Columbia River fisheries reform has critics

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter



Idaho and Eastern Washington salmon fishing interests are concerned they may get “the short end of the stick” if the proposed lower Columbia River fisheries reforms are adopted.

Their fear is the changes will increase the number of Idaho-bound spring chinook caught be sportsmen downstream of Bonneville Dam, leading to fewer fish and shorter seasons in the Snake River and its tributaries.

“Most likely they would catch more hatchery fish and of course we know a large number of the hatchery fish they are catching in that fishery are destined for Idaho,” said Pete Hassemer, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Hassemer’s comments were reported by the Columbia Basin Bulletin, a weekly website of fish and wildlife news.

Idaho has long had concerns about the number of Idaho-bound spring chinook caught downstream of Bonneville in March and early April.

Fishing in the lower Columbia early targets a high percentage of fish headed for the Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins, the Clearwater Hatchery and Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Orofino and the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery at Kooskia.

“It’s fairly common for one out of every two fish they catch down river to come from one of those four hatcheries,” Hassemer said.

Oregon and Washington estimate the changes could add three days to the sport-fishing season on the lower Columbia.

While it doesn’t sound like much, Hassemer said when fishing is good, the sport fleet is deadly efficient.

“It’s such a powerful machine,” he said. “They can harvest a lot of fish in a short period of time.”

The Walla Walla-based Tri-State Steelheaders is pushing Washington and Oregon to adopt measures that allow a portion of those early-returning stocks to pass upriver prior to the start of fishing season in the lower river.

“There needs to be a biologically significant number of spring chinook allowed to cross Bonneville before the lower river season goes to seven days a week or not open at all until that number is reached,” said Mike Bireley, the group’s executive director.

Bireley was an adviser to the Columbia River Fisheries Management Reform Workgroup, which worked in September, October and November to fine-tune the proposal.

“Unless the flaw in the current allocation process is changed, the only net result is the lower river is going to have a lot more fish to harvest and the upper river, especially the Snake River and Idaho, is going to get the short end of the stick,” he said.

Clark tops endorsement sales

Wonder which of Washington’s 39 counties sells the most $8.25 Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsements?

Along with a fishing license, the fee has been required since 2010 to fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and its tributaries.

More than 50 tributaries are included, as far inland as the Grande Ronde River in Asotin County or Lake Osoyoos in Okanogan County.

The answer to the original question is: Clark County.

About 28,000 anglers in Clark County pay the endorsement fee each license cycle (April 1- March 31). Clark County makes up about 15 percent of statewide sales.

No. 2 is King County, home of Seattle, with almost 11 percent, followed by Pierce County (Tacoma) at almost 9 percent, Cowlitz County at 8 percent and Benton County at 7 percent.

Overall, Southwest Washington buys about 30 percent of the endorsements, the rest of Western Washington buys 35 percent and Eastern Washington buys 35 percent.

The county with the fewest endorsement sales is San Juan, which makes sense since it’s a small population and a very long distance from the Columbia.

Money from the endorsement fee pays for a variety of data collection and other items required to allow fisheries in this era of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Spending in Southwest Washington includes monitoring the expanded spring chinook fishing areas at the mouth of Wind River and outside Drano Lake, winter steelhead creel monitoring the Washougal River, a hooking mortality study on summer steelhead in Wind River and monitoring of mark-selective (wild release) fishing in the Columbia for summer chinook.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555, by email at or at P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, 98666.