Spring chinook, sturgeon seasons set for Columbia

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter



PORTLAND — Spring chinook angling in the lower Columbia River is projected to continue through April 6 under rules adopted by Washington and Oregon on Thursday.

Fishing is open daily downstream of Interstate 5.

Beginning March 1, fishing also will be allowed upstream of I-5 to Beacon Rock for boaters and to Bonneville Dam for bank anglers. There will be three Tuesday closures — March 20, March 27 and April 3 — to accommodate commercial fishing.

A strong run of 314,200 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia destined to waters upstream of Bonneville Dam. A good run of 83,400 is predicted for Oregon’s Willamette River. An additional 25,600 chinook are anticipated to other lower Columbia tributaries.

To prevent overharvest in case the prediction is too high, the states will apply a 30 percent buffer and manage the upper Columbia run as if it were 219,900, said Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The early-season allocation is 12,700 upper Columbia salmon for the lower Columbia sport fishery. Ehlke said the overall sport catch is projected to be 14,500 chinook by the time the 12,700 upper Columbia fish are taken. Modeling projects 105,300 angler trips through April 6.

State officials scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. April 5 to consider extending the season beyond April 6 if the catch is behind expectations.

The Tuesday sport closures allow for commercial fishing during the day and lessen conflicts at boat ramps between the two groups. The early-season commercial allocation is 5,900 upper Columbia spring chinook.

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.

Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game asked Washington and Oregon not to frontload the sport fishery, but to stretch it out until early May.

Fifty percent to 60 percent of the harvest downstream of Bonneville Dam comes from spring chinook headed to four Idaho hatcheries, Hassemer said. Idaho would like to see the harvest not so concentrated on four stocks.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the sport fishery would have to be limited to about a day per week to meet Idaho’s request.

Other fishing seasons adopted Tuesday include:

Mid-Columbia chinook — Angling will be open March 16 through May 2 between Bonneville Dam and the Washington-Oregon border upstream of McNary Dam. In the Bonneville pool, boat fishing is limited to upstream of the Tower Island power lines, approximately six miles downstream of The Dalles Dam.

The allocation is 1,600 spring chinook and the daily limit is two fish.

Lower Columbia sturgeon — The existing season structure, which has three allocation areas, will be maintained, but with fewer retention days scheduled in each.

o In the estuary downstream of the Wauna power lines near Cathlamet, sturgeon retention will be open daily through April 30, then daily from May 12 through July 8. Few sturgeon are caught before mid-May.

The harvest ceiling is 4,160 sturgeon.

o Between the Wauna power lines and Bonneville Dam, sturgeon retention will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through July 31 and again from Oct. 20 through Dec. 31. The harvest ceiling is 2,080 sturgeon.

Sturgeon fishing will be closed May through August from Bonneville Dam downstream to Marker 82 on the Oregon shore and Skamania Island.

o In the Willamette River downstream of Willamette Falls, sturgeon retention will be allowed Feb. 17-18 and Feb. 24-25 with a catch guideline of 1,728 to 2,022 fish. The goal is to get four days of fishing, but the catch will be reviewed after the first weekend.

Bonneville pool sturgeon — Retention in the reservoir behind Bonneville Dam will continue through about Feb. 17. The pool has a 2,000-sturgeon guideline. If fish remain on the guideline, the balance will be used in a summer fishery.

Ehlke said it also is possible the 2,000 sturgeon in Bonneville pool will not last until mid-February. The catch through Sunday was 737 sturgeon.

Winter sturgeon gillnet — The commercial fleet will get three 24-hour periods in late January and early February to target on sturgeon in the lower Columbia.

The periods are 6 p.m. Monday to 6 p.m. Tuesday, 6 p.m. Feb. 1 to 6 p.m. Feb. 2 and 6 p.m. Feb. 6 to 6 p.m. Feb. 7. The river will be open from Beacon Rock to the ocean. The commercials must use nets with a 9-inch minimum mesh and 9 3/4-inch maximum. There is a maximum of 10 sturgeon per vessel per week.

The catch guideline is 280 sturgeon.

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