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Harvest Managers do the Math with Sport, Commercial, Wild

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - May 2, 2003

Oregon and Washington fishery managers on Monday exhibited their math skills as they tried to keep a mainstem Columbia River sport fleet afloat and maximize a targeted, commercial spring chinook salmon fishery.

Managers have limited options with "impacts" to stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act accumulating faster than anticipated in nearly every fishery that has been launched this spring. They chose to continue the lower Columbia River sport fishery for four more days. To do that, they felt the need to cut back sport fisheries in the reservoirs between Bonneville and McNary dams, as well as so-called "select area" commercial fisheries near the river's mouth.

The Columbia River sport and commercial fisheries are managed to limit impacts to wild fish listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Anglers may harvest only those fish that are marked as hatchery-bred with a missing adipose fin. However, some unmarked wild fish suffer a delayed mortality as a result of being handled. The allowable non-tribal impact for 2003 was set at 2 percent of the wild upriver spring chinook run.

Those fishing impacts are further split between mainstem commercial (.59 percent) and mainstem sport (1.11 percent) fishers. The remaining .30 was to be preserved for the select area gill netting and sport fishing above McNary Dam with anticipated room to spare for use as a management buffer.

But the ratio has become skewed. Mainstem commercial fishing on just three days in February and March produced impacts of .67 percent or 114 percent of the industry's share of the non-Indian impacts. The impact percentages are based on a predicted return to the river of 193,000 adult upriver spring chinook. That forecast was increased twice in recent weeks from the preseason forecast, but the technical group that scrutinizes dam counts and other data met Monday and decided to let its April 21 forecast stand. The Technical Advisory Committee will meet again Monday to assess the status of the run.

The mainstem commercial harvests to-date have proven to be ill-timed, with the gill netters encountering higher number of upriver fish than expected. The fisheries were intended to target returning Willamette river fish.

Commercial fisheries conducted for just 2 or 3 days at select areas also went beyond expectations with a .16 impact, more than half the .30 percent it is supposed to share with the above McNary sport fishery. Again, fishers encountered an unusually high number of upriver chinook in the areas, where net pen reared chinook are returning as adults. Officials expect a return of 12,000 hatchery fish that are solely ticketed for harvest, but less than 3,200 have been netted thus far.

Those impacts after a few days matched those from six weeks of fishing last year at the select areas and were triple the 1999-2001 season impact average. The select area fisheries are normally conducted two to three nights per week.

The lone non-tribal component still within its allocation is the sport fishery from McNary dam to the mouth of the river, which had through this past Saturday exacted a .9 percent impact on upriver spring chinook -- 81 percent of their 1.11 percent allocation. And those impacts accelerated quickly too, forcing fishery officials to close the area of the river from Portland to Bonneville at the beginning of April to avoid high upriver impacts. The fishing has since that time also been limited to four days per week in the area from Portland to the river's mouth. It had been hoped the fishery could remain open seven days per week through May 15.

Answering the pleas of sports fishers, Washington and Oregon officials on Monday approved another four-day fishery in the lower river that ends Saturday. At the same time they cut back from seven to four days a week sport fishing between Bonneville and McNary to save a couple hundreds of a percentage points that could be used downriver. The Bonneville to Portland (the Interstate 5 bridge) closure remains in effect.

Steve King and Bill Tweit also shaved back the number of days, hours and fishing area for select area fisheries to, again, reduce impacts. King represented the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife director at both the joint state sport fishing hearing and at the Columbia River Compact meeting which were, essentially, held concurrently. Tweit represented the WDFW director. The Compact sets commercial fishing seasons on the Columbia River mainstem.

The meetings served as a bit of a platform for sport and commercial fishers, both of which feel that they are not being allowed adequate access to what is a relatively bountiful spring chinook return. Fishers spoke of unfair harvest limits that they say will do little to help recover listed fish because the severest causes of the stocks' decline are habitat losses and the effects of federally hydrosystem construction and operation.

The count through Tuesday at Bonneville Dam was 132,918 adult chinook, which doesn't include those fish harvested in the lower river. The recent 10-year average return to the mouth of the river is 122,000.

Sport anglers testifying Monday protested an ODFW-WDFW staff recommendation to close the lower mainstem sport fishery. Tim Schoonover, Larry Swanson and Liz Hamilton pointed to the fact that both the mainstem and select area harvests had exceeded expectations.

The sport fishers "are considerably under and the commercial fleet is considerably over," said Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

Steve Fick pointed out that commercial fishers agreed to the .59 percent share during negotiation of the management agreement that now guides fisheries. The agreement, however, assumed that a 10 percent mortality would be incurred when unmarked fish were released from the so-called "tangle nets" that were employed full fleet last year and for one of the three days this year. But fishery officials this year bumped that mortality rate estimate to 25 percent based on research findings from last year that Fick disputes.

"We in the spirit of cooperation said we could get our share with the .59 percent. All of a sudden some of the impacts we need were no longer there," said Fick, who owns an Astoria fish processing plant. He pointed out that thousands of the select area fish still need to be harvested.

Commercial fisherman Jim Wells said that the industry is responsible for delivering the returning fish to consumers who don't fish themselves, thus supplying another benefit for the tax and electric ratepayer dollars spent on hatcheries and other actions.

The main stem Columbia River remains is open to angling for adipose fin-clipped salmon, adipose fin-clipped steelhead, and shad from the mouth at Buoy 10 upstream to the Interstate 5 Bridge from April 30 through Saturday.

The spring chinook season above Bonneville Dam is open the same four days per week, effective 12:01 a.m., Sunday, May 4. The area from the Tower Island power lines (about 6 miles below The Dalles Dam) upstream to McNary Dam is open Wednesday through Saturday. The upriver fishery closes after Thursday, May 15. The Oregon bank is open under the same four day per week rules between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines.

Since the lower Columbia River opened to sport harvest of spring chinook, anglers have logged 141,200 angler days fishing for the large, good-tasting fish. Anglers have landed 22,800 fish and retained 14,600 hatchery-bred fish from areas below Bonneville Dam. Above Bonneville Dam, anglers have landed 1,140 fish and kept 640 hatchery-bred fish. A total of 6,400 hatchery spring chinook have been landed in a main stem commercial fishery that occurred in March and other 'select' area fisheries that occur just off the main stem Columbia River near Astoria. The select area commercial fisheries continue into May.

Sport fishing for hatchery spring chinook salmon opened April 26 in a portion of the Snake River in southeast Washington.

The fishery is scheduled to run through May 31 in the portion of the river from Texas Rapids boat launch upstream to the Army Corps of Engineers boat launch, which is on the south bank of the river about one mile upstream of Little Goose Dam.

Catch rates will be monitored closely and the fishery may be closed prior to May 31 if the allowable impacts to federally protected wild chinook are met before that time.

All chinook with intact adipose fins and all steelhead must be immediately released unharmed. Adipose fin-clipped chinook must have a healed scar at the location of the missing fin in order to be kept.

Idaho too is getting into the act, where a sport season opened on the lower Clearwater April 12 and on April 26 on the Little Salmon and Lower Salmon rivers.

In a report to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its April 24 meeting in Lewiston, department biologists said the current forecast for Idaho chinook coming over Bonneville Dam is 24 percent higher than the April 3 forecast. The current forecast calls for a count at Bonneville run 180,000 fish after harvests in the lower river. The 1991-2000 average is 70,400 chinook at Bonneville. That average excludes the record upriver spring chinook return to the Columbia River -- 416,500 adults in 2001 -- and the second largest run, 295,100 in 2002. Records have been kept since 1938.

At the other end of the river system, the current forecast for chinook over Lower Granite Dam, the last dam before the fish enter Idaho waters, is 61,000. The 2003 preseason forecast was 43,300. The 1991-2000 average over Lower Granite is 13,700.

In the current forecast, hatchery chinook are expected to number 39,900 while natural fish will number about 21,100, according to the IDFG. Anglers may catch and keep only hatchery chinook.

Through Monday 28, the chinook run over Lower Granite was 27,417. Daily counts over this dam increased considerably starting April 17. The count through April 21 was the second highest number of fish over the dam for this time period in the past 10 years, according to IDFG officials.

Anglers will see a higher than normal percentage of big chinook this year, fish that have spent three years feeding at sea. Biologists are concerned about the two-ocean portion of the run, those fish that have spent two years in the Pacific. The big factors are releases of smolts from hatcheries and survival of those fish as they prepare to return to Idaho.

The Idaho Commission last week approved an expanded chinook season for the Clearwater River. Boundaries for the expanded Clearwater fishery are the Kamiah Bridge, which crosses the river at 67.2 river miles, upstream to a posted boundary on the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River about one-quarter mile upstream of Clear Creek near Kooskia.

This section of the Clearwater was not included when salmon seasons were set for this spring because the run headed to that part of the river appeared weak. The actual run coming over Lower Granite Dam into Idaho is exceeding earlier predictions and there now are adequate numbers of fish to allow fishing within the Kamiah-Kooskia section.

The season began April 26 and is set to end July 6, although it could be closed earlier for biological reasons such as failure of the run to reach expectations or meeting a harvest quota.

Related Sites:

Barry Espenson
Harvest Managers do the Math with Sport, Commercial, Wild
Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 2, 2003

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