April 11, 2019
Though Oregon and Washington added two more days of fishing for spring chinook in the lower Columbia River -- Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14 -- there are signs of a lower than forecasted return of spring chinook.
Just 184 fish have crossed Bonneville Dam, 9 percent of the 10-year average of 2,027 fish and the eighth lowest return on that date in the past ten years. There has also been a drop in test fishing results.
That had Bill Tweit, at a two-state Columbia River Compact hearing Wednesday (April 10), wondering if spring chinook angling should stop until biologists had more certainty that the forecasted chinook return materializes.
Tweit represents Director Kelly Susewind for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at the Compact.
Others, including lower Columbia River tribes, recreational advisors and some guides said angling should stop for at least a week to see if the forecasted run of 99,300 upriver spring chinook materializes. That forecast is 86 percent of last year’s actual run of 115,081 fish and half the 10-year average of 198,200 fish.
Bruce Jim, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indians’ Fish and Wildlife Committee, urged Oregon and Washington to allow more chinook to pass Bonneville Dam before reopening fishing downstream of the dam. Otherwise, he said, the tribes may need to limit their fishing in the near future if the fish are not allowed over the dam now.
“I hope the states will delay this fishery so we can see what will be available for our ceremonial fishing,” said Casey Mitchell of the Nez Perce Tribe. “There is no way to count the number of fish below Bonneville Dam and so that leaves all the conservation efforts on the tribes.”
Fishing conditions are poor. With recent rains and runoff, the Columbia River at the Vancouver, Wash. gauge is nearing flood level of 16 feet today and, according to some guides, water is murky, with visibility about two feet. Catch rates this week have been low, with no fish checked in at Camas, Wash. or at Bonneville, April 9, according to Harry Barber, a Columbia River recreational advisor.
“I’ve taken a poll of guides,” said guide Bill Monroe Jr. “They are saying that maybe we should step back, give it a week, then fish the weekend of April 19 to 21 or April 26 to 28. We don’t need to rush this with the dirty water.”
Rick Stillwater from the upper Columbia River urged a conservative approach, as well, warning that the Leavenworth Hatchery in the upper Columbia “just barely made its broodstock goals last year.”
Fishing for spring chinook has been allowed since March 1 and ended yesterday, April 10, but only in the Columbia from Warrior Rock at St. Helens, Ore. upstream roughly to Bonneville Dam. The lower river boundary was established to allow broodstock to reach hatcheries in the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers, both in Washington.
The estimated catch of chinook through April 7 was 1,282 kept fish, with 238 released from 21,442 angler trips. Some 16 steelhead had been released during this period. The Compact staff estimated total catch through April 10 would rise to 1,800 from about 25,700 angler trips.
Upriver mortalities through April 10, according to the April 10 Winter Fact Sheet No. 10 is 1,661 chinook, or 45 percent of the 3,689 mortalities available to this fishery prior to a run update.
According to Geoff Whisler, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and lead for the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee which forecasts Columbia River fish runs, TAC would not likely consider a run update until early May. Typically, half the run crosses the dam by May 8.
“Given the significant balance on the pre-season buffered allocation of upriver spring Chinook (2,028 fish remain available), there is potential for additional angling opportunity,” the staff wrote in Fact Sheet No. 10. “Considering the limited in-season information available regarding the upriver spring Chinook run, staff recommends a conservative approach moving forward with this fishery, including shifting to a limited days-per-week structure for any additional fishery openings. This will provide additional recreational opportunity while allowing staff the time to closely monitor the run and harvest.”
Tweit worried that either the run forecast is wrong or the fisheries agencies have overestimated the daily harvest rate. “If it’s the former (the forecast), then we’re looking at a really poor run that’s not correctable” if we continue taking fish now. “My preference is to shut down and wait,” he said.
Tucker Jones of ODFW, representing Director Curt Melcher, thought the Compact staff recommendation based on the 30 percent buffer was conservative and that fishing conditions are poor anyway, approving of the three day extension. As a compromise, he agreed to add the two days of fishing over the weekend beginning Saturday, rather than the three days proposed by staff, which would have begun Friday.
The open area remains unchanged from earlier this season, which is the Columbia River mainstem from the Warrior Rock deadline upstream to Beacon Rock, for both boat and bank angling, plus bank angling only from Beacon Rock upstream to the Bonneville Dam deadline.
The states also decided to close the recreational white sturgeon fishery in Bonneville Pool effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday April 13. Catch projections indicate harvest will be approaching the annual guideline for this reservoir by then, according to an ODFW news release. Retention seasons in The Dalles and John Day pools closed earlier this year. Catch and release angling will remain open in all three pools except in designated sturgeon sanctuaries that are in effect during May-July.
In addition, Oregon set a spring chinook fishery on the Hood River April 15 through June 30. The Hood River flows into the Columbia in the Bonneville pool. Fishery managers are predicting a return of 1,200 hatchery fish to the river, slightly less than last year’s strong return, ODFW said.
There will not be a spring salmon season on the Deschutes River this year due to predicted poor returns of both hatchery and wild fish.