Spring Chinook Fishing Closed
by Allen Thomas
OREGON CITY -- Spring chinook salmon fishing in the lower Columbia River will be limited to downstream of Interstate 5, with a closure not likely until late April.
Washington and Oregon officials on Thursday adopted the spring chinook fishing regulations for the Columbia for 2006. This will be the first time in five years no spring fishing is scheduled between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam.
Spring chinook -- the premier salmon of the Columbia River -- appear on a decline after several years of strong runs.
A run of 88,400 spring chinook is expected to enter the Columbia headed for tributaries upstream of Bonneville Dam. That would be the poorest return in six years and compares with 437,900 in 2001. A run of 46,500 is forecast back to the Willamette River, the worst in seven years. Two years ago, the return was 143,700.
Prior to the large spring salmon returns beginning in 2001, fishing was limited to downstream of Interstate 5 and normally closed no later than March 31.
Steve Watrous of the Columbia-Pacific Anglers Association said sportsmen need to keep their perspective.
"To fish into the middle of April is a whole lot better than what we had for 20 years,'' said Watrous, a Vancouver resident.
Fishing for spring chinook is governed by a complex interplay between the federal Endangered Species Act, tribal-non-Indian agreements and state management plans.
Non-Indian sport and commercial fishermen are allowed to harvest only hatchery-origin spring chinook, marked by means of a clipped adipose fin.
Sport and commercial seasons in the lower Columbia target on hatchery spring chinook and try to minimize the incidental catch and release of wild salmon.
To protect wild upper Columbia spring chinook, this year non-Indians will be limited to an incidental harvest of 2 percent of the wild run and the tribes get 7 percent. If the upper Columbia run drops to smaller than 82,000, the non-Indian share drops to 1.5 percent of the wild run.
The 2 percent non-Indian share will be split 57 percent for sportsmen and 43 percent for the gillnet fleet. Buffers will be built in to assure neither side exceeds its allocation if the run is smaller than forecast and the non-Indian share drops to 1.5 percent.
Limiting sport fishing to downstream of Interstate 5 dilutes the catch of upper Columbia chinook with salmon headed for the Willamette, Lewis, Cowlitz and Kalama rivers and makes for the longest season possible.
Curt Melcher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said catch ceilings in the lower Columbia are not expected to be reached until April 20 even if the run is smaller than 82,000 and the non-Indian share drops.
It is projected there will be 108,751 angler trips in March and April with a sport catch of about 10,800.
Fishing will be extended beyond April 19 if the catch guideline has not been filled.
Fishing between Tower Island, six miles downstream of The Dalles Dam, and McNary Dam near Umatilla, Ore., will open March 16 and continue until an allocation for that area is caught.
Test commercial fishing in the lower Columbia is expected to begin in late February, followed by a full-fleet fishery as the run begins to build.
Under Oregon's Willamette River plan, the commercials are limited to about 2,500 Willamette spring chinook this year and likely will catch another 2,300 headed for the upper Columbia and other streams.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs