Harvest Managers Open Sport
by CBB Staff
Remain Cautious On Commercial Fishery
Oregon and Washington fishery managers took a cautious approach Thursday in setting Columbia River commercial fisheries for summer chinook salmon, mindful of a spring chinook forecast gone bad and chinook problems up and down the coast.
Commercial fishermen had asked the Columbia River Compact Thursday to move up by eight days, from June 25 instead of June 17, a proposed 10-hour harvest window on the Columbia mainstem from Bonneville down to the river mouth. They said it would allow them to take advantage of a market devoid of fresh, wild-caught salmon, beating the approaching ocean troll fishery to the punch.
"The market's wide open," fisherman Jim Wells of Salmon for All told the Compact, which is made up of representatives of the Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife directors.
The gill-netters also said it would allow a Columbia fishery for boats that will soon leave for Alaska harvesting. And it would avoid conflicts with the lower river (below Bonneville) sport fishery, set for June 21-28.
And last but not least, it would allow some "make up" after they had to pull their nets from the river last summer and again this spring before harvesting their full salmon allocation. The fleet and anglers split a non-tribal salmon harvest allocation, intended to limit the harvest of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. The recreational fishers caught more than their share in 2007 summer chinook and 2008 spring chinook fisheries, filling up the combined non-tribal impact limit.
"We have stayed within our guidelines and other fisheries have not. We should get rewarded for that," Salmon for All's Steve Fick told the Compact. An early outing would give them a better chance to harvest their allocation, the gill-netters said.
The arguments make much sense, Bill Tweit of the WDFW said. But conservation concerns are paramount. He noted chinook concerns that are, for the most part, coastwide, such as forecast returns at historic lows in such places as the Sacramento River and Oregon coastal tributaries, altered run timing and other issues.
The return of upriver spring chinook to the Columbia River was forecast in preseason to number a healthy 269,300 adult fish. But the run has not materialized. The falling forecasts, updated in-season, will likely result in the non-treaty mainstem harvests exceeding ESA limits.
The latest forecast is for an upriver spring chinook return of 180,000 to the mouth of the river. Through Wednesday, 143,696 spring chinook had passed Bonneville Dam. For fishery management purposes, chinook passing Bonneville through June 15 are classified as "spring" chinook. From June 16 to Aug. 1 the passing fish are counted as summer stocks.
During the spring season anglers caught nearly 20,000 chinook on the mainstem with the vast majority being upriver stocks, fish bound for tributaries and spawning grounds above Bonneville. The gill-net fleet caught just under 4,800.
Tweit said that he felt the need to delay the summer commercial fishery "and watch the run a little bit" to make sure it is trending toward the preseason forecast.
He said fishing next week would surely involve a large fleet, given high market prices and the fact that none of the boats will have left for Alaska. That ups the chance of a higher than desired harvest.
"I can't find any fault in that logic," the ODFW's Tony Nigro said of the need to assure that summer chinook escapement goals are achieved. The Upper Columbia summer chinook stock are not ESA-listed but listed Snake River spring-summer chinook are still trailing through. A delay, Tweit and Nigro said, would allow more of the Snake River fish to clear the lower Columbia.
Nigro said the Compact needed to remain sensitive, in setting future fisheries, of the need to "restore some equity" and give both the sport and commercial fisheries a fair chance to harvest their allocation.
The Compact decided to set two 10-hour commercial fisheries that begin at 7 p.m. on June 25 and on July 1. The fleet can catch and sell chinook, coho, white sturgeon and shad.
Also approved were tribal hook and line and platform fisheries beginning June 16 and continuing until further notice in the mainstem above Bonneville. Tribal fisherman can sell chinook, coho, steelhead, white sturgeon, shad and carp.
A tribal gill-net fishery was also approved. It begins at 6 a.m. June 23 and continues until 6 p.m. June 25.
The Upper Columbia summer chinook are destined for areas above Priest Rapids Dam. The 2008 preseason forecast is for a return of 52,000 adult summer chinook to the mouth of the river, up from 37,200 last year. The forecast for upriver summer steelhead is about 325,000, similar to last year.
Under a 10-year management agreement between states and lower Columbia treaty tribes, a summer chinook run of that size allows the harvest of 22,500 fish. That number is split with 11,250 fish for treaty Indian fisheries and 11,250 for non-treaty fisheries, which includes commercial, recreational, and non-treaty tribal fisheries above McNary Dam.
The sport fishery for summer chinook salmon will open Monday, June 16, from Bonneville Dam upstream to Priest Rapids Dam and run through July 31.
The fishery for summer steelhead, delayed for the past month below Portland's Interstate 5, will also open Monday from the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream of Astoria up to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco. As in past years, anglers must release any steelhead not marked as a hatchery-reared fish by a clipped adipose fin.
"A lot of anglers are anxious for an opportunity to fish for salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River," said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the WDFW. "They're finally going to get that opportunity."
To conserve spring chinook, fishery managers closed fishing early in some areas and delayed the hatchery steelhead season in the lower river to prevent the incidental catch of spring chinook in that fishery.
Most of those fish have now moved upriver to spawning areas and fish hatcheries, clearing the way for summer chinook and steelhead fisheries, according to WDFW biologist Joe Hymer.
"Summer chinook and spring chinook are completely different critters," Hymer said. "For one thing, summer chinook are a lot bigger -- sometimes running to 40 and even 50 pounds. Spring chinook generally average between 12 to 20 pounds."
Because of their size, Hymer recommends that anglers use heavy fishing gear to bring in a summer chinook, also known as "summer hogs." He also cautions against anchoring in deep water, noting that the Columbia River has been running high and fast with snowmelt.
"Most summer chinook stay fairly close to the bank, anyway," Hymer said.
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