Summer Chinook Fishing
COLUMBIA RIVER - Tribal and non-Indian commercial fishermen, and anglers as well, get to test the Columbia River mainstem waters for adult salmon for the first time since early this spring with the opening of fisheries targeting what is expected to be the largest summer Chinook run since 2002.
The mainstem sport season opens June 16. The Columbia River Compact last Thursday approved 10-hour non-tribal commercial fisheries that begin on the evenings of June 17 (from the river mouth upstream to the Interstate 205 bridge between Portland and Vancouver) and June 22 (from the mouth 146 miles upstream to Bonneville Dam).
The Compact, charged with setting mainstem commercial fisheries, also approved 2 1/2-day tribal commercial fisheries in Columbia River reservoirs above Bonneville Dam. The first begins at 6 a.m. June 18; the second begins at 6 a.m. Tuesday, June 22.
The Compact is comprised of representatives of the directors of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
The 2010 forecast is for a return of 88,800 adult upper Columbia summer Chinook to the mouth of the Columbia. That would be considerably greater than 2009's actual return of 59,000 fish.
The average run size between 1999 and 2008 was 56,600 adults, which was three times greater than the average run size of the 1980s and four times greater than the average run size of the 1990s. Fishery managers credit the improved summer Chinook status to hatchery supplementation and improved natural habitat.
Since 2002, the majority of the hatchery production has been mass-marked with an adipose fin clip. Natural-spawning populations also contribute to the run, and may represent as much as half of the total return. Summer Chinook redds are found in the Columbia, Wenatchee, Okanogan, Methow, Similkameen, Chelan and Entiat rivers.
Long sport season
The summer Chinook sport fishery is expected to be the longest in years, possibly stretching from June 16 through the end of July. That's because, based on public support during the North of Falcon salmon allocation process last winter, the states decided to implement a mark-selective fishery that will likely prolong the retention season. For the first time since 2005 anglers can keep only hatchery fish that are marked with a clipped fin.
The mark-selective fishery is expected to allow the escapement upriver of more unmarked wild fish. Many of those fish will be allowed to spawn naturally and others will be used primarily by the Colville Tribes, to fuel expanded operations that will be enabled by construction of the Chief Joseph Hatchery on the mid-Columbia. Ground was broken for the hatchery recently but the facility will not be completed until 2012.
In 2002, the states opened a recreational summer Chinook fishery downstream from Bonneville Dam during June 28 to July 31 for the first time since 1973. A high mark rate of hatchery summer Chinook allowed the states to adopt mark-selective fishery regulations to provide an opportunity to harvest abundant hatchery Chinook while limiting the impact to ESA-listed wild Snake River summer Chinook. The upper Columbia summer Chinook are not listed and are considered a healthy population stock.
That conflict is still a concern, as noted by fishery managers, anglers and commercial fishermen during testimony before the Compact Thursday.
Anglers argued that the non-tribal commercial opener should be delayed to allow any spring Chinook that remain in the lower river to escape upstream. Fish counts at Bonneville Dam have dropped off steeply in recent days, more or less in sync with the dramatic rise in the volume of water flowing down through the system. One theory is that the large volume of water, and resulting involuntary spill at Columbia-Snake river dams, is causing the fish to pause.
Get nets in the water early
But the WDFW's Guy Norman and ODFW's Steve Williams agreed with staff that it would be better to get the nets in the water early and sweep in a large share of the commercial fishermen's summer Chinook allocation. Typically half of the summer Chinook run passes through the lower Columbia by the end of June and Bonneville counts drop off rapidly in July.
Catching more summer Chinook early means that fewer fisheries will have to be approved later in order to allow the fleet to harvest their allocation, Williams said. Fewer fisheries means fewer chances that listed fish, such as the spring Chinook, sockeye and summer steelhead, will encounter the gillnets.
It is estimated that the two non-tribal fisheries approved last week will net from 3,200 to 4,300 summer Chinoook. Based on a harvest management agreement between states and tribes, and the predicted run size, the commercial fleet can catch as many as 5,450 summer Chinook below Bonneville.
This year's allocation for anglers is 5,450 fish in the mainstem from Priest Rapids Dam on the mid-Columbia down to the river mouth. That allocation includes 4,100 summer Chinook below Bonneville and 1,350 between Bonneville and Priest Rapids.
A total of 13,400 summer Chinook are available for harvest for non-treaty fishermen - which includes the Colville and Wanapum tribes - above Priest Rapids.
The treaty allocation is based on the preseason forecast return of 25,500. The treaty tribes - the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama - estimate that they will catch from 7,000 to 9,000 summer Chinook and from 3,500 to 4,500 sockeye salmon during the two scheduled fisheries. The planned commercial fisheries include the two gillnet seasons, the sale of fish caught from platforms and scaffolding and with hook and lines in reservoirs above Bonneville and limited platform and hook and line fisheries below Bonneville.
There has been in place an interim escapement goal of 29,000 hatchery and natural origin adult summer Chinook, as measured as the river mouth. But for runs greater than 50,000 that escapement goal is increased. This year's goal, again based on the preseason forecast, is 39,000 fish.
An estimated 453,000 upriver summer steelhead are expected to pass Bonneville Dam in 2010, which would be 139 percent of the recent 10-year average of 326,000 fish.
The 2010 sockeye forecast of 125,200 fish to the Columbia River mouth is considered a strong run compared to the 10-year average of 97,000 fish. The forecast includes 14,300 Wenatchee stock, 110,300 Okanogan stock, and 600 Snake River sockeye.
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