the film
Commentaries and editorials

Chinook Jacks May Go Legal

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 15, 2003

Idaho eyes Washington's seeking OK for fall catch of hatchery fish

Steelhead anglers are becoming accustomed to occasionally hooking fall chinook in September and October.

If a proposal by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is accepted, anglers could be allowed to keep some of those salmon.

The department is asking the federal government for permission to hold a fishery on hatchery fall chinook jacks this fall. Improved ocean conditions and growing output by hatcheries has led to increases in both the wild and hatchery runs of fall chinook.

"We are in a pretty sharp upswing in the Snake River," said Glen Mendel, southeast Washington fisheries manager for Washington Fish and Wildlife at Dayton.

Wild fall chinook are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and the hatchery run of fall chinook has struggled for decades.

Because of that, any fishery on the largest of the Snake River chinook family would have to be approved by the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Right now we believe we can build toward recovery and still have some harvest opportunity," said Mendel.

He expects to forward a formal proposal to the agency this week. Idaho is monitoring the proposal and could join Washington in its request.

Along with the proposed season on jack chinook this year, the department will seek a season on adult fall chinook for either next year or the year after, according to Mendel. He said the jack fishery would allow steelhead anglers who catch hatchery marked fall chinook to keep up to two of the fish per day.

Jack chinook are salmon that spend only one year in the ocean instead of two or three before returning to spawn. By Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulation, any chinook that is less than 24 inches long is considered a jack.

Fall chinook return to the Snake River in August, September and October to spawn in November and December. The proposed season would run from Sept. 1 or 15 to about the middle of October.

Mendel said anglers probably won't target the jacks but will keep them when they are incidentally hooked in the steelhead fishery. If a season on adult fall chinook is approved next year it would likely create a buzz.

"I think once we start going after adults it will attract a lot of new anglers that want to go after salmon, and it will then be a targeted fishery and hopefully we can do that in just a short number of years," he said.

The department has to clear several hurdles before the fishery can occur. The federal fisheries agency would have to agree that holding a fishery on either hatchery jacks or adults would not pose a threat to wild fall chinook. Mendel said the agency seems receptive to the idea but merely getting through the lengthy process in time for fishing this fall will be tough.

The Snake River fall chinook run experienced a slow decline starting in the 1950s and bottomed out with 78 adult chinook in 1990. It slowly crept up in the 1990s and has soared the last three years with an average of 20,500 adult and jack chinook returning to Ice Harbor Dam.

About 17,000 wild and hatchery fall chinook are expected to return above Lower Granite Dam this year. Of those about 1,000 hatchery jack chinook will be available for harvest and more will be available in the Snake River below the dam.

Many of the chinook are raised at the Lyons Ferry Hatchery built to grow salmon for anglers and make up for or mitigate fish killed by the Lower Snake River dams. The hatchery now has a role in salmon recovery but still functions as a mitigation facility.

The Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Power and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are also producing hatchery fall chinook. Mendel said only about 30 percent of the hatchery chinook in the Snake River are marked by having their adipose fins clipped.

The department is also proposing increasing the daily hatchery steelhead bag limit to three fish per day.

"If we do that and you also have the opportunity to take two hatchery fall chinook jacks, it could be a pretty good day if you limit out."

Eric Barker
Chinook Jacks May Go Legal
Lewiston Tribune, August 15, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation