Cuts likely for lower Columbia fall chinook fishing

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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State, federal and tribal officials — plus all manner of commercial and sport fishing interests — are in the middle of the month-long process leading to the setting of summer and fall salmon fishing seasons and regulations.

It all comes to conclusion in mid-April when the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopts ocean salmon-fishing seasons followed by Washington and Oregon announcing inland fishing rules.

And here’s what I think is the biggest news coming out of the process is for lower Columbia River anglers: Look for the main chinook retention fishery downstream of the mouth of the Lewis River to be over by Labor Day or a day or two after.

Yes, despite a forecast of 686,900 fall chinook destined for the Columbia River, and possible record of 432,500 upriver brights headed primarily for the Hanford Reach, fishing restrictions appear inevitable.

The forecast for wild-spawning tule fall chinook heading back to lower Columbia tributaries is not awful, but not a high number either. These fish are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and limitations on their harvest affect fisheries in the lower Columbia and out in the ocean.

State and federal biologists run various computer models balancing ocean catches with all the in-river fisheries including Buoy 10, the lower Columbia, the mid-Columbia and the different commercial time periods.

Those models have the main any-adult-chinook fishery downstream of the Lewis ending between Labor Day (Sept. 2) and Sept. 7, and Sept. 7 is not considered realistic.

Some of those models include a week of hatchery-chinook-only retention downstream of the Lewis. All of the models allow fishing daily upstream of the Lewis for the entire fall.

In 2012, the closure was Sept. 9, followed by a week of hatchery-chinook-only. In 2011, the closure was Sept. 9, then open Sept. 16-18, before closing again.

Closing the large, popular any-chinook retention season in places like Kalama and Longview as early as Labor Day will cause plenty of angst.

In fact, a new model that closes Buoy 10 on Sept. 1 (a day early), eliminates the week of hatchery-chinook-only fishing and delays the start of the two-chinook limit upstream of the Lewis will be run to see if the three measures combined will buy the Columbia downstream of Woodland a bit more time.

Stay tuned. The planning for the summer-fall fisheries is a very dynamic process, with changes as far away as Alaska influencing fisheries in the Columbia River.

Summer chinook

Summer chinook fishing in the lower Columbia is likely to open on June 16. There are 2,400 for sportsmen to catch. It is projected the allocation will last about 10 days.

If any spring chinook remain on the allocation after that season closes in April, sportsmen are asking they be used in mid-June to open summer chinook fishing before June 16.

The commercial fleet told officials on Tuesday they’d like to catch their share of summer chinook the night of June 16. That will thrill the sport fleet.

Retention of sockeye, which has been allowed beginning May 16, may be delayed to open concurrent with summer chinook.