Summer chinook gillnetting to begin June 16

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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RAINIER, Ore. — Commercial fishing returns to the lower Columbia River on June 16 when the gillnet fleet begins to catch its share of the predicted best summer chinook run in 30 years.

The Columbia River Compact on Thursday adopted two commercial fishing periods — 9 p.m. June 16 to 5 a.m. June 17 and 9 p.m. June 22 to 5 a.m. June 23 from Beacon Rock to the mouth of the river.

About 125 gillnetters are projected to catch about 5,000 summer chinook during the 16 hours on the Columbia. Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the catch estimate might be high, given the high flows in the river.

The commercial allocation is 5,675 summer chinook.

State and tribal biologists are forecasting a run of 91,100 summer chinook to enter the Columbia. That would be better than the 72,300 fish in 2010 and would be the best return since at least 1980, Ehlke said.

Summer chinook originate in the upper Columbia River watershed, upstream of Priest Rapids Dam in central Washington.

Under the complicated sharing arrangement for summer chinook, the treaty tribes get 27,136 fish this year and non-Indians get 23,873.

The non-Indian fish are split 12,524 upstream of Priest Rapids Dam and 11,349 downstream of the dam. The 11,349 is split 5,675 for the gillnetters and 5,675 for sportsmen.

The sport allocation is then divided 4,231 downstream of Bonneville Dam and 1,444 between Bonneville and Priest Rapids Dam.

"It looks like we've got lots of fish this year,'' said Les Clark, a commercial fisherman from Chinook.

With good chinook counts at Bonneville Dam already, and the river running a whopping 500,000 cubic feet per second, Clark speculated the summer run will be even better than the forecast.

"These are excellent counts for this kind of river,'' he said.

Jim Wells of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial group, said the Columbia is so high the salmon might be in the side channels and willow trees where netting is tough.

Tribal fishing — The four Columbia River treaty tribes have an allocation of 27,136 summer chinook and 11,300 sockeye this year.

The first two tribal fishing periods between Bonneville and McNary dams will be 6 a.m. June 16 to 6 p.m. June 18 and 6 a.m. June 20 to 6 p.m. June 23.

Ehlke said the tribes are projected to catch up to 12,000 chinook and 5,000 sockeye in those two periods, based on 2010 rates.

Stuart Ellis, a Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission fishery scientist, said sales to the public are anticipated this summer. A year ago, tribal fishermen got about $3 to $3.50 per pound for chinook and $2 per pound for sockeye from commercial buyers.

Tribal members normally sell to the public at about $1 per pound more than they get from commercial buyers.