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Summer Chinook Return
Forecasted to Be Largest Since 1961

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 10, 2015

Gillnetters Raise Catch Allocation Issues

Here is a great looking Summer Chinook caught on the Columbia River below Longview, Washington. The summer chinook salmon run forecast was increased to an estimated 100,000 fish Monday by the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee -- the largest return for these fish since 1961.

Columbia River basin summer chinook are not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act -- about half of the fish are wild. All are destined for Priest Rapids Dam.

The forecast was increased from mid-June when TAC estimated that 73,000 chinook would pass Bonneville Dam through July 31.

TAC also forecasted an increase in the sockeye salmon run to 480,000, up from the mid-June forecast of 380,000 fish.

The huge runs of salmon triggered more fishing for treaty and non-Indian commercial gillnetters at Tuesday's two-state Columbia River Compact meeting, although it had commercial gillnetters in the lower Columbia River wondering why their fishing opportunities are so limited.

Based on the updated forecasts, 31,818 summer chinook salmon are now available for treaty harvest and 9,988 fish are available for non-Indian in-river harvest, all downriver from Priest Rapids Dam.

Also based on the forecast and limited by Endangered Species Act requirements for endangered Snake River fish, 33,600 sockeye salmon are available for treaty harvest and 4,800 are available to non-Indian harvest downstream of the Highway 395 bridge in the upper Columbia River.

The Compact extended this week's treaty fishery in the Bonneville pool upstream through the John Day pool to Thursday, July 9 at 6 pm, an additional day that makes a three and one-half day fishery. The fishery was approved at last week's Compact meeting to end June 8 at 6 pm.

Also approved was a two and one-half day treaty fishery next week 6 am Monday, July 13 to 6 pm Wednesday, July 15.

Catch projections for the treaty fishery this week are 4,100 summer chinook, 6,800 sockeye and 410 steelhead. Projections for next week are 3,200 chinook, 2,700 sockeye and 590 steelhead, leaving a balance of 3,516 chinook and 3,111 sockeye for future harvests. Total treaty harvest after next week's fishery is projected to be 28,302 summer chinook salmon, 30,489 sockeye salmon and 1,460 steelhead.

The non-Indian commercial gillnet fishery downstream from Bonneville Dam will fish twice, 12 hours this week, Wednesday, July 8, 7 pm to 7 am Thursday, July 9. Next week gillnet fishing is open 7 pm Tuesday, July 14, to 7 am Wednesday, July 15.

Still, commercial gillnetters fishing below Bonneville Dam are not happy with the limited fishing opportunities for the record run of summer chinook salmon and asked for more 12-hour fishing opportunities each Tuesday through July. They would gain that opportunity, they proposed, by using a portion of the allocation given to sport fishers, an allocation that is not likely to be fully used.

"I see room for quite a few more days of fishing," said commercial gillnetter Gary Soderstrom. "If the sportsmen leave 2,500 fish on the table, we can take some of that. There is no reason to let these fish go to waste."

"It's crazy to allocate fish to someone who can't use them and take away from those who can," said Jim Wells of Salmon for All, an Astoria-based commercial fishing advocacy group. "Hopefully, we will have a governor who will change this."

Senate Bill 830, a bill pushed by then Gov. John Kitzhaber, passed in the 2013 Oregon legislative session. It, in effect, removes commercial gillnetters from fishing in the mainstem Columbia River below Bonneville Dam as of 2016. The gillnetters are in a transition period until then.

However, many commercial gillnetters believe the plan to remove gillnetters from the mainstem river is just a trade-off in which sports anglers get to catch more fish, while commercial gillnetters get fewer fish, and that's creating tension between the two groups.

"We're setting records," said commercial gillnetter Jack Marinkovic, speaking of the "huge" run of summer chinook salmon. "I hope some of these numbers work their way through to Olympia and Salem, and that they will consider not going along with the former governor's plan.

"There is no way they should be looking to eliminate (commercial) fishing in the lower Columbia River."

(See CBB, March 27, 2015, Oregon Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To New Rules Phasing Out Lower Columbia Gill Nets)

While the Compact did not set more than the two half-day non-Indian gillnet fisheries, it still may meet in the coming weeks to look at further treaty and non-Indian fisheries. However, as of this week, its next scheduled meeting is not until July 29.

The Compact expects 20 to 40 gillnetters to fish during the allowed opening, with a catch of 550 summer chinook salmon in the first period and 350 chinook in the second period. The sockeye salmon catch is expected to be about 100 fish over the two fishing periods.

Through July 14, the total commercial harvest of summer chinook is expected to be 3,001 fish, with an allocated catch of 2,996 fish. That is 2,101 caught prior to this week and an additional 900 proposed. The non-Indian gillnet allocation for sockeye salmon is 1,440 fish, with an expectation the gillnet fishery will take just 343 fish total.

Catch of summer chinook for sport fishers on the Columbia River, which is the sum of fish caught below Bonneville Dam and those caught upstream to Priest Rapids Dam, is expected by July 31 to be 4,000 fish. The allocation in the lower river is 5,873 and in the upper river it is 1,119 fish, for a total allocation of 6,992 summer chinook.

The allowed catch for sockeye salmon for sport fishers is 3,360 fish, both lower and upper river. The total expected catch is 1,650 fish.

Summer Chinook Return Forecasted to Be Largest Since 1961; Gillnetters Raise Catch Allocation Issues
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 10, 2015

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