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Record Harvest may Put Sport Fishing Over Impact Allocation

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 26, 2002

A record harvest this year in the lower Columbia River mainstem may push recreational fishers over their limit for returning fall chinook salmon, but Oregon and Washington state fishery officials have decided to stay the course.

State officials have projected this week that the ongoing Lower Columbia sport season will result in the catch of 28,000 fall chinook, including 15,960 of the so-called upriver brights. That would exceed the sport fishers' share of the allowable impacts on the upriver run.

The sport angling effort, and success, has been strong throughout the late summer/early fall season with 88,000 angler trips recorded through Sept. 18 in the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam down to the river's mouth. They had caught 22,000 fall chinook through that date. A record high number of boats -- 1,900 -- were counted on that stretch of river on Sept. 13.

Additionally, it is projected that the Buoy 10 sport fishery at the river mouth will result in the harvest of 16,800 fall chinook (including 700 URBs), and it is estimated sport anglers will catch 2,500 chinook (1,730 URBs) in mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. The season is scheduled to run to the end of the year.

If those projections hold true, the sport fisheries would have accounted for a 4.77 percent impact on the estimated upriver run. When combined with the 4.11 percent impact estimate for commercial fisheries in the lower river, the non-Indian impact would be 9.14 percent. That would be well above the 8.25 percent impact established for non-tribal fisheries in a management agreement between the states and tribes.

The management agreement, endorsed by NOAA Fisheries, limits impacts on the upriver run in large part to protect the portion of the run listed under the Endangered Species Act -- wild Snake River fall chinook. An overall harvest impact of 31.29 percent is allowed with 23.04 percent allotted to Lower Columbia treaty fishers. A large portion of the upriver bright run is headed for the Hanford Reach -- home of the Columbia Basin's most robust naturally spawning fall chinook population.

The tribal commercial and ceremonial/subsistence fishers are doing well. Their projected catch in Zone 6 above Bonneville Dam through Thursday is 110,400 chinook. That catch includes an estimated 52,240 URBs, a 13.53 percent impact.

"We're still way below our impacts," said Stuart Ellis, harvest management biologist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. To harvest their entire allocation, the tribes would have to catch 36,700 more brights -- a 9.51 percent impact. But the harvest chances are slipping away with the peak of the fall chinook well past Bonneville Dam.

If the tribes were pressing hard against their impact limit, the states would be forced to manage their fisheries to a strict 8.25 percent impact limit. That means -- given uncertainties about future fishing effort and the stock composition of that catch -- the managers might have had to take "dramatic action," such as closing the season, according to Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But, since it very unlikely that the tribes will approach their limit, the states have decided to manage toward the 8.25 as a target, instead of a hard cap. A memo sent by the states this week informed the tribes of the change in management strategy.

Tweit said the most important factor is that the harvest impact be held within the overall conservation limit.

Daily fall chinook tallies at Bonneville Dam were reduced from record high counts near 40,000 Sept. 11-14, but the pulse was still fairly strong early this week. A Wednesday count of 6,746adult fall chinook brought the total this year to 562,907,161 adults. A total of 342,249 upriver summer steelhead have moved past the lowermost dam on the Columbia through Sept. 23 with that day's count at 1,510.

The fall chinook adult count at McNary -- the fourth dam upriver -- had reached 141,374 with daily counts over the past week ranging from 5,000 to 7,000.

The steelhead, which sometime stall during the late-summer heat, are now in a dead run upriver with counts ranging from 5,000 to 9,000 daily over the past week at The Dalles, John Day and McNary dams on the Columbia. The count at Lower Granite has jumped to 70,381 through Thursday with 3,000 to 5,000 steelhead passing that hydro project daily over the past week.

The multi-agency Technical Advisory Committee this week upgraded the fall chinook forecast -- estimating that a total of 835,300 adults would return to the Columbia River's mouth. That's up from a preseason forecast 595,200 and would be the highest return since 1987 when 871,000 returned.

This year's return is expected to include 386,000 upriver brights, 113,000 Mid-Columbia brights and 188,000 "tules" bound for hatcheries and spawning grounds. A tule count that high would be a record, Ellis said. The tules are mostly the product of Spring Creek hatchery.

TAC has not issued a forecast of the Snake River fall chinook return. A total of 6,563 adult fall chinook had been counted through Tuesday at the lower Snake River's Lower Granite Dam, the eight and final dam the fish must pass.

Nearly 150,000 adults from lower Columbia River are included in the 2003 return total.

The tribal harvest has been slowed in some respects by market prices that make the effort unprofitable for some of the fishermen. Participation has been roughly one-third less than last year.

Wholesale buyers are paying non-tribal commercial about 50 cents per pound brights and coho in recent days, with some sales reported as high as 75 cents for coho, said Doug Case of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Tules are bringing only 4 to 10 cents per pound.

Tribal fishermen are getting 30 to 35 cents per pound for brights, up to 5 cents per pound for tules and 10 to 15 cents per pound for coho and steelhead, Ellis said.

"People have been able to sell their catch. There is a market for them, but at a very low price," Ellis said.

Non-Indian and treaty commercial fisheries are ongoing. The Columbia River Compact on Sept. 19 approved non-Indian gill-net fisheries for the lower river from Beacon Rock near Bonneville Dam to the mouth. The first 48-hour fishery concluded at 6 p.m. Thursday. That will be followed by a 24-hour fishery that begins at 6 p.m. Sunday, a 48-hour opening beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, a 24-hour opening that starts at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 and a 48-hour opening beginning at 6 p.m. Oct. 9.

The non-tribal gill-netters had harvested 30,500 fall chinook from the mainstem through Sept. 19. Another 9,400 chinook have been netted in select area fisheries near the mouth.

The non-tribal fishers have began late last week to really cash in on surging return of coho. They caught nearly 27,000 coho during a 48-hour fishery Sept. 17-19 in the lower mainstem. They also caught 26,000 coho alone during the past week at the Youngs Bay select area. The harvest to-date at the select areas totals more than 90,000 coho.

Last year the tribes caught 130,622 fall chinook, but only 427 after the end of September. The overall 2002 fall chinook return to the Columbia was 733,100 adult fish.

The non-Indian commercial fishers caught 34,949 chinook and 94,875 coho last year in the lower mainstem. They also caught 8,558 chinook and 69,266 coho.

Sport fishers last year caught 47,510 chinook, including 21,200 in the lower river fishery.

Tribal gill-netters are amidst a four-day fishery that ends Sunday evening. They were scheduled to propose additional fisheries today in a meeting with the Columbia River Compact. That entity, with representation from the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments' directors' offices, sets Columbia mainstem commercial fisheries.

Barry Espenson
Record Harvest may Put Sport Fishing Over Impact Allocation
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 26, 2002

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