The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Low steelhead numbers restrict gillnetters


August 31, 2017

Early commercial fall fishing began August 21 for both commercial non-treaty gillnetters and treaty gillnetters on the Columbia River mainstem while Idaho, due to historic low returns, suspended retention of steelhead in Idaho rivers as of August 17.

For commercial gillnetters, the limited opening is for five nine-hour fishing periods, all upstream of Warrior Rock at St. Helens, Oregon.

Because of the poor steelhead returns, this early fall commercial gillnetting fishery is the only fishery this fall that lower Columbia River gillnetters can expect.

For commercial treaty gillnetters, the opening is for three four and a half day periods, Monday through Friday, beginning Monday, August 21 and continuing for the next two weeks.

The two-state Columbia River Compact met August 16 in Kelso where it made the decision for the commercial openings.

The Compact did not rule on recreational fishing, which is already open under two-state rules from Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth to the Highway 395 bridge at the Oregon and Washington border on the east side of both states.

The fall chinook forecast has not changed since the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee’s pre-season forecast set earlier in the year.

The 2017 forecast for fall chinook in the Columbia River is 613,800 fish, about 96 percent of 2016’s actual return of 642,400 fish and 84 percent of the 2007-2016 average return of 727,600 fish, according to the August 16, 2017 Fall Fact Sheet No. 2.

Bonneville Dam passage is expected to total nearly 403,600 upriver fall chinook for the season. Passage at the dam through August 22 was 13,751 adult chinook and 1,820 jacks. Last year on this date, some 44,229 adults and 5,396 jacks had passed. The 10-year average is 27,985 adults and 4,868 jacks.

Passage at the dam is typically 50 percent complete by September 9, the fact sheet says.

The expected catch for non-treaty commercial gillnetters is 45,900 adult chinook, 350 coho and 525 white sturgeon, according to the Fact Sheet. The treaty commercial impacts are estimated to be 54,300 fall chinook of which 23,900 are expected to be upriver brights, and 1,700 steelhead of which 170 are expected to be B-run steelhead.

Upriver summer steelhead are faring much poorer. TAC met August 7 and August 14 to review the summer steelhead status, downgrading expectations for the A-run fish from its pre-season forecast of 122,100 fish to 54,000 A-run summer steelhead (33,000 hatchery fish and 21,000 wild fish). TAC did not review the B-run forecast. That is a later run and is typically just 3 percent complete by this time of summer.

Upriver summer steelhead pass Bonneville Dam from April through October. Fish passing during July through October are categorized as A-Index or B-Index (also known as A-run or B-run) based on fork length. A-Index are less than 78 cm (about 31 inches) and B-Index are typically more than 78 cm. Passage during July is mainly A-Index fish; B-Index passage normally begins around the end of August. B-Index steelhead primarily return to Snake River tributaries in Idaho, while A-Index steelhead return to tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake basins, according to the Fact Sheet.

The forecast for the combined A/B-Index steelhead return to Bonneville Dam is 119,400 fish, including 41,500 unclipped (34,100 wild) fish. The A-Index forecast is 54 percent and the B-Index forecast is 25 percent of their respective 5-year averages.

Passage at Bonneville Dam is typically 50 percent complete by August 14.

, but passage for fish passing July 1 through August 14 was just 32,870 fish and is the lowest cumulative passage since 1943. Previous expectations were about 59,700 steelhead by this date.

The low numbers of steelhead and especially the expected low numbers of the B-run fish that travel into the Snake River has caused Idaho to suspend retention of steelhead in Idaho rivers as of August 17, although catch and release is still allowed, according to an Idaho Department of Fish and Game news release ( Fall chinook angling, which opened August 18, will continue to be open.

Through August 14, about 400 steelhead had crossed Lower Granite Dam some 30 miles downstream from Lewiston. The 10-year average for that date is about 6,000 steelhead. Prior to the closure, anglers were still required to release all wild steelhead. The closure will help ensure enough broodstock will return to Idaho hatcheries, IDFG said.

By August 15, about half of the fish should have already crossed Bonneville Dam, but through August 14, only 3,900 Idaho steelhead had crossed the dam.

“We realize steelhead anglers will be disappointed, and many will choose not to fish this fall as a result of the decision to close harvest,” said Lance Hebdon, IDFG’s anadromous fish manager. “We will continue to monitor hatchery and wild steelhead returns as the run continues to determine if changes are needed.”

He added that catch and release isn’t completely impact free, “but it is very low impact.”

The 2017 forecast for coho salmon to the Columbia River is 319,300 adults, 93 percent of the 5-year average of 344,500 fish. Total passage of the fish at Bonneville Dam is expected to be 97,400. Some 229 coho had passed the dam as of August 22, along with 43 coho jacks. Last year on the same date, passage was 411 adults and 135 jacks. The 10-year average is 1,633 adults and 234 jacks.


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