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Fishing Compact Weighs Fall Chinook Impacts

Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 17, 1999

Sport fishermen were put on hold in the Columbia River below Bonneville this week until state and federal officials can reassess the size of the incoming fall chinook run and the combined impact that the recreationists and tribal and non-tribal commercial fishers have had to-date on listed Snake River fall chinook.

Representatives from Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions agreed Sept. 10 to suspend the sport-fishing season from the river's mouth at Buoy 10 to Bonneville. The suspension, effective Sept. 14, applies only to the taking of fall chinook.

Mainstem sports fishers can still keep hatchery coho salmon and steelhead, which have no adipose fin on their back between the dorsal fin and tail. Likewise, anglers at Buoy 10 must release chinook but can keep hatchery coho or steelhead that they net, as well as sturgeon. The Zone 6 fall chinook sport fishery above Bonneville remains open.

The states' representatives to the Columbia River Compact agreed to the suspension so that some of the allowable impact on fall chinook would be preserved for non-Indian commercial fishers. The bi-state compact was created to set mainstem commercial fishing seasons.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has, via a biological opinion, established limits on the impacts fishers can have on wild Snake River fall chinook, listed as threatened in 1992 under the Endangered Species Act. That impact is measured as a 31.29 harvest rate of the total upriver bright fall chinook run, of which the Snake River chinook is a part.

A 1999 fall season management agreement reached in U.S. v Oregon negotiations between tribes, states and federal agencies gave non-tribal fishers 8 percent of that impact with the remaining 23.29 percent allotted the lower Columbia River treaty tribes.

Treaty rights validated in U.S. v Oregon and other court cases give the four treaty tribes the right to harvest 50 percent of the harvestable surplus fall chinook that enter the river's mouth. That treaty allocation includes "tules" or Bonneville pool hatchery chinook as well as the mid-Columbia and upriver brights.

That agreement contained a caveat -- if runs came in above preseason predictions the tribes would gain 2 percent of that impact, leaving the non-tribal impact limit at 6 percent. The additional tribal impact would be needed to assure the tribes their treaty share of the fish.

Run updates presented Sept. 10 did show a marked increase from the earlier predictions with 168,000 upriver and Mid-Columbia brights expected to reach Bonneville Dam compared to a preseason forecast of 115,000. The updated tule run fell from a preseason expectation of 61,000 to 45,000 at the in-season update.

Another update is planned today (Sept. 17), after which the Compact will decide whether to revive the lower river sport fishery and consider further tribal fisheries.

The estimated non-tribal impacts on the listed Snake River fish were being tracked to within hundredths of a percentage point. A joint Oregon-Washington summary of impacts presented Sept. 10 projected total seasonal impacts at 4.79 percent, including completed sport and commercial fisheries and estimates for uncompleted sport fisheries.

"We have not included any commercial fisheries that may be adopted in the future," the ODFW's Patrick Frazier told the Compact.

Burnie Bohn, Oregon's representative to the Compact, asked Frazier what the anticipated impact would be from commercial coho and sturgeon fisheries that had been promised in the management agreement. The answer was a 1.9 percent incidental impact on upriver brights which, when combined with the 4.79 percent, would broach the 6 percent non-tribal impact limit.

Bohn said it was his commission's desire to suspend the fall chinook sport fishery until the run size could be more closely evaluated.

"The intent here is to accommodate all of the fisheries," Bohn said. The Buoy 10 fall chinook sport fishery surpassed expectations with 10,000 chinook catches compared to an expectation of 8,900. The proportion of upriver brights, the fish used to gauge ESA impacts was 24 percent compared to an expectation of 15 percent.

"Frankly it went a little further than it should have," Bohn said. The lower Columbia mainstem fishery has also been successful, chipping away at the total allowed upriver bright impacts.

Les Clark of the Northwest Gillnetters Association attended the Compact to plead the case for the non-tribal commercial fishers. He said in the past sport anglers had been given preference on the lower river.

"There's absolutely no equity in the sharing of the harvest" or in imposing restraints to conserve listed fish, Clark said. "It's a pretty one-sided situation."

Jack Marinkovich of the Columbia River Protective Union echoed Clark in asking the Compact to "find some way so we can leave some impact" for the commercial fishers.

A Beaverton fishing guide said state officials need to look at the first-come, first-served policy that allows the Buoy 10 fishery to absorb such a large share of the impacts.

"We need to take a hard look next year at reducing that fishery," Bob Singley said. "Everyone up above has to worry about whether or not we're going to have a season."

Singley also said it was "disheartening to see that the run's up and the non-Indian fisheries have to give up 2 percent" of its allowed impact.

Bohn said that in the management agreement negotiations the tribes had agreed to let the non-Indian fisheries have minimum 6 percent impact. Without that guarantee, it is likely the states would have already had to close sport fisheries to ensure that the tribes had the ability to get the 50 percent treaty allocation.

The Compact approved the tribes' third commercial gillnet season of the late summer-fall. The tribal proposal was for a Zone 6 fishery Sept. 15-18 with an anticipated catch of 17,000 chinook, including 10,300 upriver and 2,200 Mid-Columbia brights and 4,500 Bonneville Pool hatchery tules.

If those projections hold true, the tribal fishers would have caught 63,180 fall chinook through Sept. 18 with 345.5 among that number being Snake River wild fall chinook. That would calculate to be a 21.27 percent impact, leaving tribal fishers with roughly 4 percent remaining impact under current run projections. Those numbers could change following today's (Sept. 17) run update.

That projected harvest through Sept. 18 also estimates a 8 percent impact on Group B Snake River steelhead. The fishery is being managed not to exceed a 15 percent harvest rate on the listed wild group B fish.

Barry Espenson
Fishing Compact Weighs Fall Chinook Impacts
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 17, 1999

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