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Sockeye Run Ushers in Fishing Season

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, June 27, 2000

Starting Wednesday, sport anglers will have their first chance since 1991
to catch the four-pound sockeye

Oregon and Washington, responding to the greatest Columbia River sockeye run in 15 years, opened a sport and commercial fishing season for the small, swift salmon on Monday.

Fishery officials said that 150,000 sockeye were projected to enter the Columbia River this year, far greater than the original forecast of 31,000 fish. By comparison, an average of 23,500 sockeye a year have entered the Columbia in the past five years.

"We're surprised by what we've been seeing," said Steve Williams, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It certainly indicates good things."

Four-pound sockeye, the smallest of five types of salmon that spawn in the Columbia and its tributaries, are notoriously hard to catch because they tend to ignore lures.

Still, sport anglers are excited by their first opportunity since 1991 to try. Commercial fishers -- who use gill nets, not lures, to catch sockeye -- last had a Columbia River sockeye season in 1988.

"It's not like these fish can't be caught," said Buzz Ramsey, Northwest sales manager for Luhr Jensen, a Hood River-based manufacturer of fishing lures. "We'd love to figure it out."

The commercial catch will be limited to 1,500 fish -- a fraction of a commercial harvest that at times exceeded 150,000 fish in the 1940s and 1950s -- and officials expect the sport catch to number only in the hundreds.

But the high sockeye return is significant because it is further indication that ocean conditions are becoming more favorable to salmon -- cooler and richer in food needed by the fish.

Spring chinook returns, originally forecast at 134,000 fish, topped 200,000. Biologists now expect that later runs of salmon, including the fall chinook that are the mainstay of remaining sport and tribal fisheries, will also be strong.

"Everything seems to be responding to good ocean conditions," Williams said.

This year's sockeye run is the largest since 1985, when 200,400 fish returned.

Although the spring chinook run was largely hatchery-born fish, the sockeye run is nearly all wild fish. Most sockeye return to several lake systems in Eastern Washington. Included in the run are Snake River sockeye that return to Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Valley of central Idaho.

That run, listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, is expected to number fewer than 200 this year. Five or fewer Snake River sockeye have returned in recent years.

The following fishing seasons were established Monday at a meeting of the Columbia River Compact, which represents the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife:

Jonathan Brinckman
Sockeye Run Ushers in Fishing Season
The Oregonian, June 27, 2000

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