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States Set Columbia River Spring Recreational/
Commercial Salmon, Steelhead Fishing Openings

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 29, 2016

The Columbia River spring chinook season is based on a forecast of 299,200 returning spring chinook to the river's mouth.

Chinook salmon adult in the hand of a pleased fisherman. The two-state Columbia River compact set openings and regulations for spring chinook and steelhead fishing for recreational anglers at its annual joint-state hearing Wednesday in Vancouver, Wash.

With a higher than average run of spring chinook expected, recreational fishing will open for salmon fishing below Bonneville Dam March 1 and continue through April 9. Anglers will see two days of closures to allow mainstem commercial gillnet fishing on dates to be determined.

Other fish affected by the Compact's actions this week are smelt and white sturgeon in the Bonneville Dam pool.

The Compact also opened for about two weeks a treaty Indian gillnet fishery above Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River mainstem and allowed continued gillnetting in Lower Columbia River select areas.

The Columbia River spring chinook season is based on a forecast of 299,200 returning spring chinook to the river's mouth. That includes an estimated 188,800 upriver spring chinook. The 2015 return was 415,200 spring chinook, far higher than the 10-year average return of 285,000 fish.

Following a year with salmon returns to the Columbia River basin largely better than average, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee made in December 2015 the 2016 forecast that the Compact is relying on to set spring regulations.

Although TAC predicted better than average runs for spring and summer chinook salmon in 2016, it forecasted a dismal run for sockeye this year (101,600), nearly five times lower than the actual 2015 run (512,500) and about half of the 10-year average.

TAC will update its forecast once it sees how the spring chinook run actually develops and when it thinks the spring run is about 60 percent complete at Bonneville Dam. That update is likely to occur between May 2 and May 9, timing that is occurring later in the year, according to Stuart Ellis, harvest management biologist at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and TAC's chair.

"If we do it too early, there is too much volatility and we would end up with crazy predictions," Ellis said. "The spring runs prior to 2004 used to be a bit earlier timed and we could do it in late April, but there seems to have been a shift to later timings. We have had 50 percent dates as late as May 12 in recent years."

TAC, made up of federal, state and tribal representatives, was formed by the parties to the U.S. v. Oregon court case. The membership and function are laid out in the 2008-17 Management Agreement.

Also in December the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated that the run of spring chinook salmon into the Willamette River would be 70,100 fish, higher than the 2015 forecast (55,400), but lower than 2015's actual return of the fish (87,100). The 10-year average is 61,000 fish.

ODFW said that Willamette River spring chinook exhibit broader migration timing than Columbia River upriver spring chinook. Wild spring chinook in the Willamette River and its tributaries are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"We're looking forward to another year of good spring chinook fishing," said Chris Kern, deputy administrator of ODFW's Fish Division.

Under permanent rules, the Willamette River remains open to retention of adipose fin-clipped adult chinook salmon and adipose fin-clipped steelhead seven days a week, according to ODFW. Below Willamette Falls the daily bag limit is two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, and above the falls it is two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon and three adipose fin-clipped steelhead.

The states also closed the winter recreational sturgeon fishery in the Bonneville Dam pool, effective Feb. 8. According to ODFW, fishery managers believe that will leave enough room under the harvest guideline to offer a short summer sturgeon retention season.

Although Oregon will wait to set a smelt dip-netting season for the Sandy River due to sporadic returns of the ESA-listed fish, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it would open a one-day recreational smelt fishery for the Cowlitz River on Feb. 6 from 7 am to 1 pm. The daily bag limit is 10 pounds per person. For Oregon, smelt dippers will be required to have a fishing license.

For chinook salmon, recreational boat fishing will be allowed seven days a week from Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth upstream to Beacon Rock, about four miles downstream of Bonneville Dam. Bank fishing will be allowed from Buoy 10 to the fishing deadline at Bonneville Dam. The fishery will be closed to allow commercial fishing on two Tuesdays, March 29 and April 5 (tentative).

The daily bag limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook. The rules also allow retention of up to five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day in Oregon.

The allotment of spring chinook for recreational fishing below Bonneville is 7,515 upriver spring chinook. The season may be shortened or extended depending on catch and effort.

Above Bonneville Dam and to the two-state border, the state fishery managers approved a chinook retention season starting on Wednesday, March 16 and continuing through Friday, May 6, with harvest guideline of 1,000 fish. The daily bag limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook. The rules also allow retention of up to five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day in Oregon.

Fishing for steelhead, designated as winter steelhead through April and summer steelhead afterwards, will be open March 1 through June 15 for adipose fin-clipped fish when recreational chinook fishing is open and will be subject to salmonid rules. At other times, rules and bag limits are subject to recreational select area fishery guidelines. Fishing is open from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 Bridge. TAC predicts a wild winter steelhead run of 16,900 fish, down from the 20,100 actual run of winter steelhead in 2015.

Shad fishing is open from Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam on days when it is legal to fish for adipose fin-clipped adult chinook salmon.

The Compact also set tribal treaty gillnetting in The Dalles and John Day dam pools for 6 am, February 1, through 6 pm, February 13. Allowable sales are for sturgeon between 43-54 inches in length, salmon (all species), steelhead, shad, carp, catfish, walleye, bass, and yellow perch may be sold or retained for subsistence use.

One of the guiding principles for allowed catch of spring chinook is ESA impacts to upriver spring chinook, according to the Compact's Winter Fact Sheet 1a. Recreational fisheries are allocated 70 percent of the fish, with 30 percent going to commercial fisheries. Prior to a run update the allowed recreational and commercial ESA impacts are reduced by 20 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Prior to the run update, allocation of upriver fish (including release mortalities) for non-Indian fisheries is 7,515 fish for the recreational fishery below Bonneville Dam, 1,002 for the recreational fishery from Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington state line, 1,005 fish for recreational fisheries in the Snake River (Washington waters), 27 fish for the Wanapum tribe (Upper Columbia), 1,222 fish for the mainstem commercial fishery, and 198 fish for select area commercial fisheries.

Related Pages:
Early 2016 Salmon Run Projections: Spring, Summer Chinook Higher Than 10-Year Average, Sockeye Lower by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin 12/18/15

Related Sites:
Columbia Zone regulation updates can be found online at
For Compact winter fact sheet 1a, go to:
For Treaty Indian Fishery winter fact sheet 1b, go to:

States Set Columbia River Spring Recreational/Commercial Salmon, Steelhead Fishing Openings
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 29, 2016

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