Spring Chinook Fishing
by Al Thomas
Spring chinook salmon angling in the lower Columbia River will be closed beginning Saturday -- a day earlier than scheduled -- to avoid exceeding the catch allocation. And to no one's surprise, sport fishermen are not happy.
The expected catch through Friday is 10,172 adult chinook from 85,026 angler trips. The catch, plus release mortality, of upper Columbia-Snake chinook is projected to total 7,474 fish, which is 99 percent of the early-season allowance.
Robin Ehlke, assistant Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a joint Washington-Oregon state hearing Thursday the lower Columbia sport fishery would exceed its allocation by 990 upper Columbia-Snake fish if angling continued on Saturday.
Ehlke said at least 6,000 anglers are anticipated to fish between Bonneville Dam and Astoria on Saturday if the season stays open.
"It's hard to cut off a season with 6,000 anglers expecting to fish," said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
However, agreements have been made with the Columbia River treaty tribes, plus Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon communities, to stay within allocations so that they too can have spring chinook fishing, he said.
State, tribal and federal biologists are forecasting an upper Columbia-Snake spring chinook run of 188,800 fish. But the fisheries are managed with a 30 percent buffer in case of an overprediction, making the run effectively 132,200.
A run forecast update is scheduled about May 7, when typically half the spring chinook have passed Bonneville Dam.
Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said every day the lower Columbia is open retail outlets sell $15,000 in gear. State officials need to grasp the economic importance of the season, she added.
"It's an important promise to keep the river open," Hamilton said.
Randy Woolsey, a manufacturer's representative and member of the bistate Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group, said sportsmen "go to great lengths to catch one of these prizes."
He said there are "tens of 1,000s" fishing the Columbia River.
"It's just incredibly important," Woolsey said about Saturday.
Bill Monroe Jr., an Oregon guide, said one day is too short a notice to close early.
"It's very short notice and very tough to accommodate," he told the hearing.
Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the 30 percent buffer is to protect upriver groups and it's way too early to have any idea how close the spring chinook run will be to the forecast.
"There's no way you can trade something you don't have," Roler said.
Through Wednesday, the count at Bonneville Dam totaled 824 spring chinook. Based on the average timing of the past five years, about 900 spring chinook would be expected past Bonneville by that date.
"I'd put no weight on Bonneville passage at such an early date," said Ehlke. "It's 1 percent. That doesn't mean anything now."
About 1,000 spring chinook are allocated for sport fishing in the Columbia between Bonneville and McNary dams and 1,000 for the lower Snake River.
Rick Stillwater of East Wenatchee, Wash., told the states to close the lower Columbia to protect fishing in the Yakima and Snake rivers.
"It's short notice, but it has to be done," he said.
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