Strong spring chinook run on the Columbia

Here we are in mid-February, a couple weeks into the blackmouth opening in the Salish Sea, and WDFW is opening up recreational fishing for spring (winter?) Chinook running in the Columbia [see today’s email announcement below].  This makes me wonder where the southern residents are at the moment and what the run timing looks like for California Rivers, coastal OR rivers, and the Fraser.  Why in the world isn’t a simple Gantt diagram for this famous phenomena!?

This is the first time I’ve gotten a sense of when the spring run gets going and it’s earlier than I expected.  Yesterday Sam Wasser showed us some plots that suggest that southern residents are about as well fed as they are all summer when they first show up in ~June.  That got me wondering whether Fred Felleman is right — that their main source of annual sustenance is the really big, oily spring Chinook destined for the highest parts of the biggest river systems (and fisher’s dinner tables, now).


February 12, 2009
Contact:  WDFW Region 5 Office, (360) 906-6708

Columbia River spring chinook season reflects projection of strong runs

OLYMPIA – Anglers will be able to fish for spring chinook salmon from the mouth of the Columbia River to Bonneville Dam through mid-April under initial seasons adopted Wednesday, Feb. 11, by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.  Anticipating a strong run of spring chinook to the upper Columbia River and improved returns to the Willamette, the two states agreed to provide significantly more days of fishing – particularly below Hayden Island – than last year.

According to the pre-season forecast, nearly 300,000 upriver spring chinook are expected to enter the Columbia River this year, which would make this year’s return the third highest since 1977.  An additional 37,000 “springers” are also expected to return to the Willamette River, up from 27,000 last year.

“This is shaping up to be a very good year for spring chinook fishing in the Columbia River,” said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).  “The first fish have just begun to arrive, and we hope to see a lot more of them in the months ahead.”

Below Hayden Island, the new season provides 30 days of spring chinook fishing in March and April, compared to just 12 days last year.  During those two months, anglers also will have 39 days – up from 36 days last year – to catch and retain spring chinook from Hayden Island upriver to Bonneville Dam.

LeFleur noted that the fishery could extend beyond April, but that late-season regulations have not been set because of differences between the fish and wildlife commissions of Washington and Oregon over how to allocate the catch.

In March and April, Columbia River anglers will be able to fish for spring chinook salmon at the following locations and times:

* West power lines on Hayden Island downstream to Buoy 10:   Seven days per week from March 1-15.  Beginning March 16 through April 18, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursdays through Saturdays.
* West power lines on Hayden Island to Bonneville Dam:   Seven days per week from March 1-22.  Beginning March 23 through April 22, fishing will be limited to four days per week, Wednesday through Saturday.
* Tower Island power lines above Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam:   Seven days per week from March 16 through April 30.  The Washington and Oregon bank fishery will also be open from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines.

Until March 1, the spring chinook fishing is open under regulations described in the 2008-09 Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet (good until April 30, 2009).  Anglers fishing for spring chinook salmon may also retain shad and hatchery steelhead, as outlined in the rule pamphlet.

In all areas, anglers are required to release any chinook salmon not clearly marked as a hatchery-reared fish, since a portion of the wild upriver spring chinook run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.  Unmarked steelhead must also be released.  Hatchery fish can be identified by a clipped adipose fin with a healed scar.

Under a new rule approved by the Washington commission, anglers fishing below McNary Dam may retain two hatchery-reared adult salmon or steelhead (or one of each) per day.  However, only one adult chinook salmon may be retained per day downstream from Bonneville Dam.

LeFleur noted that standing rules limit incidental mortality of wild spring chinook intercepted and released in all state fisheries – recreational and commercial – to 2.2 percent of the total run.   “It’s essential that anglers observe the rules requiring the release of wild salmon and steelhead,” LeFleur said.  “Our ability to continue these fisheries depends on it.”

One Response to Strong spring chinook run on the Columbia

  1. It is darned good news that Columbia salmon runs will be less miserable this year. I hope folks bear in mind that the reason is simple: Green- and fishing-groups fought tooth and nail to force BPA and the Corps to increase spill during critical migration periods for the last three years. Not only did the fight these measures, but their newest “recovery plan” doesn’t include the higher spill levels. Despite 7 billion spent on salmon “recovery” efforts, the 12 listed runs on the Columbia/Snake have shown no sustained improvement since they were listed started in ’92. The new plan calls for 8 billion more of the same over the next decade. Worst, the plan ignores the one option that federal, tribal and state fisheries biologists have determined is the best way to protect and restore Snake River salmon and steelhead – removal of the four lower Snake dams. It’s not a silver bullet, by any means, but it is an essential measure if we want to see these runs survive. And since SRKWs spend much of their lives outside the Salish Sea, strong Columbia/Snake stocks will help them, too.

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