Commercial fishing for spring chinook delayed

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Commercial fishing for spring chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River will not begin before Tuesday, Washington and Oregon officials agreed today.

State biologists recommended a 10-hour tangle-net period from 2 p.m. Wednesday until midnight downstream of Kelley Point, but commercial fishermen asked for a delay until next week.

The lower Columbia is rising and not conducive to a good commercial catch.

"It's crummy water conditions,'' said Bruce Crookshanks, a Rochester, Wash., commercial fisherman.

Test fishing on Sunday in Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties caught 20 chinook and seven steelhead in 17 drifts. Fifteen of the spring chinook were headed for lower Columbia tributaries. Three of the steelhead were wild.

Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated the net fleet would have caught about 1,000 to 1,200 chinook had they fished.

In that catch would have been about 360 chinook headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam. The commercial allocation is 1,900 upper Columbia chinook until the run forecast is updated in May.

Test fishing will resume Sunday. The Columbia River Compact will meet by teleconference on Monday and likely set a Tuesday commercial fishing period.

Ehlke said she believes the commercials can fish next week without exceeding their 1,900 upper Columbia-chinook allocation.

But as more salmon enter the river, especially more upper Columbia fish, not exceeding the catch guideline gets more difficult starting the final week of March, she said.

The Columbia is rising. Visibility downstream of Longview is only 18 to 24 inches, said biologist John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

On Monday, the Willamette River had less than 12 inches of visibility.

Les Clark, a commercial fisherman from Chinook, Wash., said it would be easier if sport fishing was closed during commercial periods. Last year, Tuesdays were closed for sports fishing to accommodate the commercials.

With the Columbia muddy, there's no need for the commercials to fish at night to catch chinook, Clark added.

Gary Soderstrom, an Oregon commercial fisherman, said the high flows eliminate the tidal influence, which helps fishing.

There also are a lot of smelt in the Columbia now, he added.

Steve Williams, an assistant administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said delaying commercial fishing has risks, too.

"There's no assurance we'll see a better river,'' Williams said. "We could see less favorable conditions.''