Commercial fishermen get their first chance at spring chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River with a seven-hour season on Tuesday.
The Columbia River Compact today approved fishing with 41/4-inch mesh tangle nets from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday between the ocean and Beacon Rock.
Biologist Jeff Whisler of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said an estimated 150 netters are expected to catch about 2,000 spring chinook, of which 1,640 will be destined for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.
A catch of 1,640 upper Columbia spring chinook would be 93 percent of the commercial fleet’s early-season allocation. The fleet would not fish again until after the size of the run is updated in early to mid-May.
Columbia River spring chinook are, arguably, the finest salmon in the world and will fetch commercial fishermen a good price of about $8 a pound.
“The markets are right, the timing is right, it’s time to go before the prices drop,” said Darren Crookshanks, a commercial fisherman from Longview.
Returns of 80,100 spring chinook to tributaries downstream of Bonneville Dam and 232,500 to waters upstream of the dam are forecast for 2015.
Sport fishing is closed on Tuesday and again on April 7 to accommodate a commercial fishery without conflict between the two fleets.
Whisler said if the commercial fishery is delayed another week it might be necessary to require landing limits to not exceed the early-season allocation.
Eighteen test-fishing drifts on Sunday in the Columbia in Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties caught 58 spring chinook and 18 steelhead. Eighty-six percent of the spring chinook were fin-clipped hatchery fish and 63 percent were of upper Columbia origin. Only 33 percent of the steelhead were fin-clipped.
Several commercial fishermen lamented the high number of marine mammals currently in the lower Columbia.
“You’re going to have sea lions all over,” said Les Clark, a commercial fisherman from Chinook, Wash. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Tim Heuker, a commercial fisherman from the Columbia Gorge, said he thinks interactions with sea lions will be the least early in the morning.
“It’s hard to believe we get a seven-hour season for the year,” said Jim Wells of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial fishing group.
The commercial fleet is expected to get more time in May or June, once the run forecast is updated. However prices will be lower and the fishermen have to contend with a building number of shad in the Columbia.
Sport hearing — A hearing to review the sport fishery for spring chinook in the lower Columbia has been rescheduled to 1 p.m. April 8. Fishing is scheduled to be closed beginning April 11, but could be extended depending on the catch level.