Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today set 2013 fishing seasons for the lower Columbia River that anticipate a smaller return of spring chinook salmon and reflect continuing concerns about the river's white sturgeon population.
Most new fishing rules adopted during a public meeting in Portland take effect March 1, when fishing for spring chinook and sturgeon starts to heat up on the lower Columbia. Until then, both fisheries are open on various sections of the river under rules approved last year.
After three years of strong returns, fishery managers based harvest guidelines for this year's spring chinook season on a projected run of 141,400 upriver fish, about 25 percent below the 10-year average. Approximately 203,000 fish destined for areas above Bonneville Dam returned to the Columbia last year.
This year's initial catch guideline for the recreational spring chinook fishery will allow anglers fishing below the dam to catch up to 5,000 hatchery-reared upriver chinook before the run forecast is updated in May. Another 670 adult fish will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.
Although spring chinook returning to the Willamette, Cowlitz and other rivers below Bonneville Dam also contribute to the fishery, upriver fish make up the bulk of the catch. Under last year's guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam caught 10,160 upriver spring chinook, along with 3,175 returning to tributaries of the lower Columbia River.
The spring chinook fishery approved today is scheduled to run through April 5, but could be extended if enough fish are still available under the harvest guideline, said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
"Salmon returns are highly variable, and we'll have a better idea what the season holds once the bulk of the run starts moving upriver," Roler said. "Although the preseason forecast is smaller than in recent years, it is still twice as large as those we saw in the 1990s."
As in years past, anglers may retain hatchery-reared spring chinook marked with a clipped adipose fin. Any unmarked wild spring chinook - some of which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act - must be released unharmed.
To facilitate the release of wild fish, anglers fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout are now required to use barbless hooks on the mainstem Columbia River downstream of the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.
In a separate action, fishery managers established new rules for the white sturgeon fishery that will reduce harvest rates for the fourth straight year. Amid ongoing concerns about sturgeon abundance in the lower Columbia River, the two states agreed to reduce the harvest rate by an additional 15 percent.
But that reduction will largely be offset by a slight increase in the legal-size sturgeon population - the first indication of improvement in five years. As a result, the harvest guideline for the recreational sturgeon fishery below Bonneville Dam will remain virtually unchanged at 7,790 fish.