Portions of the Snake River
by Mark Yuasa
Here is Idaho's take on the spring chinook returns headed up into their neck of the woods by staff reporter Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune Newspaper:
Officials in Washington and Oregon have established 2011 spring chinook fishing regulations for the Columbia River.
The preseason forecast calls for 198,400 upriver spring chinook to return to the mouth of the Columbia. Upriver chinook are those that return at least as far as Bonneville Dam and do not include those that return to lower river tributaries such as the Willamette.
To account for variability between the prediction and the actual size of the return, the two states are designing their fishery on a run size 30 percent smaller than the prediction, or about 139,000. If the run comes in as strong or stronger than the prediction, the catch quotas can be raised.
Based on the buffered prediction, sport anglers fishing in the lower Columbia, below Bonneville Dam, will be allowed to catch a total of 7,750 spring chinook; commercial fishermen, also fishing below Bonneville, will be allowed to catch 2,100 fish; and anglers above Bonneville River, including the lower Snake River in Washington, will be allowed to catch 1,650 chinook.
The states adopted the buffer two years ago after criticism from upriver states like Idaho and Columbia River Indian tribes. Idaho and the tribes were concerned fishing seasons based on preseason forecasts often led to overharvest when the run size is smaller than predicted.
Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said even with the buffer, the lower river fishing tends to concentrate harvest on spring chinook bound for Idaho. That is because fish returning to Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins and the hatcheries on the Clearwater River tend to be some of the earliest returning fish.
"The buffer helps Idaho if the run comes in at forecast or larger," he said. "If the run comes in less than forecast, the harvest was still on the earliest part of the run."
The spring chinook season is open from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia to the Interstate 5 Bridge over the river. Fishing from the bridge to Rooster Rock, about 22 miles upstream, will open March 1 through April 4 unless the buffer is hit before that time.
Fisheries managers will update the size of the run sometime in May. So sport fishing could be closed for a number of weeks even if the run is as big as predicted. That will allow more fish bound for the Snake River to escape those fisheries.
Cindy LeFleur, a fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Vancouver, said roughly 600 chinook could be harvested from the lower Snake River. Glen Mendel, district fish biologist for the department at Dayton, said seasons for the Snake River have yet to be set.
"We are definitely considering opening some portion of the Snake River," he said. "We probably won't be able to open all four areas we had open in 2010."
Fisheries managers in Idaho have not set spring chinook seasons. The seasons are typically designed by biologists for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and then voted on by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.
The department will present a fishing season proposal to the commission in March. Hassemer said of the 198,000 upriver spring chinook forecasted to return to the mouth of the Columbia, about 66,000 should be hatchery fish bound for the Snake River and 24,000 should be wild Snake River fish.
Last year about 134,000 chinook bound for the Snake River returned at least as far as the mouth of the Columbia. Even though this year's return is forecast to be smaller, Hassemer said the return will be the eighth largest since 1980.
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