Glimpses into the Columbia spring chinook fishery

In our on-going efforts to monitor Pacific salmon dynamics and interpret them from the perspective of southern resident killer whales, today brings news of a 6-hour commercial net fishery opening on the lower Columbia River.  It’s amazing that it’s even worth going out in a boat when the catch is limited to the first six hatchery-origin chinook!  I guess one can infer there about 200 boats in the fleet, based on the limit and the predicted total catch of about 1200 chinook (70% from upper Columbia and Snake Rivers).

From the southern residents’ perspective, interesting questions are how many fish are expected and when are they arriving (especially compared to past years).  The article ends with this:

The forecast is for an upper Columbia run of 198,000. Through Sunday, a total of 262 spring chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam.

The source of these data was revealed by a recreational fisher’s guide to catching spring chinook on the lower Columbia as the Fish Passage Center (FPC) which is in the business of counting fish in the ladders of the many Columbia River dams.  The guide also gave a big-picture description of the overall spring run timing as “about 6 weeks in late March through April” and provides a nice summary of how the fishery follows the fish up the various tributaries of the Columbia, starting with the Willamette (because OR releases hatchery fish there a couple weeks before WA).

It would be interesting to juxtapose the timing and locations of all available winter/spring orca sightings outside of Puget Sound from past years with the time series of spring Columbia (and Fraser?) fish passage.  For starters, here is a link to Columbia adult fish passage data, some of which are summarized in the following graph that shows the spring chinook run is just beginning on the Columbia.  And here I was thinking that commercial and recreational openings would not occur until some substantial portion of the run had made it to the spawning grounds!

Now is the time of year when the NWFSC crew would typically be preparing for their spring cruise to search for southern residents on the outer coast of WA, including off the Columbia where they have observed SRKWs feeding on chinook from the upper Columbia and Snake .  Unfortunately, NOAA funding and/or ship logistics have ruled out such a cruise this year.

4 Responses to Glimpses into the Columbia spring chinook fishery

  1. More insights today into the management of the Columbia recreational fishery from a WDFW email notice (below). Are any killer whale advocates part of the process that derives these management actions?

    Anglers get at least 8 more days
    to catch chinook on lower Columbia

    OLYMPIA – Columbia River anglers will get at least eight more days to catch hatchery-reared spring chinook salmon below Bonneville Dam under a decision announced today by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.

    The popular fishery, which closed for a catch assessment April 4, will reopen to fishing Friday, April 8, through Friday, April 15. Fishery managers will meet again April 14 to determine whether to allow additional fishing time.

    The eight-day extension will give anglers another chance to catch hatchery-reared spring chinook still available for harvest, said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

    “Fishing conditions on the Columbia River have been pretty rough in recent weeks, leaving the sport catch well below the harvest guideline,” LeFleur said. “These extra fishing days will give anglers some time to make up for the high water and turbid river conditions that have undercut catch rates to date.”

    Through April 4, anglers had caught and kept a total of 4,500 spring chinook. Approximately 3,800 were upriver fish, compared to a 7,700-fish harvest guideline for upriver chinook set at the beginning of the season.

    The area set to reopen for spring chinook fishing April 8 extends from Buoy 10 upriver to Rooster Rock for boat and bank anglers, and to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam for bank anglers only. When the fishery is open, anglers can retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult chinook salmon as part of their daily limit.

    Anglers may also retain shad and hatchery-reared steelhead when the spring chinook fishery is open. However, all wild salmon and steelhead not marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin must be released unharmed.

    Along with the eight additional fishing days, lower-river anglers could get another chance to catch spring chinook in May, once fishery managers update the run forecast. While the preseason forecast projected a return of 198,400 upriver fish, the fishery has been managed with a 30 percent “buffer” to guard against overestimating the run.

    “If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in spring,” LeFleur said.

    The fishing extension starting April 8 does not affect the spring chinook season above Bonneville Dam, which is open seven days a week through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank fishing is also allowed from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines located about 6 miles below The Dalles Dam through April 24.

    Anglers fishing above Bonneville Dam can retain up to two marked, hatchery-reared adult chinook salmon or hatchery steelhead as part of their daily limit.

    News of any additional fishing days will be announced on WDFW’s website ( ), the Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500), the Region 5 hotline (360-696-6211*1010) and through local news media.

    This message has been sent to the WDFW News Releases & Weekender mailing list.
    Visit the WDFW News Release Archive at:

  2. Very interesting. The spring Chinook are the biggest and fattest, because they have to travel the farthest and highest to spawn. I think we can assume the SR’s are out there picking them off before they head upriver, but with the numbers so low it would be better if all other potential spawners could make it to their destinations. I know the anglers want their fish, but when you consider the fish lost to habitat destruction it’s already too many.

  3. In-Snake recreational fishing April 20 through May 31. Who has a good reference on the incidental (hooking) mortality rate in Columbia/Snake with and without (the now required) barbless hooks? That would help assess how many wild fish are getting killed on their way to spawn…

    Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
    600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

    April 13, 2011
    Contact: John Whalen, 509-892-7861

    Three sections of Snake River open for
    spring chinook fishing this month

    SPOKANE – Three sections of the Snake River will open to fishing for spring chinook salmon this month, starting April 20 with the stretch below Ice Harbor Dam.

    Two other sections of the river – one near Little Goose Dam, the other near Clarkston – will open April 25.

    The daily catch limit for most of these areas is two hatchery-reared chinook marked with a clipped adipose fin and four hatchery jacks, measuring less than 24 inches.

    The exception is the area along the south shoreline of Little Goose Dam upstream to the juvenile-bypass return pipe, where anglers may retain only one adult chinook and one jack per day. Anglers fishing in that area must stop fishing for the day once they catch and keep one adult chinook salmon.

    In all areas of the river, anglers must use barbless hooks and release, unharmed, all steelhead and all chinook salmon with an intact adipose fin.

    According to the pre-season forecast, some 198,400 spring chinook salmon will return to the Snake River in southeast Washington, including 66,000 hatchery fish.

    That forecast is strong enough to open three areas of the river to chinook fishing, but not the area near Lower Granite Dam that was open last year, said John Whalen, manager of the eastern region fish program for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

    “The return estimate isn’t quite as robust as last year,” Whalen said. “As a result, only three of the four sections of the Snake will be open for hatchery chinook fishing this year.”

    Those fisheries are scheduled to run through May 31, but could be closed earlier if catch monitoring shows too much impact on wild stocks, Whalen said. He added that the fishery would not have opened at all this year without revenue available from the Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement.

    “The federal permit for this fishery requires close monitoring of impacts on wild fish,” Whalen said. “Without the $8.75 anglers pay for the endorsement, the department could not afford the necessary level of monitoring.”

    The three sections of the Snake River opening to chinook fishing this month are defined as follows:

    * The section below Ice Harbor Dam, which opens April 20, extends from the Highway 12 Bridge at Pasco upstream about seven miles to a point approximately 400 feet below the dam.
    * The section near Little Goose Dam , which opens April 25, extends about nine miles upriver from the railroad bridge (about a half-mile downstream from the mouth of the Tucannon River) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat launch on the south shore about a mile upstream of the dam. The open area includes waters between the juvenile bypass return pipe and Little Goose Dam along the south shoreline, including the walkway area known as “The Wall” in front of the juvenile collection facility.
    * The section near Clarkston , which opens April 25, from the intersection of Steptoe Canyon Road with Highway 193 in Whitman County, upriver about 12 miles to the Idaho state line, from the north termination of the rock levee on the east side of the Greenbelt boat launch (near the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office) northwest across the Snake River to the Idaho/Washington marker on the north shore.

    Additional information about the fishery is included in the Fishing Rule Change notice, available on WDFW’s rules website at . Whalen also encourages anglers to review the 2010/2011 Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, in effect through April 30, 2011, and the new 2011/2012 sport fishing rules pamphlet, which will posted on the rules website and available from license dealers later this month.

    This message has been sent to the WDFW News Releases & Weekender mailing list.
    Visit the WDFW News Release Archive at:

  4. Update today suggests forecast for Snake (and Columbia?) spring chinook is higher than expected.

    Excerpt from WDFW News Release Archive at:

    “The fish were slow in getting to the Snake, but when they did arrive they came in large numbers,” Whalen said. “Fishing has been extremely good over the past week.”

    The catch limit for the Snake River fishery is governed by a federal permit, because the wild portion of the run is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

    Whalen said there is a chance the fishery could reopen, noting that the forecast for this year’s spring chinook run was increased today by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.

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