Snake River spring chinook management draws fire

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A small cadre of eastern Washington anglers will make a trip to the Tri-Cities Wednesday to demand a bigger slice of the salmon-fishing pie.

The 130-mile journey has become an annual pilgrimage for the disgruntled group that is dissatisfied with the way the state both allocates and manages its spring chinook fishery.

“We have gone the last two years. It’s like beating your head against the wall,” said Bob Gilbertson of the Waters Edge tackle shop in Clarkston. “It’s really frustrating.”

Anglers in the state’s far southeastern corner want two things: First they are asking the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to allocate more of the annual harvest of spring chinook to anglers on the

Snake River. Next, they want fisheries officials to do a better job of allocating harvest on the Snake between upriver and downriver communities.

Most of Washington’s share of the spring chinook run — about 75 percent — is allocated to anglers fishing on the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam. The state does, however, reserve about a quarter of the run to be caught by anglers above Bonneville and on the Snake River between the Tri-Cities and Clarkston.

But fishing quotas on the lower Columbia are based on run-strength predictions. In recent years those predictions have often turned out to be overly optimistic. To compensate for runs that are smaller than

forecasted, fisheries managers have reduced quotas in the middle of the season, which on occasion has meant fishing on the Snake River shuts down just as the fish are arriving.

Anglers who fish above Lower Granite Dam are also displeased with the way fishing has been managed on the Snake River. For example, last year the run was late and seemed to surge upriver all at once. Anglers at the mouth of the river near Ice Harbor Dam and those fishing near Little Goose Dam caught so many fish, so fast, that fishing had to be shut down just as the bulk of the run was reaching Clarkston.

Gilbertson would like to see the department set quotas for different stretches of the river so anglers at the end of the line have a chance to catch fish.

“I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” he said. “But they just say, ‘Here is the allocation for the Snake River,’ and they could care less what we get up here.”

The meeting is part of the state’s North of Falcon process that attempts to allocate harvest for commercial and recreational salmon fishing throughout the state. Gilbertson estimated about 12 anglers from Asotin and Garfield counties make the trip each year. He noted that most of the anglers who attend the open house-style meeting are from the Tri-Cities.