OLYMPIA – Starting tomorrow (Sept. 22), Columbia River anglers will be allowed to catch and retain hatchery-reared steelhead throughout the Hanford Reach, where steelhead have been returning at more than double the 10-year average.
Under a new fishing rule approved by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), anglers will be able to retain up to three hatchery-reared summer steelhead per day between the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco and Priest Rapids Dam.
That area includes the upper portion of the Reach, stretching from the wooden powerline towers at the old Hanford townsite to Priest Rapids Dam, which has not been open to steelhead fishing since 1996.
In addition, the steelhead fishery previously scheduled to open Oct. 1 in the lower portion of the Reach (from the wooden powerline towers downriver to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco) will begin a week early to allow anglers to catch more hatchery fish.
In both areas, only hatchery fish measuring at least 20 inches that are marked for identification with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained. All wild steelhead must be released unharmed, and may not be removed from the water.
John Easterbrooks, regional WDFW fish manager for southcentral Washington, said the high number of returning summer steelhead has made it possible to expand fishing opportunities throughout the Hanford Reach.
“This is a great opportunity for anglers to catch some terrific fish under ideal early fall weather conditions, while also helping to prevent hatchery steelhead from crowding out wild fish on the spawning grounds,” Easterbrooks said. “We want to give wild steelhead every opportunity to bolster future runs of naturally spawning fish in the upper Columbia tributaries.”
The hatchery steelhead fishery in the upper Hanford Reach is planned to run through Oct. 22, concurrent with salmon fishing for fall chinook and coho. In the lower section of the Reach, the steelhead fishery will continue through Oct. 31 from the Highway 395 Bridge to the wooden powerline towers at the old Hanford townsite.
Because both wild and hatchery-reared summer steelhead in the Hanford Reach are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), WDFW was required to obtain a permit from the National Marine Fishery Service before opening the fishery.
“Under the ESA, using a selective fishery to remove excess hatchery fish is a recognized strategy in conserving wild stocks,” Easterbrooks said. “That strategy is tailor-made for a year like this, with so many steelhead returning to the upper Columbia River.”
More than 30,000 summer steelhead had been counted at Priest Rapids Dam through mid-September, compared to the 10-year average of 12,500, said Paul Hoffarth, WDFW’s district fish biologist stationed in the Tri-Cities. At the current rate, the total returns of summer chinook to the Columbia River could break the 630,200-fish record set in 2001, he said.