Spring Chinook Outlook Brightby Bill Monroe
The Oregonian, December 14, 2003
SALEM -- If you think you had fun during the past few years of spring chinook fishing on the Columbia River, Oregon and Washington biologists have a message: Wait till next year . . . and probably at least the one after that.
The second-highest upriver run since counting began in 1938 -- 360,700 adult springers -- is expected to pass Bonneville Dam in 2004, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission was told Friday. The annual prediction has been below the actual run in recent years of fertile ocean forage conditions.
Even better, it should consist almost entirely of 4-year-old springers, one of two age classes that make up most returning adult fish. It takes little optimism to imagine a half-million spring chinook in 2005.
The record was 416,500 in 2001.
But wait, there's more.
About 70 percent of the fish heading upriver will be marked hatchery fish, eligible for sport anglers' freezers. That compares with a mark rate a little below 50 percent in 2003, when 209,100 upriver spring fish returned to the Columbia.
Even in my muddled head, that works out to about a quarter million keepable fish in the prediction. This year, about 100,000 were marked.
The news is uniformly good to excellent for 2004 Columbia River predictions, although coho numbers will be down somewhat in the ocean and at Buoy 10. That prediction will come by late winter.
Summer chinook numbers still are being computed, but also should be good.
The same for summer steelhead.
Fall chinook will be down from this year's record runs, but still will be near or a little above average.
On the Willamette, between 80,000 and 100,000 spring chinook are expected, a little lower than this year's predicted number (which eventually turned out to be 126,600), but still high.
And a record run of spring chinook should enter the Clackamas River, which then will be open seven days a week, as will the lower Willamette.
As if anyone needed any more good news, Washington biologists this week announced they're looking for another strong run of smelt, which typically enter lower Columbia tributaries in January and February.
Almost on cue, a handful of pre-Christmas fish were dipped off Cathlamet by a commercial netter. %%par%Battle looms: Oregon and Washington, acting as the Columbia River Compact, are debating new allocations of spring chinook for sport anglers and commercial gill-netters.
A decision will be made after the first of the year.
Commercial netters want more fish.
They've been closed early for the past few years and still are experimenting with new nets that allow them to revive wild fish and set them loose.
They've asked for more harvest from the ocean's turnaround.
Whereas sport anglers kill about 10 percent of the wild fish they catch and release, the number is significantly higher for commercial nets -- as high as an estimated 25 percent or more.
That means they'd have to fish more to catch and keep -- and kill -- more.
They want a 50-50 split of the harvest.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission leaves the harvest allocations up to Steve King, the commission's Columbia River manager, and his staff, but told King on Friday to hold the line closer to a 60-40 or 70-30 split to minimize damage to wild runs.
Gill-netters have every right to be on the river, since they're taking fish that belong to the American public, most of whom tag their spring chinook at restaurants and grocery stores, not in boats with rods in their hands.
But commercial fishermen also should realize they're only marginally tolerated and take what they've got.
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