With Summer Fish Returns Running Behind,
With both sockeye and summer chinook counts at the lower Columbia River's Bonneville Dam "tracking behind expectations," treaty tribes scaled back commercial fishing requests to avoid impacts on, particularly, a sockeye salmon return that includes fish from the Snake River basin that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Columbia River Compact on Wednesday approved recommendations that set a 2.5-day gill-net fishery for next week (6 a.m. Monday July 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday July 3) in Zone 6, three mainstem reservoirs upstream Bonneville, which is located at river mile 146. The first two fisheries of the "summer" season, which began June 16, were each 3.5 days.
Also at the recommendation of the four lower river tribes, treaty Zone 6 platform and hook and line fishery and similar fisheries downstream of Bonneville were pared back. Those fisheries were cut back from seven to five days a week, with closures on each Sunday and Monday from June 29 through July 31.
The tribes opted for the lesser fishing time out of "concern about the sockeye," the Warm Springs Tribes' Bruce Jim told the Compact, an Oregon-Washington panel that sets commercial fisheries on the mainstem Columbia. Compact members represent the directors of the states' fish and wildlife departments.
The fear is that, if run-size forecasts are downsized, the catch in hand will exceed ESA limits on sockeye and thus prevent future fisheries aimed at upper Columbia summer chinook, which are not listed.
Bonneville Dam counts of adult upper Columbia summer chinook totaled 22,855 fish (June 16-265) with daily counts in the 2,000 fish range for the past week. Based on the 10-year average, summer chinook passage is 41 percent complete by June 25 and 50 percent complete by June 29.
Chinook passing over Bonneville are counted as "summer" chinook through July 31. From Aug. 1 until the end of the year they are counted as "fall" chinook.
The fact sheet prepared for Wednesday's Compact says the summer chinook counts are lagging behind expectations based on a preseason forecast for a total return of 73,500 adult fish as counted at the Columbia River mouth.
Likewise Bonneville Dam counts of sockeye are less than anticipated, totaling 80,165 fish through June 25. Sockeye passage is typically 50 percent complete by June 25. The preseason forecast is 180,350 adult fish at the Columbia River mouth.
The vast majority of the run is headed for turnoffs in central Washington into the Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins.
That sockeye forecast include the prediction of a 1,250-fish return to the Snake River basin. The endangered Snake River returns are the product of a captive broodstock program started in the early 1990s in an attempt to ward off extinction of the population. Those Snake River fish swim an estimated 900 miles up the Columbia, Snake and Salmon rivers to central Idaho's Stanley basin.
The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee met Monday morning to review salmon returns and consider run-size forecast updates. But the panel of federal, state and tribal fishery officials determined that it is still too early and will meet again Monday, July 1, to potentially update the chinook and sockeye forecasts.
With the likelihood of runs coming in at least less than forecast, and the fact that tribal and non-Indian harvest allocations are based on the run-size, the tribes chose to manage their fisheries on lesser expectations – forecasts of 65,000 summer chinook at the Columbia mouth and 161,000 sockeye and readjust if need be after next week's TAC update.
Even measured against the preseason forecast, the anticipated catch of 3,800 next week would bring the tribes to within 1,500 sockeye of their ESA impact limit. That allocation amounts to 7 percent of the overall run. That cap is intended to limit impacts to the Snake River portion of the run.
At a 161,000-sockeye run size, the estimated catch would bring the tribes within about 100 percent of the limit.
Tribal representatives on Wednesday said the ESA limits their opportunity to achieve their 50 percent share of the Columbia's returning salmon runs, as promised in agreements achieved through long-running U.S. v Oregon litigation.
Jim and others urged more concerted action in the effort to restore the listed Snake River stock, which limits the ability to harvest healthy upper Columbia summer chinook and sockeye.
"Our tribes are tired of waiting for recovery," Jim told the Compact, made up of the ODFW's John North and WDFW's Guy Norman. "We don't believe enough has been done."
"We're looking at closing a fishery that is our first priority" to protect a stock that is predicted to represent 1,250 fish out of a total sockeye run of more than 180,000, the Umatilla Tribes' Kat Brigham said. Sockeye limits could also prevent the tribes from catching their share of the summer chinook return.
"The federal government, and the states, aren't living up to their obligation" to assure the tribes get a 50 percent share of the harvest.
That said, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Pete Hassemer said that his state appreciated the lower Columbia tribes' willingness to limit impacts on endangered fish.
"We're working hard to rebuild the Snake River sockeye run," Hassemer told the Compact.
The non-tribal commercial fleet has had one eight-hour fishery during the summer season. The gill-netters caught 1,700 chinook, 150 sockeye and 300 sturgeon in the lower Columbia (downstream of Bonneville) on June 16-17. The Compact did not schedule additional non-tribal commercial fisheries, though it may reconsider next week.
For anglers, the area from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam is open from June 16-30 for marked hatchery chinook and steelhead and sockeye. Through June 23, kept and release mortalities are estimated at 1,270 adult chinook and 204 sockeye. Catch projections for June 24-30 total an additional 1,100 chinook and 350 sockeye. Season total actual and projected catch is 2,370 summer chinook and 550 sockeye, according to the ODFW-WDFW fact sheet.
Chinook harvest projections for current and ongoing non-Indian commercial and sport fisheries below the mid-Columbia's Priest Rapids Dam in central Washington is projected to be 4,320 chinook and remain within allowed harvest allocations for runs as low as 65,000 without any additional transfer of fish from above Priest Rapids.
Additional fish allocated to non-Indian fisheries upstream of Priest Rapids Dam may be transferred to the lower river if the summer chinook run size is significantly downgraded, the fact sheet says.
The tribal commercial fishery offers a supply of fish via direct-to-public sales. Common sales locations include: Marine Park in Cascade Locks, Lone Pine in The Dalles, North Bonneville, Wash. (one mile east of Bonneville Dam), and Columbia Point in the Tri-Cities area.
Prospective buyers are urged to pack a cooler with ice and keep the following tips in mind:
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