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Lower Columbia Commercial Fishers Target Fall Chinook

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 9, 2002

Commercial fishers venturing out in the lower Columbia River, and sport anglers near the river mouth at Buoy 10, this past week encountered only the small beginnings of what is expected to be a large fall chinook salmon return.

Non-Indian commercial gill-netters netted 2,700 fall chinook salmon and 900 sturgeon during the first two days of a three-day fishery approved last week by the Columbia River Compact. During the first 12-hour outing that started at 7 p.m. Sunday the boats reported the harvest of 950 chinook. The next outing -- from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday -- fishers netted 1,750. That doubling of the catch from one fishing period to the next could be a sign that more of the fish are beginning to turn upriver on their way to hatcheries and spawning grounds in the Columbia-Snake basin.

"It's not red hot, but it's only the first part of August," said Patrick Frazier of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The run historically hits its in-river peak at the end of August and early September.

The commercial boats -- about 125 total -- had one more night on the river beginning at 7 p.m. last night (Aug. 8-9) under the approved fishery. The Compact was to meet today to decide whether to allow more commercial fishing time in that stretch of the river from the Longview, Wash., bridge to the Columbia River mouth.

The allocation scheme chosen by Oregon and Washington fishery manager limits the non-tribal commercial catch during the early August period to 16,800 adult fall chinook.

State, federal and tribal fish managers have predicted that 659,800 fall chinook salmon will return to the mouth of the Columbia River -- the third largest count since 1948. The "upriver bright" portion of that run is expected to number 273,800 adults -- the largest count since 1988.

A management agreement allocating the catch of upper Columbia River fall chinook, steelhead and coho hinges in large part on the harvest of upriver brights -- mostly wild fish bound for the Hanford Reach. A portion of the run are the Snake River brights, whose wild members are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The agreement limits an overall URB impact of 31.29 percent with 23.04 percent for treaty tribal fisheries and 8.25 for non-Indian fishers. The non-tribal catch is further apportioned by the states of Oregon and Washington with 4.36 percent reserved for sport fisheries and 3.89 percent for commercial fisheries. The percentages stay the same, but the numerical impact limits could change as run-size forecasts are updated during the course of the season.

The projected early August commercial catch and an estimated catch of 8,300 fish during a planned fishery between Longview and Bonneville Dam later in August would stay well within those impact limits, Frazier said. If a portion of that early August target goes uncaught, those impacts can be transferred to the late August fishery.

Fall chinook fishing got off to a slow start in the opening of the Buoy 10 fishery at the beginning of August, but action should build to a peak around the third week of August, according to Joe Hymer, WDFW regional fish biologist.

In recent days, both effort and catch have been light. On Saturday, Aug. 3, a total of 310 private boats and 11 charter boats were counted. Joint Oregon and Washington sampling showed 270 boat anglers with 15 chinook and eight hatchery coho kept.

Frazier said that there were 5,300 angler trips recorded from Aug. 1-4 with only 254 chinook and 63 coho harvested. But, again, it's still early.

Stronger tidal action expected in coming days generally pushes ocean forage fish farther into the Columbia River estuary, with the salmon following behind them, Hymer said.

Although few fall chinook have shown so far in the lower Columbia, fishers have plenty of hatchery steelhead activity to keep them busy while they wait. Both bank and boat anglers last week were bringing in an average of one steelhead for every four rods, including kept and released fish, from Vancouver downstream on the mainstem river.

Steelhead counts at Bonneville Dam hit an annual daily high Monday, Aug. 5, when 8,700 fish passed the dam. Through Wednesday, 192,500 steelhead have been counted at Bonneville, nearly half of what is expected to be the second biggest return on record. The 2002 forecast is for 447,800 summer steelhead. The record since counts began at the dam in 1938 was last summer's return of 630,200 fish.

Only 91,984 had been counted so far at the next hydroproject upriver from Bonneville -- The Dalles Dam. The count through Wednesday at Ice Harbor Dam, the first project on the lower Snake, was 20,360 steelhead, and the cumulative count at the Mid-Columbia's Priest Rapids Dam was 4,838. Nearly all of the counts were below last year's tallies but nearly double the recent five-year average counts through the date.

Hymer said the upriver "A-run" steelhead run near is near its peak. The A-run is expected to number 369,700 fish bound for tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake river basins. The larger "B-run" steelhead, bound for the Salmon and Clearwater drainages in Idaho, mostly arrive later in August and September. The forecast is for a B return of 60,600 fish. The A- and B-run recent five-year-average returns are 250,200 and 45,300 respectively.

Fisheries officials predict that 28 percent of the A group and 36 percent of the B group will be "wild" with the balance being hatchery produced.

Meanwhile, most waters off Washington's coast will be closed to retention of chinook salmon beginning Saturday, Aug. 10 to preserve fishing opportunities for hatchery coho salmon, the WDFW announced Thursday.

The only exception is Marine Area 2 off Westport, where anglers will be limited to one chinook per day from Aug. 11 through Aug. 15. That area will then be closed to all salmon fishing while WDFW determines whether any additional salmon can be harvested within the annual recreational quota, said Phil Anderson, WDFW special assistant to the director.

"Our goal is to preserve fishing opportunities for hatchery coho and avoid a premature closure of the entire coastal salmon fishery," Anderson said. "Given the extremely high catch rates of chinook we've seen this year, we need to take additional action now to give anglers a chance to catch more hatchery coho before we hit the chinook quota and have to close the fishery." Many of those salmon are bound for the Columbia River.

As of Sunday, Aug. 4, coastal anglers had caught 76 percent of the 42,750-fish coastwide chinook salmon quota but only 33 percent of the 115,000-fish coho quota.

Under existing WDFW regulations, anglers can retain only those hatchery coho whose adipose fin has been clipped for identification purposes. All others must be released.

Under the new regulations that take effect Aug. 10, ocean anglers can still retain up to two salmon per day. However, neither of those fish can be a chinook salmon in Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco), Marine Area 3 (LaPush) or Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay).

The Westport fishery was treated differently because of the disproportionately high percentage of chinook salmon -- nearly two chinook for every one coho -- caught in those waters this season, Anderson said.

"To minimize catch-and-release mortality and maintain a high-quality fishing experience, it made more sense to continue to allow some chinook retention in the Westport area for a limited period," said Anderson, noting that the new regulations were developed in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Anderson said WDFW will announce its decision regarding any further fishing opportunities in the Westport area by Aug. 16. All other areas will remain open for retention of all salmon species except chinook until area quotas are achieved.

Related Sites:

Barry Espenson
Lower Columbia Commercial Fishers Target Fall Chinook
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 23, 2002

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