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Sport-fishing Closures Over Small Run

by Hal Bernton
The Seattle Times, April 20, 2005

Washington and Oregon fishing managers yesterday announced sweeping sport-fishing closures on the Columbia River to protect a troubled run of endangered spring chinook salmon.

The closure will take effect at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow. It includes the entire main-stem river below McNary Dam down to the mouth of the Columbia, at Buoy 10. The closure, however, does not affect fishing for hatchery chinook in Columbia River tributaries that include the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis, Wind and Klickitat rivers.

The action also closes steelhead and shad fishing in the main-stem river.

In the initial harvest plan, state officials had scheduled sport-fish openings through May 15. And if the run picks up, more openings still could be scheduled.

But as of Monday, only 1,544 chinook had been counted at the Bonneville Dam, compared with a 10-year average of more than 50,000 chinook by that date. And state fishery managers are unsure whether the run is late arriving, very weak, or some combination of the two. They now believe that the mix of hatchery and wild chinook returning this spring will fall well short of pre-season forecasts of more than 250,000 fish.

The spring chinook are a prized sport fish, and anglers made 96,500 fishing trips this spring to the Columbia River. They caught 11,300 chinook, and kept 8,700 of the hatchery fish. Wild chinook, which do not have a fin clip, must be released.

The spring chinook also are fished commercially. But yesterday's action will sidelined the gill-net fleet in three zones on the Lower Columbia River.

Tribal fisheries for spring chinook also exist throughout the Columbia Basin, and the lack of fish has caused great concern among tribal fishermen who work in river boats and from the shore. These fisheries are affirmed in treaty rights that -- under court decisions -- entitle the tribes to land half the harvestable amount of fish, according to Charles Hudson of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Ceremonial fishing is taking place now above Bonneville Dam, but the catch has been minimal -- under 100 fish, according to Hudson.

The catch will be monitored very closely and will stay within guidelines agreed to by federal, state and tribal biologists, Hudson said.

Seattle Times staff reporter Hal Bernton
Sport-fishing Closures Over Small Run
The Seattle Times, April 20, 2005

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