States nix proposed gillnet fishery on Tuesday in lower Columbia
Monday, April 16, 2012
Washington and Oregon decided Monday that commercial fishing for spring chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River is done until the strength — or weakness — of this year's run is better known.
The Columbia River Compact considered then rejected a six-hour season on Tuesday in which the gillnet fleet would have been limited to nine adult spring chinook per vessel.
An option presented by Washington and Oregon staff biologists would have allowed the fleet to fish from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday from Beacon Rock to the Columbia River mouth. Each boat would have been limited to nine adult chinook, although also could have kept and sold fin-clipped jack chinook.
Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said that by mid- to late April it is time to ascertain the size of the run before allowing additional fishing.
In December, state, federal and tribal biologists predicted a run of 314,200 spring salmon would enter the river destined for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.
But through Sunday, only 502 adult chinook have been tallied at Bonneville, a date when normally 4 percent of the run has passed.
There are encouraging signs, though.
Eighteen test drifts with commercial fishing gear on Sunday caught 218 chinook, an excellent 12.1 chinook per drift. Sport fishing also improved markedly during the weekend.
The commercial fleet has caught 4,366 upper Columbia spring chinook into two fishing periods. That is 73.8 percent of its early-season allocation.
To catch about 1,500 upper Columbia salmon, the commercials could catch about 1,900 salmon overall. The state staff proposed the nine-fish limit, assuming 180 vessels would be fishing.
That would have brought the gillnetters to 98 percent of their early-season allocation.
John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the commercials were projected to keep about seven chinook per drift, meaning much of their second drift would have to be released.
Steve Gray, a commercial fisherman from Seaview, Wash., said the California coastal troll fishery will start soon and the price for salmon will drop.
"These nine now could be worth 18 fish later on,'' said Les Clark of the Northwest Gillnetters Association. "The price is going down when troll fish come on the market.''
Sport fishing in the lower Columbia is closed Tuesday, then open Wednesday through Sunday. The states will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday by teleconference to review the sport catches.
Both Norman and Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hinted strongly that an extension of the sport fishery is unlikely.
Sportsmen are projected to be at 30 percent of their early-season allocation by the end of fishing Sunday, but that number may be higher given the bite in the lower Columbia appears to be improving considerably, North said.
Both the Columbia River treaty tribes and Idaho Department of Fish and Game urged a delay in fishing until more is known about the run plus to avoid concentrating the harvest on the early-returning fish.
"The catch limits make me nervous,'' said Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Norman said he is encourage by the test fishing results and improving counts the past three days at Bonneville Dam.
If the Columbia is closed beginning April 23, sport fishing will remain open in the Cowlitz, Lewis, Kalama and Wind rivers, plus Drano Lake, in the Southwest Washington plus the Willamette River in Oregon.