States to consider reopening spring chinook season in Columbia

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Columbia River Compact

Results of Tuesday's meeting will be reported in The Columbian and at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/crc.

Washington and Oregon officials will meet Tuesday to consider reopening sport and commercial fishing for spring chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River.

The Columbia River Compact will begin at 11 a.m. to consider gillnet fishing between Bonneville Dam and the coast. A joint state sport hearing will follow the compact session.

The Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee — a panel of state, tribal and federal biologists — issued its first spring chinook run update on Monday. In December, the committee forecast an upper Columbia run of 141,400 adult spring chinook.

On Monday, the forecast was downgraded to 107,500 upper Columbia spring chinook.

Large buffers were applied to sport and commercial fishing in the lower Columbia in March and April.

Even though the forecast was downsized, there remains about 1,200 spring chinook available for commercial harvest and about 1,400 for the lower Columbia sport fishery, said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Officials of the two states have talked about a commercial fishery on Wednesday. Roler said he doubts the commercial fleet can catch 1,200 fish in a single night.

"The biggest problem is shad,'' Roler said. "A tangle-net (4.25-inch mesh net) fishery on a building shad run could get ugly.''

On Sunday, 3,446 shad were counted at Bonneville Dam and the number is expected to increase daily.

Roler said the 1,400 spring chinook available for sport fishing in the lower Columbia could be put on the front end of the summer chinook season, which begins June 16.

Roler said he did not know if the 1,400 spring chinook are enough to last until June 16.

"Different people have different ideas,'' he said. "Some want to resume fishing immediately and others want to work backwards from the start of summer chinook fishing. We want to hear from the public on Tuesday.''

The streamflow on Sunday was a high 348,000 cubic feet per second at Bonneville Dam. High streamflows generally dampen the sport catch.

Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said the four treaty tribes will not propose a commercial season at Tuesday's compact meeting.

The tribes' priority is to keep the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools open for platform and hook-and-line fishing for subsistence use, he said.

Meanwhile, the count of jack spring chinook at Bonneville Dam has been very good this year. Officials are watching to see if, by June 15, the count tops the record-high 81,782 jacks tallied in 2009.

Historically, jacks have been used to predict next year's adult run, but the old relationships no longer are as applicable.

Based on the 2009 jack count, the biologists forecast an adult run of 470,000 in 2010, but only 315,000 actually returned.

"You can't trust them (jacks) any more,'' Roler said. "Jacks lie. The more jacks, the more they lie. Until you know all the details, you don't know how much they lie.''

Roler said a high jack count is more encouraging than low numbers, but it is too early to know what they portend for the 2014 run.