Advisers mull lower Columbia spring chinook fishing rules

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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A bistate advisory group is recommending spring chinook fishing in the lower Columbia River be open daily for boats upstream to Beacon Rock and for bank anglers to Bonneville Dam.

State biologists predict such a season would last through April 5 before catching the early-season allocation of 12,700 upper Columbia-origin spring salmon.

The overall catch would be about 14,300 when factoring in chinook headed for Oregon’s Willamette River plus the Cowlitz, Kalama and Cowlitz in Washington.

The Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group agreed on the 2012 spring chinook sport-fishing structure on Tuesday. A final decision will be made by state officials at a hearing beginning at 10 a.m. Jan. 26 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way.

Other options

Among other fishing options reviewed on Tuesday were:

• Boat and bank fishing open daily upstream to Bonneville Dam. The projected final day of fishing would be April 4.

• Fishing only downstream of Interstate 5. This has a projected final day of fishing on April 7.

• Boat fishing only downstream of I-5, but bank fishing open to Bonneville Dam. Final projected day of fishing is April 7.

• Fishing daily downstream of I-5 and through March 21 upstream of I-5, then three days a week (Thursday through Saturday) upstream of I-5. This option projects closures on April 7 below I-5 and April 3 above I-5.

• Fishing downstream of Beacon Rock on odd calendar days only beginning March 1. The projected closure date would be April 9.

Returns of 314,200 upper Columbia spring chinook and 83,400 Willamette-origin fish are forecast to enter the river.

Complicated allocation schemes involving the Endangered Species Act, catch balancing between the Columbia treaty tribes and non-Indians along with sport-commercial sharing arrangements all interact to determine available harvest.

A 30 percent buffer is built into the forecast in case the run is smaller than predicted.

What it all means is 12,700 upper Columbia spring chinook are available for sportsmen and 5,900 for the commercial fleet in the lower Columbia prior to a forecast update in early May.

The commercials also get 330 upper Columbia chinook as incidental catch in off-channel fishing spots such as Youngs Bay and Tongue Point near Astoria.

About 7,700 chinook from net pens in those areas are forecast to return. A few upper Columbia spring chinook wander into those areas and get caught in seasons targeting on the net-pen fish.

Sport fishing might be closed one day a week — likely Tuesdays — in March and early April to allow commercial fishing in the lower Columbia.

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the one-day-a-week sport closure has been used in the past to separate the fishing fleets.

Advisory committee member Josh Graham of Vancouver said boat ramps get chaotic when the sport fleet is trying to launch and the gillnetters are trying to load 28- to 32-foot boats at the same time.

John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said a one-day-a-week closure does not lengthen the season because anglers simply shift their trips and catch to other days.

Committee member Robert Moxley of Newberg, Ore, said if the commercials fish in the day, then the closure is warranted. But if the commercials are netting at night, then the river should be stay open daily for sportsmen.

The fishing scenario approved by the advisory group would generate about 102,400 angler trips.

The low snowpack in the mountains could mean a low and clear Columbia this spring, North said. Those conditions tend to result in a good bite for sportsmen.

Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the states will be poised to extend fishing beyond the projected closure date if it is evident the run is larger or the catch smaller than projections.