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

Salmonid fisheries closed because of low returns


September 20, 2018

By The Columbia Basin Bulletin

With the fall chinook run on the Columbia River running about 75 percent of what was already a low preseason expectation, Oregon and Washington closed salmonid fishing from the river’s mouth to the Oregon/Washington border.

The complete closure on Sept. 12 applied to recreational fishing and non-Treaty commercial gillnetting for chinook, coho and steelhead. Retention of steelhead ended Aug. 27, also due to a lower than expected run of fish.

The closure for chinook was just two days earlier than had been planned for lower Columbia River angling when the season opened. The two-state Columbia River Compact staff’s projected catch estimate found that anglers will exceed the recreational catch allocation of 8.25 percent of upriver fall chinook brights/Snake River wild (the allowed rate of catch outlined in the U.S. v Oregon Management Agreement), even with the early closure.

In fact, staff projections are that catch by anglers through September 12 would be 8.73 percent of the upriver fish, based on staff’s updated estimate of a run size of 141,100 fish.

That estimate turned out to be high. The day after the Sept. 11 Compact meeting, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), which estimates run sizes in season, revised its forecast for upriver brights down to 138,600 fish at the river’s mouth. TAC also downgraded its estimates of Pool Upriver Bright fish to 26,100 fish and Bonneville Pool Hatchery fish to 37,900, according to Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and TAC lead.

A Compact meeting to consider further treaty commercial gillnetting in Zone 6 was canceled.

Even early in the year, the fall chinook run size forecast was not positive. The total preseason forecasted run of fall chinook at the river’s mouth was 375,500, 79 percent of last year’s run of 476,100 and 50 percent of the 10-year average.

That included 205,100 upriver bright chinook, compared to a return of 297,423 in 2017. Of those 9,600 are wild chinook headed to the Snake River in 2018, somewhat fewer than last year’s Snake River run of 11,750.

Based on that lower forecast, fisheries have been managed for a harvest rate of 8.25 percent, down from 15 percent in the recent years, resulting in shorter fall chinook retention seasons, according to the Compact.

Recreational anglers have caught more of the fish during the fall fishing season than anticipated.

Sharing of URB/SRW impacts between recreational and non-treaty commercial fisheries through September 12 is estimated to be 76 percent recreational and 24 percent commercial, compared to preseason expectations of 70 percent/30 percent.

Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the counts of fall chinook at Bonneville Dam are 29 percent below preseason forecasts, and on-going fisheries are approaching the allowable catch limits under the Endangered Species Act.

"We recognize that this closure is difficult for anglers, but we have an obligation to meet our ESA goals so that fisheries can continue in the future," he said.

What is unusual is that the Compact also closed angling for coho salmon, which generally stays open after the closure of fall chinook fishing. That effectively closed the river to angling of all salmonids until further notice.

The Compact also closed all gillnetting and angling in lower river select areas until further notice. Deep River in Washington and other tributaries in Oregon are closed to salmon and steelhead angling.

The count of fall chinook at Bonneville Dam on Sept. 10 was just 105,795 fish, 75 percent of the preseason forecast, according to the Compact’s Fall Fact Sheet No. 5, and about 37 percent of the 10-year average of 289,571 fish on the same date. This is the second year of low fall chinook runs. Last year on Sept. 10, the count at Bonneville was 111,993. Passage of fall chinook is generally 50 percent complete by Sept. 10.

According to Tucker Jones, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Columbia River Program manager, if the return continues on this track, this could be the lowest fall chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia since 2007.

“2018 is a pretty bad year for Columbia River salmon returns,” Jones said. “Except for upper Columbia sockeye, most runs will come in at 30 percent or less of pre-season forecast.”

Tweit said the upriver fall chinook run provides the bulk of the harvest opportunity for fall fisheries, but that returns in recent years have been declining due to unfavorable ocean conditions. The preseason forecast for this year is 47 percent of the 10-year average return of upriver bright fall chinook.

Here is how the catch has gone so far this year, according to the Compact Fact Sheet:

--Mainstem Commercial Fall salmon fishery: Preseason planning for chinook mainstem commercial fisheries in Zones 4-5 assumed six fishing periods during the early fall (August) season with an expected catch of approximately 9,980 chinook, assuming a harvest rate of 2.1 percent for Snake River wild fall chinook, the Fact Sheet said. Only four fishing periods were allowed with landings of 8,369 chinook (84 percent of preseason expectations), 380 coho, and 409 white sturgeon.

--Select Area Fall Commercial Fisheries: Fall Select Area fisheries have been ongoing since August 1. Landings through September 8 include 3,930 chinook, 1,452 coho, and 52 white sturgeon, all below expectations.

--Buoy 10 Recreational Fishery: The Buoy 10 harvest rates were higher than allowed. Chinook mortalities are expected to be 12,950 fish through September 12, with a SRW/URB chinook harvest rate of 2.0 percent. That’s 118 percent of the 1.7 percent expected preseason.

--Mainstem Recreational Salmon Fisheries: Chinook mortalities in the lower Columbia River recreational salmon fishery from Tongue/Rocky Point upstream to Warrior are expected to be 4,920 fish through September 12, with a SRW/URB chinook harvest rate of 2.6 percent, which is 200 percent of the 1.3 percent expected preseason.


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