States delay decision on lower Columbia spring chinook reopening

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Washington and Oregon delayed a decision on Tuesday on when to reopen spring chinook salmon fishing in the lower Columbia River, but angling likely will resume sometime between May 22 and May 25.

Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Columbia River Compact that 1,357 upper Columbia spring chinook remain on the lower Columbia sport allocation and 1,195 on the commercial allocation.

Angling downstream of Bonneville Dam has been closed since April 12, when the early portion of spring chinook season concluded.

Ehlke said if chinook retention were to resume on Thursday, when fishing for hatchery steelhead and hatchery jack chinook begins downstream of Interstate 5, the sport allocation of spring chinook would reached about June 5.

That would mean a 10-day closure from the end of spring chinook retention and the start of summer chinook season on June 16.

If the spring chinook allocation is tacked on to the front end of the summer chinook opener, retention likely could resume about May 25, the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, she said.

The Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee downgraded the upper Columbia spring chinook forecast from 141,400 to 107,500 on Monday. The panel of state, tribal and federal biologists will update the forecast again next Monday.

If that forecast edges up to 110,000, it makes about 700 more chinook available to lower Columbia sportsmen, said John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Steve Williams, assistant administrator for fisheries of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, agreed to have another meeting late Monday after the upper Columbia chinook forecast is updated.

Norman said it may be possible by then to open spring chinook retention as early as May 22 and continue uninterrupted until summer chinook season opens June 16.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, asked the states to open chinook fishing on Thursday.

It's been a "really rough year,'' for retailers and guides, Hamilton said.

"This industry could use some people through the doors,'' she said. "We have a lot of inventory sitting on shelves.''

Robert Moxley of Wilsonville, Ore., a member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group, suggested a June 1 reopener.

Moxley said it is important that sportsmen do not exceed their allocation and that by June 1 there will be more summer steelhead and summer chinook entering the river.

A June 1 start also would divert effort from the Columbia River estuary sturgeon fishery and perhaps allow that season to avoid early closure, he added.

State officials will meet by telephone at 4 p.m. Monday to consider when to reopen the sport season.

Commercial season — The gillnet fleet will fish from 10 a.m. Wednesday until midnight from Beacon Rock to the ocean. The commercials are expected to take about 800 chinook, of which 510 will be upper Columbia fish.

The netters will be required to use 4 1/4-inch mesh tangle nets, which also will harvest shad from a building run. Commercial fisherman Gary Soderstrom said it is possible the tangle net will catch 100 shad a drift.

Bill Huntsinger, a Port of Astoria commissioner, said there are 600 sea lions in the Astoria east mooring basin and they'll follow the gillnet fleet into the river.

Darren Crookshanks, president of the Columbia River Fisheries Protective Union, a commercial group, said there are more than 1,000 sea lions in the lower Columbia each eating two to three salmon a day.

"It's killing the run,'' Crookshanks said. "We're raising fish for the predators.''

Jim Wells of Salmon For All, another commercial group, said with the low number of spring chinook, shad and sea lions, he does not expect participation by the commercial fleet to be very high.

"It's not too appealing,'' he said.