Tribes to Seek More Fish Daysby CBB Staff
Tribal fishers casting their nets in Columbia River reservoirs above Bonneville Dam hauled in a total of 2,107 adult summer chinook salmon, 326 steelhead and 10 sockeye this week during a rare-midsummer commercial fishery.
The fishery was the first commercial venture on the Columbia mainstem to target summer chinook since 1965. Fishing has been limited because the summer chinook populations, which are bound for the Columbia and Snake upper reaches, had been on the rocks for several decades. The returns dropped to as low 15,150 and 15,052 fish, respectively, in 1992 and 1995. The past few years have seen their numbers rebound.
The fishery was requested by the lower Columbia River treaty fishing tribes after the projected return of summer chinook to the Columbia River mouth was revised to 120,000 adult fish. That would be the second biggest return since 1960. The biggest was 129,000 fish last year. The wild Snake River portion of the run is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Upper Columbia run is not.
The tribes, under a state/tribal/federal management agreement, are allowed to harvest 5 percent of the upriver summer chinook run. Under the current forecast, that amounts to 6,000 fish. The tribes project that they will catch 850 chinook in platform fisheries. When added to the commercial total the tribal catch remains under 3,000 fish.
"It's almost certain that the tribes will propose another 2 ½-day season next week," said Stuart Ellis, to Stuart Ellis, harvest management biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. CRITFC represents the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes. A meeting of the Columbia River Compact is scheduled this afternoon (July 18) to consider the tribes' proposal if they decide they want to fish again. The Oregon-Washington Compact sets mainstem commercial fisheries.
So far (through Wednesday) 101,623 adult summer chinook have made their way through lower river sport fishers to be counted crossing Bonneville Dam. The count at Lower Granite Dam -- the eighth and final hydro project the fish pass on their way to the Snake River headwaters -- was 15,300 with daily counts dwindling recently to well below 100. The summer chinook count at Priest Rapids Dam on the mid-Columbia was 58,919 through Wednesday.
With 1,040 in hand already from platform fisheries, the tribes predict that their 2003 catch of sockeye will total 1,200 fish or 3 percent of the overall upriver run. The sockeye run is expected to total 40,000. The tribes take is limited to 5 percent of the run. Sockeye can only be kept for subsistence purposes.
Ellis credited a minimum net size restriction, 7 ½ inches, and the fact that most of the run had already sped through the fishing area, with limiting the commercial fishery's impact on the sockeye. The smaller fish slip through the net while the chinook, most weighing in excess of 20 pounds, become ensnared.
The tribal fishers deployed 201 nets during this week's fishery with the best success in the lower John Day pool, and in the Bonneville pool, Ellis said.
Data gathered at Bonneville indicates that 48 percent summer chinook are 5-year-olds with 34 percent being 4-year-olds and the balance being 2-year-old jacks (less than 1 percent were 6-year-olds).
"Normally the run would be dominated by 4-year-old fish," Ellis said of a phenomenon also witnessed in this year's spring chinook return. Fish counted at Bonneville through May are tallied as spring chinook while those crossing between June 1 and July 31 are counted as summer chinook.
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