OLYMPIA – Effective Saturday (Sept. 22), anglers will be required to release any chinook salmon they encounter on nine tributaries to the lower Columbia River, but will again be allowed to retain chinook they catch upriver from the Hood River Bridge to the 395 Bridge in Pasco.
Tributaries affected by the new non-retention rule include the Cowlitz, Lewis, North Fork Lewis, Elochoman, Toutle, North Fork Toutle, Green (in Cowlitz County), Kalama and Washougal rivers, including Camas Slough. Portions of those rivers were previously scheduled to close to chinook retention Oct. 1.
Fisheries for hatchery coho and hatchery steelhead are not affected by the new rule, announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
“Before the season started, we predicted chinook returns would be below average in the lower Columbia River Basin this year,” said Pat Frazier, regional WDFW fish manager. “It’s now clear some stocks are returning in even lower numbers than predicted, so we need to reduce fishing pressure accordingly.”
At the same time, however, a sudden surge in upriver chinook past Bonneville Dam has prompted fishery managers to restore some retention fisheries for chinook salmon that closed earlier this week.
Based on recent fish counts at Bonneville Dam, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon now expect this year’s upriver chinook return to be about 10,000 more fish than projected earlier this week, said Cindy LeFleur, WDFW Columbia River policy advisor.
As a result, the two states agreed to modify a new policy that prohibited chinook retention from the mouth of the Columbia up to Highway 395 in Pasco. The new rule will again allow anglers to retain chinook salmon they catch in the mainstem Columbia River from the Hood River Bridge to the 395 Bridge.
“The rush of fish in the past few days allows us to provide some additional fishing opportunities,” LeFleur said. “And while chinook fishing was curtailed throughout the river this year, it was really just getting started above Bonneville Dam.”
Despite the uptick in upriver chinook counts, waters below Bonneville Dam will remain closed to chinook retention, as will the area upriver from the dam to the Hood River Bridge, LeFleur said. The closure in the area above Bonneville Dam is necessary to protect chinook returns to the Spring Creek Hatchery, she said.
Early closure of retention fisheries for chinook salmon in nine tributaries below Bonneville Dam was also prompted by low returns to those river systems, Frazier said.
Through Sept. 16, WDFW employees at the Elochoman Hatchery had collected less than half of the number of chinook salmon needed to meet propagation goals, Frazier said. At the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery, workers had collected just 10 percent of the number projected for the season.
Catch rates for chinook have also been poor in most rivers affected by today’s action, Frazier said.
“While we won’t know for some time, we also suspect that the number of wild chinook returning to lower Columbia tributaries will be down substantially this year,” he said.
Those runs include wild “tule” stocks, which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.