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Plenty of sockeye for spawning grounds, bag limits go way up above Priest Rapids

With continuing strong counts at lower Columbia River hydro projects, Oregon and Washington officials decided this week to expand fishing opportunities for anglers and for both tribal and non-Indian commercial fishers on the mainstem Columbia River.

Starting July 11, anglers fishing the lower Columbia River can catch and keep summer Chinook --- along with sockeye salmon -- through the end of the month.

And sport fishers in north-central Washington can, can now retain as many as eight salmon daily, including up to six adult sockeye salmon, in the mainstem Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam.

Those new Washington fishing rules for above Priest Rapids are effective on the mainstem Columbia River from:

-- Priest Rapids Dam to Wanapum Dam, July 11-Aug. 31.

-- Wanapum Dam to Wells Dam, July 11-Oct. 15.

-- Wells Dam to Hwy 173 Bridge in Brewster, July 16-Aug. 31, and

-- Hwy 173 Bridge in Brewster to Chief Joseph Dam, July 11-Oct 15

The bag limit expansion is due to the fact that sockeye salmon returns above Priest Rapids Dam are predicted to be far in excess of needs for wild fish escapement to the spawning grounds. The population, bound for the Okanogan and Wenatchee river basins, is not listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Retention is allowed for fish 12 inches or longer. Of the daily limit of eight salmon, up to two may be adult hatchery Chinook and up to six may be sockeye. Anglers must release coho and wild adult Chinook. They must also release all sockeye with colored anchor (floy) tag attached.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also announced Thursday that anglers will be able to retain adult sockeye salmon in Lake Osoyoos – an Okanogan River reservoir that straddles the U.S.-Canada line -- from July 11 through Oct. 15. The area of the lake open to Washington fishers is south of the 49th parallel (U.S.-Canadian border, which is marked with large fluorescent orange signs).

Sockeye salmon returns above Zosel Dam are predicted to be in excess of needs for wild fish escapement to the spawning grounds.

All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement to participate in this fishery. Revenue from the endorsement supports salmon or steelhead seasons on many rivers in the Columbia River system, including enforcing fishery regulations and monitoring the upper Columbia River steelhead fisheries. The endorsement has generated more than $1 million annually for WDFW to maintain and increase fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.

Check the fishing hotline at 360-902-2500 or the webpage at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/rules_all_freshwater.j .

On the mainstem Columbia along the Oregon-Washington border, fishery managers agreed Wednesday to extend the season for hatchery-reared summer chinook salmon after upgrading their projection of the run size to 74,000 fish, up from 67,500.

The fishery for summer Chinook below Bonneville Dam had closed July 7 after a four-day extension.

Under the states' latest action, anglers fishing the mainstem Columbia River downstream of Priest Rapids can retain up to two adult salmon or hatchery steelhead, or one of each, a day through July 31.

Anglers on the lower Columbia (the 146 river miles downstream of Bonneville) may retain sockeye and hatchery summer Chinook salmon as part of their daily limit. All other salmon species must be released unharmed.

“Summer” recreational salmon fisheries downstream of Bonneville Dam were open to retention of adult hatchery Chinook and sockeye from June 16 through June 30 and from July 3 through July 6.

Beginning July 7, retention of adult hatchery Chinook was closed; however, sockeye retention is allowed through July 31.

But after a review of catch estimates, including 1,924 adult Chinook kept (2,480 released) from 34,481 angler trips, state officials realized that under catch allocation agreements anglers could be allowed more fishing time. Kept and release mortalities through July 6 totaled 2,296 summer Chinook, which represented only 75 percent of the lower river allocation for the summer season (3,063 allowed).

Sockeye catch (including release mortalities) through July 6 totaled 843 fish, and is projected to total around 1,200 sockeye for the season. Based on the current forecast, a total of 5,600 sockeye are available for harvest in non-Indian fisheries downstream of the Highway 395 bridge near Pasco, Wash. That non-tribal allocation is shared with 70 percent going to sport fishers and 30 percent to non-tribal commercial fishers.

Summer recreational salmon fisheries from Bonneville Dam upstream to Priest Rapids Dam are scheduled to be open through July 31 for hatchery Chinook and sockeye retention. Limited creel data indicates low catch and effort in this area. Chinook catch is expected to remain within the 426 fish set aside for the season. Sockeye harvest is expected to be less than 400 fish for the season.

The Columbia River Compact on Wednesday adopted a non-Indian commercial season that was to take place from 7 p.m. Monday through 7 a.m. Tuesday in Columbia mainstem reaches downstream of Bonneville. The allowable catch included Chinook, sockeye, and shad. The gill netters caught 543 Chinook (average 15.9 pounds) and 70 sockeye (2.9 pound average).

The non-tribal commercial catch this week brings the summer season total to 1,928 Chinook and 254 sockeye.

The Compact also approved a tribal fishery in mainstem reservoirs upstream of Bonneville from 6 a.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Friday, July 18. Allowed sales are salmon, steelhead, shad, yellow perch, bass, walleye, catfish, and carp.

Catch expectations for the proposed tribal fishery total 3,300 Chinook and 9,000 sockeye along with 1,400 steelhead presuming fishing effort similar to the previous week. The estimated tribal catch for the summer season through last week is 16,635 Chinook, 18,326 sockeye and 1,918 steelhead. The summer season began June 16.

Wholesale buyers have been paying similar prices compared to prices paid for the non-treaty catch, according to the treaty tribes – the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama. Ex-vessel values are around $5 per pound for Chinook and $2 for sockeye. Fish sold direct to the public command higher prices.

Columbia Basin Bulletin The Columbia Basin Bulletin e-mail newsletter is produced by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon and supported with Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife funds through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. Articles republished by The Dalles Chronicle with permission.

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