With catch limits near, planned commercial fisheries targeting spring Chinook salmon in so-called “select areas” in the lower Columbia River estuary were rescinded and/or trimmed back in decisions made this week by Oregon and Washington.
That leaves lower Columbia River sport and most commercial fishers idled for the time being as the strength of the 2014 spring Chinook run begins to build. The lower river mainstem management area is measured from Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 downstream to the Columbia’s mouth at the Pacific Ocean.
Catches are limited, and managed to include a buffer, in the early season to assure that the harvests do not exceed sport and commercial allocations for the entire spring Chinook season, which can run as late as June 15 on the lower Columbia mainstem.
The early catch limits are based on the preseason projection of the upriver spring Chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia.
Spring Chinook fisheries are managed in large part to protect steelhead and “upriver” spring Chinook salmon that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Harvest allocations in particular are guided by anticipated returns of upriver spring Chinook headed for spawning grounds and hatcheries above Bonneville in Columbia and Snake River tributaries. Limits are imposed to hold down impacts on wild Upper Columbia spring Chinook and Snake River spring chinook that are ESA listed.
Late season fisheries are possible once federal, state and tribal officials reassess the status of the 2014 return. The update process is undertaken at the point when approximately half of the upriver spring Chinook run is believed to have passed Bonneville. That date on average in recent years has been May 7, ranging from April 27 to May 12.
On average about 11 percent of the upriver spring Chinook run will have passed Bonneville by April 22, according to Oregon and Washington department of fish and wildlife staffs. They say the 2014 return appears to be on track to meet preseason expectations.
The 2014 forecast developed by the Technical Advisory Committee for upriver spring Chinook is 227,000 adults to the Columbia River mouth. That forecast includes 24,100 upper Columbia spring Chinook (3,700 wild) and 125,000 Snake River fish (42,200 wild), with the remainder of the run comprised of spring Chinook returning to mid-Columbia tributaries.
If accurate, this forecast of 227,000 fish would be the 5th highest return since 1980 and 129 percent of the average return observed over the past decade (2004–2013).
The spring Chinook count at Bonneville through Wednesday was 25,569 adult fish, which is 2,109 fish higher than the recent 10-year average of 23,460 through April 23, according to data posted online by the Fish Passage Center.
Daily counts for the most part have been on the rise, ranging over the past week from a low of 1,350 April 19 to a high of 4,104 Thursday. That Thursday count lifted the season’s total of 29,821 according to data posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Bonneville Dam.
Sport fishers had one last day of fishing – at least until a run-size update is completed -- on the lower Columbia April 19, making 7,006 trips that day and catching 2,089 adult Chinook (1,698 kept and 391 released). Hatchery produced fish are marked with a fin-clip and can be harvested. Unmarked fish, most of which are presumed to be naturally produced or “wild” fish must be released back into the river.
Based on Visual Stock Identification (VSI) sampling, upriver spring Chinook comprised 80 percent of the kept catch.
From March 1-April 19, an estimated 80,906 angler trips produced 11,056 Chinook kept and 2,652 released. Just over 9,000 of the fish kept were upriver stock based on VSI.
Prior to the run update, allocation of upriver fish (including release mortalities) for non-Indian fisheries will be 10,157 fish for the recreational fishery below Bonneville Dam.
Based on the pre-update buffered run size, select area commercial fisheries are allocated 238 upriver spring Chinook. Fisheries to date have accrued 184 upriver spring Chinook mortalities, according to a joint report prepared for Thursday’s Compact meeting by the staffs of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
“A relatively high river, coupled with a strong storm system, may have led to a higher than expected number of upriver spring Chinook present in the Select Area fishing sites for the spring season openers,” according to the staff report.
So Oregon and Washington officials, meeting at the Columbia River Compact on Thursday rescinded select area fisheries planned April 24–29 plus May 5-6 at Tongue Point/South Channel, Deep River, and concurrent waters in Blind Slough/Knappa Slough. The also reduced fishing hours planed at Tongue Point/South Channel May 1 and Thursday May 8.
Two periods originally scheduled for this week in Youngs Bay were rescinded by Oregon state action on Monday, April 21.
The select areas are at sites off the main river channel where hatchery fish receive their final rearing before release as juveniles. Fish that mature in the Pacific and return as adults hone in on the select areas, where they are targeted by commercial fishers as well as anglers.
The idea is to provide fishing in areas where few of the upriver stocks stray. But some upriver fish are caught in the select areas. Through Wednesday total of 1,049 spring Chinook had been caught in select areas this year.
Additionally, gill-netters caught 1,749 spring Chinook during one 8-hour outing April in the lower Columbia.
Story by Columbia Basin Bulletin, reprinted by permission.