Four hours of commercial fishing for spring chinook in the Columbia River is scheduled for Tuesday night despite the objections of sportsmen.
Washington and Oregon officials on Monday approved netting from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday with 41/4-inch-mesh tangle nets downstream of Kelley Point at the mouth of the Willamette River.
John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife projected the net fleet will catch about 2,700 chinook, of which 1,581 are expected to be upper Columbia-origin salmon. That would be 85 percent of the remaining commercial allocation of 1,862 upper Columbia chinook.
A so-far slow sport season in the lower Columbia will close on Monday.
"It's been mighty slow out there for the sport fleet,'' said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "I think for a lot of folks the prospect of having several thousand fish pulled out in the area where they are fishing is just really hard for people to face.''
Ed Wickersham of the Coastal Conservation Association suggested the commercial fishing period be delayed until after the sport closure.
"To conduct this fishery is a tough time when you have one of the most important recreational fisheries in Oregon and Washington finally starting to do well,'' Wickersham said.
He pointed out that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking for a license fee increase. Setting a commercial season days before the end of sport fishing will not help the agency's cause, he added.
"It sends a tremendously powerful — and in my view negative — message,'' Wickersham said.
Jim Wells of Salmon For All, a commercial group, said waiting until next week would mean his group would be limited to "half a net for one hour'' to avoid exceeding the allocation.
Test netting last weekend in the Columbia in Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties found the number of chinook is increasing.
Twenty drifts landed 102 chinook and 15 steelhead. Fifty-seven percent of the chinook were upper Columbia fish. Seventy-nine percent of the chinook were fin-clipped hatchery salmon.
The commercials asked for six hours to fish, plus to open up the river between Kelley Point and Beacon Rock.
North said six hours of fishing likely would catch 1,850 to 2,000 upper Columbia chinook, thus exceeding the commercial allocation.
Guy Norman of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said 75 percent of the sport catch is expected to happen in the final seven to 10 days of fishing.
''It's the end of March,'' he said. "I would expect the river recruitment of spring chinook to surge daily and far outweigh the expected catch in this very short commercial tangle-net fishery. If the fish move as expected I think sport fishing will be very good in the final scheduled week of the season.''
Since so much of the catch will come in the final days, the sport fishery will close on Monday. State biologists will tally the catch, then officials will decide if there are enough salmon available to consider a reopening.