With Chinook salmon catches trending well above expectation, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon announced Thursday that the lower Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to Buoy 10 (including the Camas Slough) will close to salmon fishing beginning Friday.
Fishery managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed Thursday to close salmon fishing downstream of Bonneville Dam after preliminary data showed impacts to Lower Columbia River “tule” Chinook — which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — were much higher than anticipated.
“This closure is a big deal and a decision not taken lightly, but we’ve got to do this to ensure fisheries remain within their conservation limits on these listed runs of fish,” said Tucker Jones, ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program Manager.
“It kills us to have to close fishing before Labor Day Weekend, especially when we recognize how important recreational angling is to both the conservation of salmon and to the economics of local communities that rely on this fishery. Unfortunately, closing is our only option right now. But we are committed to getting folks back on the water as soon as possible, if it’s possible.”
The Buoy 10 fishery near the mouth of the Columbia opened for mark-selective hatchery Chinook fishing on Aug. 1 and switched to non-mark selective fishing on Aug. 25, with the catch rate particularly high during the non-mark selective portion.
From Aug. 25-30, an estimated 11,800 Chinook were kept in the Buoy 10 fishery, with another 3,500 released.
“Anglers saw a lot of success in August fishing for Chinook at Buoy 10,” said Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River fisheries manager with WDFW. “Normally, these tule Chinook begin to move out of the area in late August, but we saw catches increase in the past week and the proportion of tules caught was much higher than we’ve seen in years past.
“Unfortunately, this pushed us over the allowable recreational impacts on these lower river Chinook.”
Unlike other fall Chinook stocks that return upstream of Bonneville Dam, there is no method for updating the estimated return of tule Chinook below Bonneville Dam in-season.
Therefore, fishery managers must rely on pre-season estimates when determining how many impacts are allowed to ESA-listed populations below Bonneville Dam through the duration of the fishing season.
“Even in a coho-only fishery, some Chinook are still caught and die after release,” Lothrop said. “It’s not clear if the lower river tule stock is coming in above our pre-season forecast, or if these fish are just sticking around longer than normal. Either way, we have to make sure we don’t exceed allowable impacts to this population.”
Managers will continue to monitor the fisheries and runs to evaluate if there is a possibility to reopen for salmon fishing later this fall.
Angling for shad, walleye and other warmwater species remains open under permanent regulations, and sturgeon fisheries scheduled for later this month are not affected.