YAKIMA–The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in consultation with the Yakama Nation, will open portions of the Yakima River for fall chinook and coho salmon fishing in two separate sport seasons this fall.
From Sept. 25 through Oct. 31 the lower Yakima River, from the Highway 240 bridge upstream to 400 feet below Prosser Dam, will be open to sportfishing. From Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, the mainstem Yakima River, from the I-82 bridge at Union Gap upstream to 400 feet below Roza Dam, will be open. Since these seasons are newly authorized, neither is listed in the current fishing regulations pamphlet.
Both seasons will allow a daily catch limit of two salmon greater than 12 inches in length. Only chinook with adipose or ventral fin clips may be retained while coho may be retained whether or not they bear a fin clip.
The early season primarily will target hatchery fall chinook released from the Yakama Nation's rearing facility at Prosser, although some coho should be present during the latter part of the season. The late season will target hatchery coho salmon released last year by the Yakama Nation into the mainstem Yakima and Naches rivers.
Anglers are reminded that the Yakima River remains closed to fishing for steelhead. Any steelhead caught during these salmon seasons must be immediately released unharmed.
"We very much appreciate the Yakama Nation's willingness to accommodate a sport season on these fish," said Dale Bambrick, WDFW southcentral regional director. "The fish are here as a result of tribal efforts to overcome habitat damage resulting from the impact of the federal hydro-power system. Traditionally, most of that mitigation has occurred in the lower Columbia."
Bambrick said the fisheries are possible in spite of local habitat conditions. "The Yakima is still a very sick watershed," he said. "While we are encouraged by the efforts underway to improve habitat and water quality, the basin is not yet healthy enough to sustain harvestable populations of naturally spawning fish. These fisheries will target hatchery fall chinook and coho salmon that Yakama Nation staff have released into the Basin to begin the process of restoring natural populations."
Randy Settler, Chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Yakama Tribal Council said, "This opportunity for recreational fisheries validates the tribes' approach to rebuilding salmon runs in the Columbia Basin. We believe it is possible to take management actions that increase the returns of salmon to natural spawning grounds while also providing limited fishing benefits to tribal and non-tribal fisheries. We are optimistic that on-going planning efforts with our state and federal co-managers can duplicate this result in other mid-Columbia watersheds."
The new fishing opportunity afforded by the state-tribal agreement may be the first of others in the near future, said Jim Cummins, WDFW acting southcentral regional fish program manager.
"If our efforts to protect and restore the basin's habitat are successful," Cummins explained, "anglers may also have expanded opportunity to fish for salmon in the next few years."
Cummins warned that protection of wild steelhead and fall chinook during these fishing seasons will be critical. "Anglers need to take care in the handling and immediate release of these fish," he said. "If our monitoring indicates that wild fish are being significantly hurt, we will close the fishing season."