March 24, 2023
By Eric Barker | The Lewiston Tribune
LEWISTON – Washington is expected to open limited fishing seasons for hatchery spring chinook on two stretches of the Snake River but not at Clarkston.
Chris Donley, fish program managers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Spokane, said the season will be similar to those offered last year, with fishing allowed near Little Goose Dam on Tuesdays and Fridays and near Ice Harbor Dam on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“We are not planning on Clarkston. We don’t really have enough fish to do it,” he said.
Donley expects anglers on the Snake to have a collective harvest quota of about 670 adult spring chinook and a daily bag limit of one adult fish. He said that could mean eight days of fishing once the run begins to show up.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved spring chinook fishing on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers near Riggins and on the Clearwater River and several of its tributaries at a meeting March 16. The season will start late next month. Anglers on the Clearwater River and its tributaries are expected to have a harvest share of about 2,500 adult fish, anglers fishing on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers will be able to harvest about 3,800 adult fish and there is projected to be about 700 chinook available for harvest near Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River.
State and tribal fisheries managers are forecasting nearly 200,000 springers bound for tributaries of the Columbia River upstream of Bonneville Dam will enter the mouth of the Columbia River, including 85,900 heading for the Snake River.
The overall prediction exceeds last year’s forecast of about 123,000, as well as the actual return of about 185,000. But the Snake River forecast calls for less than the 103,000 adult chinook that returned last year, and most of the expected return will be hatchery fish.
Forecasters expect a poor return of Snake River wild spring chinook – just 13,200 compared to 23,000 that returned in 2022. Wild Snake River spring chinook, including populations that return to the Salmon River in central Idaho, are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and off limits to fishing. The fish face several threats, including mortality and injury from passing dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers, predators and the effects of climate change.
Returns have been so low in recent years that some populations are at elevated risk, known as the quasi-extinction threshold, according to research by the Nez Perce Tribe.
The fish have had to contend with a string of poor ocean conditions. But that appeared to break in 2021 when conditions were graded the second best recorded over a 25-year data set. Ocean conditions were mixed last year, ranking 11th best over the past 25 years.
Donley is warning anglers to prepare for another fall which may see restrictions or limited bag limits for steelhead.
“People should not expect it to be a good steelhead year. It’s looking like the worst forecast on record or close to it.
“I don’t expect it to be great anywhere, but we will fish,” he said. “It’s going to look similar to what we have been doing since 2017.”
Fishing seasons target hatchery steelhead. Snake River wild steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and anglers aren’t allowed to harvest those fish.