Columbia anglers to get more time for spring chinook

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Spring chinook salmon angling in the lower Columbia River will continue through Monday, be closed on Tuesday, then reopen Wednesday through April 14 with sportsmen projected to catch 89 percent of their allocation.

Washington and Oregon adopted the sport-fishing extension on Thursday. Angling was to be closed beginning Tuesday. The extension adds six days of fishing. State officials will provide a catch update on April 15 to determine if another extension is possible.

Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said there are expected to be 14,600 angler trips this week with a kept catch of 2,000 spring chinook, of which 1,654 are upper Columbia-origin salmon.

That will bring the spring total to 2,786 chinook kept, of which 2,183 are upper Columbia chinook. That’s 21 percent of the initial sport allocation of 10,157 upper Columbia chinook.

State biologists predict 43,700 trips between April 9 and 14 with a catch of 8,100 chinook, of which 6,806 are upper Columbia chinook. That would bring the season total to 10,886 spring chinook kept, of which 8,989 are upper Columbia origin, or 89 percent of the early-season allocation.

Most guides and anglers testifying on Thursday said the sport catch estimates between now and April 14 are excessively optimistic, given the high and somewhat dirty water conditions in the lower Columbia River.

Guide Jack Glass of Troutdale, Ore., said fishing has been slow this season.

While it is expected to improve with more chinook in the river and clearing water “it’s not going to be totally on-fire type of catching,’’ Glass said.

Randy Woolsey of Oregon, a member of the bistate Columbia River Recreational Adviser Group, said the estimates of angler trips are too high, as are projected catch rates.

“It’s going to stay tough for a while,’’ Woolsey said.

Runs of 227,000 spring chinook to waters upstream of Bonneville Dam and 81,000 to tributaries downstream of the dam are forecast for 2014. The Bonneville Dam season count through Wednesday was 620 adult spring chinook.

Counts at Bonneville peak in late April to mid-May.

On Tuesday, the commercial fleet fished the lower Columbia for eight hours. They caught about 1,700 overall chinook, including 1,400 to 1,500 upper Columbia fish. Their early-season allocation is 1,735 upper Columbia spring chinook.

Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said it is too early to determine if another commercial fishing period will be adopted on Monday for Tuesday.

The sport-fishing closure on Tuesday also makes it more likely the sport fleet will have enough salmon to last through April 14, Ehlke said.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said a second angling extension might be possible if catches are poor.

Tribal and Snake River sport-fishing interests urged that the lower Columbia season not be extended beyond Monday.

Bruce Jim Sr. of the Warm Springs tribe said Indian fishermen have caught only 13 salmon for spring ceremonies.

“It is simply not necessary to catch every fish in the lower Columbia River as fast as possible,’’ Jim said.

He also said the tribes are skeptical that lower river anglers accurately report the number of wild spring chinook they release to state checkers. Non-Indians need to be subject to the strong monitoring the tribes undergo, he added.

Steve Martin, executive director of the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board, said Washington and Oregon allow too much fishing too early and urged against any extension.

Hamilton pointed out that the lower Columbia has not exceeded its allocation since a 30 percent buffer began several years ago, but the upper river has gone over several times.

Ehlke said that although the upper Columbia forecast is for 227,000 spring chinook, the states manage the run as if it will be only 158,900.

Jeff Whisler of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the run could be as small as 147,000 and still accommodate initial lower river and upper river sport fisheries plus non-Indian commercial fisheries.

An update of sport catches through Monday is expected on Tuesday. An update or hearing is anticipated April 15 to determine if additional fishing time in the lower Columbia is possible.