Buoy 10 to switch to hatchery chinook only

Anglers at popular Columbia spot must release wild fish

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Anglers in the popular Buoy 10 salmon fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River will be allowed to keep only fin-clipped chinook beginning Friday.

Chinook fishing has been excellent at Buoy 10 in the past few days.

From the season's start on Aug. 1 through Monday, 13,300 chinook and 2,000 hatchery coho had been taken from 28,300 angler trips, said Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Catch expectations for the season, scheduled to continue through Sept. 1, are 20,000 chinook and 8,000 hatchery coho.

But anglers have been catching as many as 1,600 chinook a day.

Washington and Oregon officials met Tuesday and considered closing chinook retention beginning Saturday or switching to hatchery-only retention on Friday.

Ehlke said sampling indicates 42 percent of the chinook are fin-clipped. Nineteen percent of released fish are assumed to die.

State officials will meet again at 2 p.m. Aug. 27 to review catches and determine if hatchery-only chinook retention can continue through Sept. 1.

"This season is subject to change,'' said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The bag limit effective Friday at Buoy 10 is two hatchery-origin salmon or two hatchery steelhead or one of each. Only one hatchery chinook will be allowed.

Buoy 10 is the name given to the 16 miles from Buoy No. 10 where the Columbia meets the Pacific Ocean upstream to Tongue Point in Oregon and Rocky Point in Washington.

Thousands of boats swarm the river in mid- and late August. Ehlke said the catch last week was a chinook per every other rod, which is extremely good for salmon angling.

The option to close all chinook retention effective Saturday, leaving coho-only fishing, was not greeted warmly.

"This is how a lot of us feed our families for an entire year,'' said Marvin Hinkle, an Oregon fishing guide. "We need this month, a whole month.''

Randy Woolsey, a manufacturer's representative for fishing gear, said the Buoy 10 season is extremely important to coastal hotels, restaurants, bait shops and others.

"This is a big time for our local area to make their money for the year,'' said Butch Smith of the Ilwaco Charter Association.

Steve Watrous of Vancouver, Washington sport-fishing representative to the Salmon Advisory Subpanel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, said the sportsmen he queried were against hatchery-only chinook fishing at Buoy 10.

"A 42 percent mark rate means releasing 58 percent of the fish into 70 to 74 degree water,'' Watrous said. "Nobody believes 19 percent (mortality) is close to reality in these conditions.''

He also said the same Oregon guides who are pleading to keep the season open for the benefit of the coast economy are bragging about making multiple trips per day.

Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association asked about the possibility of requiring the release of wild chinook upstream of Tongue Point so Buoy 10 does not use chinook allocated for the middle Columbia.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the treaty tribes are concerned about how many salmon die upon release, noting that the 19 percent figure used by the states is not agreed upon among state, federal and tribal biologists.

The tribes also would like more monitoring of the sport fishery, Ellis said.

He mentioned posts on fishing web sites encouraging anglers to lie to state fish checkers regarding salmon released.

Managing fall chinook harvest is a complicated balancing act with allocations set between Indians and non-Indians, sport and commercial fishermen and even between different portions of the Columbia. There are also various ceilings on the number of Snake River wild chinook and lower Columbia wild chinook that can be taken.

While only hatchery chinook will be legal at Buoy 10, wild chinook still will be allowed in the ocean off the Columbia River mouth and upstream of Tongue Point.

Norman said it is legal to transit through the Buoy 10 area with an unclipped chinook, but sportsmen "should not be in a position suggesting any aspect of angling.''