States to consider reopening chinook fishing in Columbia

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Washington and Oregon officials will meet Thursday to consider reopening spring chinook salmon fishing in the Columbia River at least upstream of Bonneville Dam.

State, federal and tribal biologists on Monday revised the forecast of upper Columbia spring chinook from the initial 314,200 made in December to 202,000 salmon.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the biologists are confident the spring run will be at least 192,000 and might be as high as 217,000.

Sportsmen in the lower Columbia River caught more than 14,000 upper Columbia spring chinook before the season closed effective April 22. The commercial fleet caught about 4,700 upper Columbia chinook in two fishing periods.

Sport fishing in the mid-Columbia closed effective May 7.

The upper Columbia run needs to be 179,000 spring chinook to cover the non-Indian harvest to date under catch-balancing provisions with the four treaty tribes, said John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

At an 11 a.m. conference call on Thursday, the states will review dam counts and determine if more non-Indian fishing is allowable.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the first priority likely will be to provide additional opportunity for sportsmen between Bonneville Dam and the Washington-Oregon border upstream of McNary Dam.

Some of the spring chinook allocation needs to be saved for incidental handling mortality in the hatchery summer steelhead season which opens Wednesday downstream of Interstate 5, Norman added.

Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said counts at Bonneville Dam this week will factor significantly in the final forecast.

Tribal sales — Treaty fishermen are allowed to sell their catch beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday. The Columbia River Compact approved tribal sales on Monday.

The tribes have ongoing hook-and-line and platform fisheries in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools, plus immediately downstream of Bonneville Dam.

Ellis said the public should find tribal salmon for sale at the Bridge of the Gods and Marine Park in Cascade Locks, Ore., and perhaps Fort Rains on the Washington side between North Bonneville and Stevenson.

"We've got a lot of folks who are anxious to earn a little bit of money in this fishery,'' he said.

Many tribal members are interested in a full-fledged gillnet fishery, Ellis said. If the counts at Bonneville Dam stay strong, the tribes may propose a gillnet period in the next week or so.

Tribal members have taken 12,670 spring chinook in their ceremonial, subsistence, hook-and-line, and platform fisheries, Ellis said. They are expected to catch about another 3,400 in hook-and-line and platform fishing.

Sea lions — At least three sea lions have found their way into the Bonneville pool.

Ellis said the animals are damaging hoop nets and the tribes are eager to get the marine mammals removed.

Steve Williams, an assistant administrator of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said two traps have been moved upstream of Bonneville Dam in an effort to capture the sea lions.