Oregon Closes Commercials' Seasonby Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, April 1, 2004
Commercial fishing for spring chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River is done until at least May.
Oregon refused Washington's proposal to give the commercial fleet a fishing period on Wednesday night, thus bringing a close to the net season.
Commercial fishing in the lower Columbia requires consensus by the Oregon and Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife.
The end of the net fishery is expected to be followed by a huge increase in sport-fishing effort. Both the number of sport-fishing trips and the catch were down in late March.
The commercials landed 5,110 spring chinook Monday night, bringing their season total to 13,487, said Kathryn Kostow, a biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Commercial fishermen have landed about 64 percent of their overall allocation of upper Columbia spring chinook and 85 percent of their guideline for the main Columbia, she said.
Twenty-five percent of the commercial total is being saved to allow fishing in off-channel locations such as Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Deep River.
Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said he was willing to allow a very brief additional commercial fishing period, with perhaps a 10-chinook-per-boat landing limit.
The commercials have about 1,900 to 2,000 spring chinook remaining on their guideline.
There are about 130 to 150 commercial fishermen participating in the spring salmon season.
Kostow said the spring chinook count at Bonneville Dam is just 30 percent of the average, although it is far too early to consider revising the run forecast.
State biologists believe a huge run of 360,000 spring chinook will enter the Columbia this year headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.
This year's run is expected to be late because 94 percent of the upper Columbia chinook are 4-year-olds, which return slightly later than 5-year-old chinook.
Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said it is too early to panic about the low Bonneville count.
Data shows only 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of 4-year-old Idaho hatchery-origin spring chinook had passed Bonneville by March 26. Ellis said it will be another week to 10 days to get even 10 percent of the upper Columbia chinook beyond Bonneville.
With the spring chinook run starting to build, the chance of exceeding the guideline is too close for comfort, said Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon's voter in the decision.
"I've got a 17 in blackjack and I don't know whether to hit it,'' Williams said. "I guess I'm not much of a gambler.''
If the commercials exceed their allocation, it would be a public relations black eye for the fish agencies and the industry, he said.
Williams urged biologists for the two states to find ways to mop up the commercial share in May, once the peak of the run is over.
Jim Wells, president of Salmon For All, a commercial fishing group, said chinook now bring $3-4 a pound as opposed to $1.25 a pound in May when many more fish are on the market.
Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association noted that anglers have had poor success so far this spring.
Chris Heuker, a commercial fisherman, said it appears a large ball of chinook have made it up the Columbia about as far as Mayger, which is downstream of Longview.
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