No One's Happy with
by Allen Thomas
Conflict swirls constantly around Columbia River salmon management. It's as much a part of the river as the tides and eddies of the stream itself. One group is chafed about the fisheries of another incessantly.
So who's upset with who right now: Both the Columbia treaty tribes and the non-Indian lower river gillnetters are irked at the Washington and Oregon fishery agencies over the summer chinook season.
Sport fishermen between Tongue Point near Astoria and Bonneville Dam got an eight-day summer chinook season, which was calculated to be the amount of time it would take them to catch 1,200 salmon.
It turns out the catch average was about as expected (a salmon per 11 angler trips), but the fishing effort was greater than anticipated and the lower Columbia catch will be about 2,000 chinook. The season ended Saturday.
Fishing was better than anticipated upstream of Bonneville Dam, too. A catch of 500 was projected and the actual harvest will be more like 700.
So it turns out the total sport catch is about 2,700, not the 1,700 originally anticipated.
The summer chinook run forecast has been upgraded from 52,000 to 60,000, and that increases the sport share to 2,137, still way below the actual catch of about 2,700.
The tribes vented first at last week's Columbia River Compact when Terry Goudy-Rambler of the Yakamas told the states she was disappointed they can't control the sport fishery.
Gary Soderstrom, president of the Columbia River Fisheries Protective Union, an Astoria-based gillnetters group, said he shared the tribal concern.
Sportsmen are getting so efficient they might need the same onboard monitoring that the commercials receive, he said.
He was adamant the gillnet fleet not be shorted summer chinook due to the sport overage.
"We want those fish taken out of a sports fishery, not from us," he said. "We need every one of these summer chinook. They're a good quality fish."
With summer chinook fishing closed, the only sport fishery where those salmon could come from is upstream of Priest Rapids Dam.
Les Clark of the Northwest Gillnetters Association added, "The sport fishery seems to be getting out of hand all the time."
The lower Columbia net fleet also is exasperated by the management of the surprisingly strong sockeye run.
A return of 75,000 was forecast, and that's been upgraded to at least 210,000, which would be the third best since counting began at Bonneville Dam in 1938.
Sockeye are the sea-going version of a kokanee, while means they are great table fare.
The new Columbia River salmon harvest sharing agreement with the treaty tribes allows non-Indians a catch of no more than 1 percent of the sockeye run, no matter how large the return.
The tribal shares slides between 5 percent and 7 percent of the run.
That means non-Indians only can take about 2,100 sockeye this year, even with the excellent return. About 630 sockeye total were taken by sportsmen during the steelhead and chinook fisheries, and by the commercials in their chinook fishery last week.
The net fleet had a six-hour sockeye fishery on Monday between Washougal and Beacon Rock and could keep sockeye in their chinook fishery on Tuesday night.
Jack Marincovich of the Columbia River Fisheries Protective Union said there should be a sliding scale, where non-Indians get 1 percent at 100,000 sockeye, 2 percent at 200,000 and 3 percent at 300,000.
"We've been waiting 40 years for a record run of sockeye," he said. "It's going to be the largest run since Bonneville Dam was built."
Soderstrom, CRFPU president, was upset that Monday's commercial fishery was in the Columbia Gorge, far from the processing plants and other infrastructure.
The huge sockeye return eventually will result in a "snag-fest" in the Okanogan River, he said.
"You're leaving the consumer completely out of the picture," Soderstrom said. "He's paying for that recovery."
Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the 1 percent limit on non-Indian sockeye harvest is to protect Snake River sockeye, which are mingled in the Columbia with sockeye headed for the Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers.
Snake River sockeye are probably the stock most in risk of extinction. Most years, the return to the Stanley Basin in central Idaho is around a dozen sockeye, thus the need for extreme caution.
If big sockeye runs become common, the states will initiate consultation with the federal government to discuss increasing the non-Indian share, Norman said.
Sport vs. sport
There's been a simmering dispute within the sport-fishing community regarding Columbia River summer chinook regulations: specifically if fin-clipped chinook should have to be released (the case with spring chinook) or kept.
Summer chinook originate in Washington waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.
Years of work to improve habitat and integrate the wild fish with the hatchery fish has resulted in a relatively stable return.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's position is there is no real difference between the naturally spawning summer chinook and the hatchery fish, and that enough natural spawners are making it to the gravel to seed the limited habitat fully.
Thus, the states allow anglers to keep any summer chinook, fin-clipped or not.
Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association told the states last week the sport harvest might not have exceeded its allocation if only fin-clipped fish were kept.
NSIA position always has been to keep the ethic of releasing non-clipped fish, which also will result in longer fishing seasons.
Steve Watrous of Columbia Pacific Anglers thanked the states for the current rules.
"We're thrilled with the opportunity that we can recover a wild run to a strength where we can harvest those fish," he said. "The guys love not having to release those fish that aren't clipped. They are a thrill, and a primo fish.
Columbia River is Thick with Sockeye Salmon by Phil Ferolito, Yakima Herald, 7/3/8
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs