The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced widespread steelhead fishing restrictions beginning June 16 that include the Columbia, Cowlitz, Lewis, Wind and White Salmon rivers plus Drano Lake.
State fish managers expect just 130,700 summer steelhead to return to the Columbia this year, the lowest number since 1980. The forecast is especially weak for wild steelhead destined for the Snake River and the Columbia upstream of Priest Rapids Dam near the Tri-Cities.
“Many of the fish returning this year were subjected to drought conditions in the Columbia Basin in 2015 and the unusually warm water in the ocean through 2016,’’ said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We saw the effects of these conditions in last year’s upriver steelhead return, and this year they’re even more pronounced.’’
Here is a look at the emergency rules issued by the department:
• The daily bag limit will be cut to one hatchery-origin steelhead and night fishing prohibited from Friday through Oct. 31 in the Columbia River from the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco to the Megler-Astoria Bridge.
• The daily bag limit will be one hatchery steelhead with no night fishing Friday through Oct. 31 in the Cowlitz River downstream from the Lexington Drive/Sparks Road bridge; the Lewis River downstream of the mouth of the East Fork; Wind River downstream of Shipherd Falls, the White Salmon River downstream of the county road bridge and in Drano Lake.
Drano Lake is a large and very popular steelhead fishing spot in a backwater of the Columbia River at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River in Skamania County.
• All steelhead must be released during August in the Columbia River downstream of The Dalles Dam to the ocean, plus in the Cowlitz, Lewis, Wind and White Salmon rivers.
• All steelhead must be released in August and September in Drano Lake.
• The Dalles pool of the Columbia River will be closed for steelhead in September. The John Day pool will be closed for steelhead in September and October. McNary pool upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge will be closed in October and November.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering similar rules for its Columbia tributaries.
Commercial and tribal fisheries in the Columbia River also will be constrained to conserve summer steelhead.
Roler said the non-Indian commercial fishery in the lower Columbia River likely will be limited to six days under an agreement reached in April. Last year, the commercials fished 13 days and have averaged 26 days in the fall during the past decade.
“Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia Basin,’’ he said. “Now that ocean conditions have shifted — as they do on a recurrent basis — we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly.’’