The number of steelhead returning to the Columbia River Basin this summer is expected to be the lowest since 1980.
To conserve the number of fish expected — about 130,700 summer-run steelhead — the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced fishing restrictions on Friday.
“Many of the fish returning this year were subjected to drought conditions in the Columbia Basin in 2015 and unusually warm water in the ocean through 2016,” said Ron Roler, a state fishery manager.
“We saw the effects of these conditions in last year’s upriver steelhead return, and this year they’re even more pronounced,” he said.
The outlook is especially poor for wild steelhead returning to the Snake River and to the Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam.
Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. Now that ocean conditions have shifted — as they do on a recurrent basis — we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly.
Ron Roler, state fishery manager
The new restrictions are needed to protect wild steelhead under the Endangered Species Act and to ensure that enough steelhead reach hatcheries to maintain populations.
Emergency rules will be in place from June 16 through Oct. 31 on the Columbia River from the blue bridge in the Tri-Cities downstream to the Megler-Astoria Bridge near the Pacific Ocean. The rules also will apply to parts of the Cowlitz, Lewis, Wind and White Salmon rivers and Drano Lake.
Fishing will be limited to one hatchery steelhead per day, with no night fishing allowed.
In addition, some sections of the Columbia River will be closed to sport fishing for steelhead in the months they are passing through.
Closures include from The Dalles Dam upstream to the John Day Dam in September, from the John Day Dam upstream to the McNary Dam during September and October, and from the McNary Dam upstream to the blue bridge in Pasco in October and November.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildife is considering similar rules, Roler said.
Commercial and tribal salmon fishing in both states also will be constrained.
“Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” Roler said. “Now that ocean conditions have shifted — as they do on a recurrent basis — we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly.”