Robust Run Expected for Columbia River Spring Chinook
by Mark Yuasa
The Seattle Times, December 21, 2008
Today may be the first day of winter, but many salmon anglers are already looking forward to spring and what may be another decent fishing season.
The early outlook for next year's Columbia River spring chinook return has 298,900 fish expected to migrate above Bonneville Dam.
If the run pans out, it would be the third-largest since at least 1980, according to Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
Only the 2001 (437,910) and 2002 (331,303) actual spring chinook returns were larger.
Last year's upriver spring chinook forecast was 269,300; the return ended up being 178,800, or 66 percent of the prediction.
"We had a good jack chinook return, and that is how the forecast is based," Hymer said. "But they are talking about putting a 35 percent buffer on the forecast so that the run isn't overharvested."
Columbia River spring chinook are prized for their tasty, Omega-3-laced, red-orange-colored meat, which is similar to fish from Alaska's Copper River.
The height of the spring chinook return is March and April, when anglers breaking out of the winter doldrums create long lines at boat ramps on both sides of the Columbia.
The sport spring chinook fishery last year around the I-5 Bridge was a huge success, with anglers encountering some of the best fishing in years.
Last spring, 98,429 angler trips were taken from the Columbia mouth up the Bonneville with 20,349 chinook kept and 3,174 released.
Hymer said a poor jack chinook return last year to the Willamette River in Oregon could curtail or possibly cancel fishing below the I-5 Bridge on the lower mainstem this coming season.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last week deferred action on allocating a Columbia River spring chinook catch between sport and commercial fisheries, pending further discussions with Oregon's commission.
The delay followed approval of a plan by the Oregon commission to provide more fishing opportunities for commercial fisheries than recommended by a bi-panel created to develop a joint approach to the controversial catch-sharing issue.
Surprised by that action, Washington commissioners voted to delay their decisions on spring and summer chinook catch plans until Jan. 9-10.
The spring chinook seasons are created to catch a healthy return of hatchery-marked chinook, while protecting poor wild chinook stocks listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
To help develop consistent policies, the Washington and Oregon commissions created the Columbia River Fish Working Group, a panel that includes three commission members, two fishery managers and citizen advisers from each state.
Under the base allocation recommended by the Working Group, the sport fishery would have a 65 percent ceiling on incidental catches of wild fish and the commercial fishery 35 percent. Those shares would vary depending on the run size for the upper Columbia and Willamette rivers.
In a departure from that plan, the Oregon commission voted to give 55 percent to sport and 45 percent to commercial.
Other plans the Working Group recommended are:
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