisheries on a trial basis. WDFW eastern Washington fish program manager Heather Bartlett explained that careful monitoring has shown that the fishery has not interfered with the substantial increase in the number of steelhead returning to the spawning grounds.
"Our meeting in Pateros on the 7th is meant to explain more about this agreement and what it means for fishers," Bartlett said. "It's important that steelheaders understand how their cooperation in this controlled harvest of surplus hatchery fish can help us ultimately recover wild steelhead and the economic benefits this fishery provides for local communities."