Spring chinook fishing to reopen in lower Columbia

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Spring chinook salmon angling in the lower Columbia River will be open Saturday and Sunday.

Washington and Oregon agreed Tuesday to allow two days of fishing from Buoy 10 to Beacon Rock for boat and bank rods plus bank-angling-only from Beacon Rock to the deadline at Bonneville Dam.

Sportsmen are projected to take about 825 spring chinook overall and 715 destined for upstream of Bonneville Dam.

The daily limit is two adult salmon or steelhead, but only one chinook. Only fin-clipped chinook or fin-clipped steelhead may be kept. Any sockeye salmon may be retained, but counts toward the two-fish limit.

Biologist John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that at the current prediction of 216,500 spring chinook headed for upstream of Bonneville there are 1,402 remaining on the sport allocation.

The number would be higher except the sport fishery in the Snake River exceeded its share by 1,212 chinook, which must be subtracted from the overall sport allocation.

Chinook passing Bonneville Dam through June 15 are counted as the spring race. The forecast of 216,500 is key, because if the run is 217,000 a higher percentage of harvest is allowed under the 2008-17 state-tribal-federal management agreement.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, pushed for the two-day lower Columbia fishery for Memorial Day weekend.

Initially, fishing was considered for all three days, but that much harvest could push the catch over what is allowed under the federal Endangered Species Act, particularly if the actual run is smaller than the forecast.

Steve Williams, an assistant administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, favored making no decision until May 29.

Under Williams' favored option, the available spring chinook harvest would be tacked on to the opening of the summer chinook season on June 16.

North said chinook retention might be able to open about June 6 and segue into the summer season without this weekend's fishing.

Testimony among sport-fishing interests was split between fishing this weekend and adding the harvest on to the front of the summer chinook season.

The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and Northwest Guides and Anglers Association both favored fishing this weekend.

Gillnetting for summer chinook is likely about June 18 or 19.

Harry Barber of Washougal said allowing angling for a week or more before the nets go in the lower Columbia for summer chinook tends to defuse that conflict between sportsmen and the commercial fleet.

Jim Wells of Salmon for All, an Astoria-based commercial fishing group, noted that counts at Bonneville Dam are dropping and questioned if the forecast of 216,500 might be too high.

"There's not that kind of horsepower in this run,'' Wells said.

At a forecast of 216,500, the gillnet fleet has 575 upper Columbia spring chinook left in its allocation.

Six hours of gillnetting on May 29 was considered, then rejected. North said the commercial harvest might exceed slightly its allocation with a six-hour fishery downstream of Kelley Point at the mouth of the Willamette River.

Norman said he would want a chinook-per-vessel limit if there was commercial fishing on May 29. Several gillnetters said a potential seven-chinook-per-vessel limit would not be profitable.

Washington and Oregon will meet again at 3 p.m. May 29 to update the run forecast and determine if additional sport or commercial fishing is possible.