Washington, Oregon Take Steps
by Bill Monroe
They clearly don't want a repeat.
Oregon and Washington biologists, that is.
Repeat heat, that is, after last year's crashed spring chinook salmon run and abrupt sportfishing closure.
After one of the most contentious spring chinook season-setting processes in many years, the states met in an Oregon City museum high above a thundering Willamette Falls and did their best to keep fish and fishing from becoming artifacts.
For the first time, conservative sport and gill-net seasons have a built-in, 25 percent buffer to accommodate a worst-case scenario, should this year's run also fall well below the predicted return of 88,400 upriver salmon entering the river.
Last year's prediction of 254,100 ended up being more than twice the number of fish that actually showed up (106,900). Fishing closed April 24.
The 2006 prediction is even lower (88,400), but the good news is that the states already have figured out a way to let anglers stay on the Columbia through at least April 19.
The bad news, for now, is that no fishing will be allowed between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam (the lower river's honey hole) until managers can assess the run in mid-April. If the numbers are close to or (we hope) better than expected, the gravy could flow.
"It's important to recognize that staff expects the season will last significantly longer than April 19," said Curt Melcher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Any additional fishing in the lower river might or might not include a few days of angling chaos below the dam, but managers are well aware of that fishery's popularity -- and effectiveness.
The lack of daily limits by hundreds of anglers in the mile or so below the dam is one of the reasons we get to fish longer in the remainder of the lower river. If that zone opens after April 19, look for tighter days-per-week restrictions there and, possibly, a one-fish daily bag limit.
Even with the 25 percent buffer, sport anglers still get to take home about 8,100 hatchery spring chinook from the Columbia (yes, two fin-clipped fish per day), and the nets will get 3,600. Incidental kills of protected upper Columbia and Snake River spring chinook already have been accounted for. If the 25 percent buffer can be relaxed, the sport haul will go up.
Last year's Columbia catches, by the way (including from immediately below Bonneville Dam), were about 11,000 sport and 5,300 commercial.
An additional 12,000 springers are expected to be caught from the Willamette and Sandy rivers and another 10,000 from Southwest Washington tributaries.
Predicted spring chinook runs in Oregon rivers are: Willamette (including Clackamas and other tributaries) -- 46,500 (116,900 predicted/61,000 actual in 2005); Sandy -- 8,200 (7,400P/9,400A);
For Southwest Washington: Cowlitz -- 8,700 (12,700P/9,200A); Kalama -- 2,100 (4,500P/3,100A); Lewis -- 4,400 (7,600P/3,400A); Wind -- 7,400 (8,300/3,800); Little White Salmon (Drano Lake) -- 12,500 (7,600P/4,000A), and Klickitat -- 1,300 (5,100P/1,200A).
Even in a slow year, that should be enough to go around.
Managers were acutely aware of Wednesday's announcement by the Bush administration of pending changes/reductions in hatchery production and harvests on the Columbia.
While anglers and the sportfishing industry scratched and clucked last week in petty infighting about splitting up the eggs, the fox was raiding the henhouse in a meeting of scientists in Portland.
"We're going to make darned sure we stay within our impacts," said Bill Tweit, Washington's lead fisheries manager. "We're going to hear more and more about the harvest going up against the major fish killers of habitat and hydro. We must show why harvest fits into salmon recovery.
"Harvest (of salmon) is a part of our region's heritage, and if we end up bickering about it, it's not going to look like a very important part of that heritage."
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