Mainstem Commercial Fishery Set for Sturgeon, Fall Chinookby Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 1, 2003
Commercial fishers will begin testing the Columbia River mainstem's waters Monday night, the first of three 12-hour fishing periods targeting sturgeon and early arriving fall chinook salmon approved this week by the Columbia River Compact.
The Oregon/Washington Compact, which sets mainstem commercial seasons, started the non-Indian commercial fleet's fall season off fisheries from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Aug. 4, 6 and 11.
This year's fall chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia is expected to number 595,200 adults, which would be the fifth largest since 1948. Last year's return of 733,100 was the largest since 1988.
The gill netters are expected to catch between 4,000 and 7,000 chinook and between 1,400 and 2,100 white sturgeon during the three fishing days. Based on the run size prediction, the commercial fleet can catch up to 10,400 chinook during the first two weeks of August. The Compact will meet again Aug. 12 to review salmon, steelhead and sturgeon stock status and consider additional fishing days. The fleet will be fishing from the river mouth upstream to a boundary that extends from Warrior Rock on Oregon's Sauvie Island to the Lewis River on the Washington shore.
A management agreement between the states, tribes and federal entities sets limits on fishery impacts to the "upriver bright" portion of the run, which includes the Snake River stock that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The vast-majority of the so-called URBs are bound for spawning grounds on the Columbia's Hanford reach.
The four lower Columbia treaty tribes are allotted a 23.04 percent impact and non-Indian sport and commercial fishers share an 8.25 percent impact. The non-tribal share is split further with sport fishery getting 52 percent and the commercial fishery 48 percent of the non-tribal allowable impacts.
The agreement calls for the overall 31.29 percent impact to be adjusted if the fall chinook forecast is adjusted up or down during the course of the season. The chinook passing through Bonneville Dam are officially being counted as fall chinook beginning today, Aug. 1. From June 1 through July 31 the fish accounting process calls chinook swimming past the Columbia's lowermost dam summer chinook and prior to June they are tallied as spring chinook.
The preseason fall chinook forecast anticipates a return of 376,400 "brights" -- 63 percent of the fall chinook run. That includes 258,400 URBs -- which would be the second largest since 1989. No estimate is available on how many Snake River wild fish might return. Also expected are 86,600 mid-Columbia brights (third largest on record since 1980), 1,800 lower river brights, 23,400 lower river wild fish and 6,200 select area brights
The run is expected to include 218,800 "tules" -- 101,900 Bonneville pool hatchery fish and 116,900 lower river hatchery fish. A joint staff report from the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife says that past history would indicated that most of the early August catch would be tules.
And the gill netters are eager to get to work because those tules are in more marketable shape early in the season, according to the WDFW's Cindy LeFleur. The fishes' physical condition deteriorates as their spawning time gets nearer.
The commercial fishers are limited to a catch of seven sturgeon per week per boat. That's an attempt to hold the fishery within a 2,000 fish management guideline for the month of August.
Tribal fishers last week finished off their first commercial harvest in 38 years that targeted summer chinook in the Columbia mainstem pools above Bonneville.
A second 2 ½ day fishery was completed July 21-23 with the 147 tribal gill net harvesting 1,480 cinook and 279 steelhead.
"The fish numbers were down and so was the catch," said Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Commission harvest management biologist. Counts of fish passing Bonneville dropped to a few hundred daily as the summer chinook run peters out. The tribes had employed 201 nets to catch 2,107 adult summer chinook salmon and 326 steelhead the previous week.
The tribes were limited by management agreement this year to a 5 percent impact on the summer chinook which are, for the most part, bound for the upper Columbia. A smaller summer chinook run bound for the Snake River's upper reaches is listed under the ESA. That 5 percent represents 6,000 fish under the current forecast of 120,000 adult fish to the mouth of the Columbia.
That summer chinook return is the second largest since 1960, nearly approaching the 129,000-fish return of last year. The return may not have quite reached 120,000 adults. The count through July 31 --the final day of summer chinook counting -- was 114, 678 adults and 13,358 jacks.
The dam count does not include the numbers taken in the mainstem sport fishery that opened June 16 from Bonneville dam to the river's mouth. Through the end of June, an estimated 1,300 summer chinook were caught.
"It started off really well," Joe Hymer of the Washington Department of Fish and Game said of the summer chinook sport season. No estimates were available for July, though the fishing cooled considerable as the weather and water heated up. Hymer would only say several hundred were landed during the month. The sport fishery was only the second offered on the lower mainstem in the past 30 years.
The tribes had caught a total of 4,236 summer chinook, including the platform catch through July 20 and the commercial fisheries. Ellis estimated that perhaps 300 more would have been caught through the end of July at the platforms and in a couple subsistence gill net permit fisheries.
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