Fishery Officials Set
Anglers may fish for hatchery-reared Columbia River spring chinook downstream of the I-5 bridge at least through April 19 under an agreement reached last week by Washington and Oregon fishery managers.
At least to begin with, the season will be open seven days per week.
"It's important to recognize that staff expects the season will last significantly longer than April 19," Curt Melcher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a news release. "This is a conservative approach."
It will be the first time in five years that no springer fishing is allowed between Bonneville Dam and the I-5 bridge at Vancouver, though that was typical during poor returns of earlier years.
With poor returns projected for the second straight year, both states agreed to discuss any additional spring chinook sport-fishing days and areas in mid-April.
By then, fishery managers will have catch data and an updated forecast of the run size. At this point, biologists predict that 161,400 spring chinook will enter the Columbia River in 2006, with 88,400 destined for tributaries upstream of Bonneville. Last year, 195,400 actually entered the river after biologists predicted a run of more than 400,000 fish.
The Willamette River run is forecast at 46,500, the worst in seven years. Concentrating this year's recreational fishery in the lower river will help protect will fish destined for rivers upstream of Bonneville Dam while helping to extend the fishing season, said Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"By focusing the fishery on the lower river -- where hatchery fish from several runs predominate -- we can extend the fishing season."
Handling mortality for wild upriver fish is the primary constraint on the spring chinook fishery, Tweit said.
Sports anglers and commercial fishermen must release wild salmon or steelhead they catch. Mortality rates for released wild chinook -- also known as "allowable impact" -- cannot exceed 2 percent of the wild run, under federal ESA guidelines.
In recent years, actual mortality rates have been well below the ESA limit, said Tweit, noting that both states have been managing the sport and commercial fisheries early in the year as if the allowable impact were 1.5 percent. More fishing days will be added if the run size comes in as predicted, he said.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon also reconciled the two states' policies establishing how the allowable incidental mortality rate will be apportioned between recreational and commercial fisheries.
Earlier last month, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to allocate 60 percent of the allowable mortality rate to the sport fishery and 40 percent to the commercial fishery -- the policy in effect for the previous two years. A week earlier, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to allocate 55 percent of incidental wild chinook mortalities to the sport fishery and 45 percent to the commercial fleet, allowing a 5 percent shift in either direction.
Fish and wildlife directors for both states agreed to a compromise -- allocating 57 percent of the allowable mortality to the sport fishery and 43 percent to the commercial fishery. Biologists predict that sport anglers will harvest at least 30,900 spring chinook in the Columbia River and tributaries and commercial boats will harvest at least 6,700 hatchery chinook in the Columbia River and lower river bays ("select areas"). Commercial fishing seasons won't be established until late February.
The rules adopted last week allow anglers to fish for adipose fin-clipped chinook, adipose fin-clipped steelhead and shad from through April 19 seven days a week from the Columbia River mouth upstream to the I-5 bridge.
In addition, the area from the Tower Island power lines upstream to McNary Dam plus the Oregon bank between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines will be open March 16 -- April 30.
Washington anglers may retain two adult salmon and two adult steelhead per day. Oregon anglers may retain two adult salmon or steelhead per day.
In other action, the two states agreed to expand the sturgeon spawning sanctuary below Bonneville Dam from the current five miles to seven miles in length to give additional protection to the fish. As a result, from May 1 to July 31 angling for sturgeon will be prohibited from Marker 85 to Bonneville Dam.
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