Anglers may lose portion of Buoy 10 area

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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A small but popular section of the Buoy 10 fall salmon-angling area near the mouth of the Columbia River may be off-limits to fishermen beginning in 2014.

Legislation adopted in Oregon this year requires establishment of a zone at the mouth of Youngs Bay in Astoria that is closed to recreational fishing. Senate Bill 830 says the zone is “to reduce interception of hatchery fish returning to the off-channel fishery in Youngs Bay.’’

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Proposed Youngs Bay Control Zone

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The closure zone emerged during the Columbia River sport-commercial fishing reform discussions in 2012.

According to the reform plan, by 2017 gillnets will be limited to off-channel sites such as Youngs Bay with seine fisheries in the main Columbia. Sport-commercial allocations of spring and summer chinook are being shifted to the benefit of sportsmen.

The commercials asked for the Youngs Bay sport-closure zone to keep the angling fleet from catching bright fall chinook and coho at the mouth of Youngs Bay. Many of those fish are released in Youngs Bay to fuel the commercial fishery inside the Highway 101 bridge.

The draft language for the control zone presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission last December would close recreational fishing in the area from the Youngs Bay bridge out to the green buoy line from Warrenton Fiber upstream to the Astoria Bridge from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15.

Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the legislation requires a closure zone, but does not define its boundaries.

The zone, as defined so far, is “a starting point for conversation,’’ Nigro said. “It’s not necessarily a staff proposal.’’

The bistate Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group was briefed on the Youngs Bay situation last week.

“Select area brights’’ are a fall chinook of Rogue River origin released in Youngs Bay. They tend, some years, to return a bit earlier than most other fall chinook.

The first significant catches in the Buoy 10 sport fishery often are select area brights near the green buoy line between the Astoria Bridge and Warrenton Fiber.

John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the Youngs Bay closure zone as currently being discussed is about 5 percent of the overall Buoy 10 area. That figure is a bit misleading though because much of the Buoy 10 area are the unfishable Desdemona Sands and much of the area outside Youngs Bay is mudflat.

There are many ways to cut the chinook numbers at Buoy 10.

North said that in 2012 that 20 percent of the Buoy 10 catch were select area brights. Over the years, an average of 12 percent of the select area bright run is caught in sport fisheries.

Pat O’Grady of Warrenton, Ore., a member of the sport advisory group, said the select area brights are released in Youngs Bay for the gillnetters.

“I’d like to see this put in place,’’ O’Grady said. “There are a lot of areas for us sport fishermen.’’

The closure zone overlaps the shipping channel and would make life easier for Columbia River bar pilots, too, he added.

“It’s not a big area,’’ O’Grady said. “Sure it’s great for fishing there. I like fishing there. It’s safe for me and my 12-foot yacht. By God, let’s give some fish to the gillnetters here.’’

Robert Moxley of Dundee Ore., estimated the green buoy line at Astoria gets 30 percent to 40 percent of the Buoy 10 sport-fishing effort.

“To say it’s just 5 percent of the fishing area doesn’t describe it accurately,’’ said Randy Woolsey of Tigard, Ore.

Neil Branze of Seaside, Ore. said the potential closure zone also is a safety issue. The green buoy line is close to boat ramps so anglers in small boats can get to shore quickly when the wind kicks up.

“Small boats can’t run 10 to 12 miles on the river when the wind comes up,’’ Branze said.

North said part of the Columbia River reform process is to find locations to expand off-channel areas for the gillnetters. Test commercial fishing has been done outside the Highway 101 bridge to see if the site is suitable.

Woolsey said a goal of the Columbia River reforms is to boost the economy. Anglers chasing the early-returning select area bright chinook along the green buoy line add to the coffers of Astoria-area hotels and restaurants.

“If we start closing down wholesale parts of what has been traditionally recreational fishing areas it just defeats the purpose of that plan,’’ Woolsey said.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will determine the boundaries when it meets Feb. 7. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to have public meetings on the topic before then.