PORTLAND - 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.
Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist, recommends that anglers look closely at the new fishing rules, because fishing periods in some areas will change this year. The new regulations for white sturgeon and spring chinook salmon will be posted on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ by the end of the day Feb. 1. They will also be incorporated into the 2013-14 Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, available in May.
Spring chinook fishing is currently open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge. Under the new rules adopted today, the sport fishery will expand upriver to Beacon Rock from March 1 through April 5. During that period, the sport fishery will close on two Tuesdays - March 26 and April 2 - to accommodate possible commercial fisheries.
Starting March 1, the bank anglers’ fishing area will be extended from Beacon Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam.
Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through May 5 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time.
Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one adipose-clipped hatchery adult spring chinook as part of their daily catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked adult spring chinook per day effective March 16.
To guard against overestimating this year’s run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast can be updated in late April or early May.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon will schedule a meeting before the season below Bonneville Dam closes April 5 to review the catch and determine if the season can be extended. If the catch to that point has not reached the initial harvest guideline, the two states may consider an immediate extension.
"We’ve agreed to take a conservative approach until May, when we we’ll have a better idea how many fish are actually returning," Roler said. "If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in the spring."
New harvest guidelines approved for sport sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia and lower Willamette rivers will limit this year’s catch to 7,790 fish, similar to the number available for harvest last year. Previous actions had reduced the allowable catch by 38 percent in 2012, 30 percent in 2011, and 40 percent in 2010.
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the portion of the catch available to recreational fisheries will be allocated as follows: 4,040 fish in the estuary, 2,020 above the Wauna powerlines, and 1,730 in the Willamette River.
To keep this year’s catch within the new harvest guideline, the sturgeon fishery will end five days earlier than last year in the estuary fishery below the Wauna powerlines.
The retention fishery in the area from the Wauna powerlines upriver to Bonneville Dam is typically split into a winter-through-mid-summer period and a fall period. Last year, the fall fishery was cancelled, because high catch rates from May through July took most of the fish available for harvest in that area. This year, managers agreed to shorten the winter-summer fishery by 18 days to reserve about half the catch for the fall fishery.
Fishing seasons approved for 2013 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:
- Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 through April 30 and from May 11 through June 30. From Jan. 1 through April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 11 through the end of the season they must measure 41 inches to 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
- Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through June 15 and from Oct. 19 through Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. Sturgeon fishing will be closed from May 1 to Aug. 31 in the sanctuary area from Bonneville Dam downstream nine miles to a line crossing the Columbia River from navigation marker 82 on the Oregon shore, westerly to the boundary marker on the Washington shore upstream of Fir Point.
- Pools above Bonneville Dam: Fishery managers reduced the harvest guideline for the Bonneville Pool from 2,000 fish to 1,100, because monitoring data indicate that the sturgeon population did not increase over the past three years as expected. Sturgeon retention is allowed through Feb. 10, with additional days possible in June. Retention fisheries in the two reservoirs between The Dalles and McNary dams are scheduled to proceed until their respective 300 fish and 500 fish guidelines are met.