Netting for chinook delayed a week

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Commercial fishermen persuaded Washington and Oregon on Monday to wait a week before opening the lower Columbia River for netting of spring chinook salmon.

State biologists recommended eight hours of commercial fishing on Tuesday from the Pacific Ocean to Beacon Rock, but the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the fleet in a public hearing.

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.

West winds of 35 to 40 miles per hour are predicted for Tuesday at Astoria, plus the Columbia is high and full of floating debris.

“I’m not in any hurry to go fishing,’’ said Les Clark of Chinook, a commercial fisherman.

The 4.25-inch-mesh nets used for spring chinook tend to catch a lot of debris and are damaged easily, Clark added. The fleet is required to release wild spring chinook, not an easy task when the wind is high and the river rough.

Gary Soderstrom of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial group, said many commercials are fishing in off-channel areas like Youngs Bay and little time was available for switching to the different mesh nets required for the lower Columbia.

Several commercials also said the Cathlamet area is loaded with sea lions and seals feeding on the smelt run.

Sport fishing remains closed on Tuesday, despite the lack of commercial fishing. Tuesday and April 1 were set aside so the net and sport fleets do not conflict.

Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the commercials are allowed 1,700 upper Columbia-origin spring chinook and 4,200 Willamette-origin hatchery spring chinook under management plans.

The upper Columbia number will change after a run update in mid-May.

Ehlke said the expected catch in an eight-hour fishery on Tuesday would have been about 2,500 spring chinook overall and 1,000 upper Columbia salmon.

Test fishing on Sunday included 15 drifts in Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties with a catch of 36 chinook and 13 steelhead. Sixty-one percent of the fin-clipped chinook were lower Columbia fish, a good ratio to maximize overall commercial harvest.

Ehlke said the percentage of upper Columbia spring chinook in the test catch could increase next week. It is possible a fishery on April 1 might be of shorter duration or include boat limits.

Jack Marincovich, a long-time commercial fisherman from Astoria, said the March 25 netting date was set aside two months ago and now his peers are claiming they are not ready.

“How many excuses you guys got?’’ he said. “I sure am disappointed with our fishermen.’’

Robert Sudar, a Longview fish buyer, said the market is ready for fresh salmon and the high percentage of lower Columbia chinook in the test fishing would allow the commercial to catch a share that largely goes unharvested.

“There are a lot of good reasons to fish tomorrow,’’ Sudar said.

Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said he leaned toward setting a commercial fishing day, but was convinced by the fleet to delay a week.

The commercials are taking a chance that regulations on April 1 will be more restrictive, he said.

“The fleet’s wearing this one now,’’ Nigro said.

The sport fishing catch allocation for the lower Columbia prior to the run update in mid-May is 10,157. Only a tiny percentage of that has been caught so far.