August 14, 2019
With an anticipated low return of upriver steelhead – those that will cross Bonneville Dam – in the Columbia River this year, Oregon and Washington have taken steps to protect the listed fish.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission closed the Columbia River around the mouth of the Deschutes River, along with a portion of the lower Deschutes up to Moody Rapids, this week to protect upriver wild summer steelhead. It made the call at its Commission meeting in Salem Friday, Aug. 2.
The closure that began August 12 and will be in effect through Sept. 15 is to protect wild Snake River fish that may take refuge in the Deschutes’ cool waters on their journey to the Snake River. The fish are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“Returns of ESA-listed wild Snake River steelhead this year are forecasted to be similar to the extremely poor return of 2017, and there are ongoing concerns about the potential effects of angling on wild steelhead that may gather in cooler water near tributary mouths like the Deschutes,” an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife news release says.
In an Aug. 1 memo to the Oregon Commission, David Moscowitz of The Conservation Angler, a conservation group focused on Columbia River steelhead, called for the Commission to set aside cool water refugia that attract wild steelhead and salmon as they migrate upriver, including the Deschutes River.
“Perhaps the most important cold-water refuge is at the Deschutes-Columbia confluence,” the memo said. “The Deschutes will start cooling in August, just as Columbia heats up and as the up-river salmon and steelhead migration peaks.”
The Commission directed ODFW to take similar steps to close the mouth of the Deschutes River last year, as well. Based on additional discussions with the public and regional biologists, the boundary of this year’s closure has been refined to reduce the impact on chinook fishing opportunities, the Commission added.
In addition, both Oregon and Washington have begun a series of rolling steelhead recreational angling closures from Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia to the Oregon/Washington state line. Those closures prohibit anglers from keeping both hatchery and wild steelhead, effectively making angling for steelhead during certain periods a catch-and-release fishery.
Aug. 1 to 31 from Buoy 10 upstream to The Dalles Dam,
Aug. 1 to Sept. 30 from The Dalles Dam upstream to the John Day Dam,
Sept. 1 to Oct. 31 from John Day to McNary Dam, and
Oct. 1 to Nov. 30 from McNary Dam upstream to the OR/WA state line.
Upriver summer steelhead pass Bonneville Dam from April through October and are considered A-Index or B-Index based on their fork length. A-Index, or A-run, are less than 78 centimeters (about 31 inches), and B-Index, or B-run, are longer.
Most of the B-run fish are headed to Snake River tributaries in Idaho, while A-run fish are distributed throughout the Columbia and Snake river basins.
The forecast for the combined run is 118,000 fish over Bonneville, with 40,450 wild fish (unclipped). But the A-run makes up the vast majority of the fish with a forecast of 110,200 fish, of which 33,900 are wild. That’s 46 percent of the 10-year average for A-run fish. Last year’s A-run forecast was 158,000 and the actual run was less than half the forecast at 69,338.
The B-run makes up a small percentage of the total adult steelhead migration, with 8,000 fish (950 wild), which is just 24 percent of the 10-year forecast. The 2018 forecast was 24,400 fish and the actual size of the run was very close at 24,662.
Last year’s combined forecast was 182,400 fish, but the actual return to the river was far fewer at 94,000 fish.
Passage at Bonneville July 1 through Aug 8 was 32,123 steelhead, lower than the 46,300 expected on this date given the 2019 forecast, according to the Aug. 12 two-state Columbia River Compact Fall Fact Sheet No. 3.
Passage at the dam is typically 50 percent complete by Aug. 20.
The number of unclipped steelhead from through August 8 is 18,969, which is 89 percent of the expected passage for this period.
The Conservation Angler also listed other cold water confluences with the Columbia River that had been identified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Among those are the Klickitat, White Salmon, Wind, Washougal, Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama rivers in Washington, and the Hood and Sandy rivers, Herman Creek and Eagle Creek.
At the Deschutes’ mouth, the Oregon Commission defined the boundary of the angling closure by a line projecting from the South Channel Range “B” marker located approximately 3/4-mile upstream of the mouth of the Deschutes, downstream through Red Buoy Marker “4”, and terminating at the flashing red USCG light #2 on the Oregon shore downstream of the mouth.
The Snake River basin steelhead listed as threatened under the ESA include the “distinct population segment,” or DPS, of naturally spawned steelhead originating below natural and manmade impassable barriers in the Snake basin, and also steelhead from six artificial propagation programs:
Tucannon River Program
Dworshak National Fish Hatchery Program
Lolo Creek Program
North Fork Clearwater Program
East Fork Salmon River Program
Little Sheep Creek/Imnaha River Hatchery Program