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Dismal Columbia River salmon forecast may trigger emergency fishing restrictions

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This February 2018 file video details how for hundreds of thousands of years, wild ocean salmon have been coming to the Pacific Northwest. Now, their existence is under threat, along with the communities they support.
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This February 2018 file video details how for hundreds of thousands of years, wild ocean salmon have been coming to the Pacific Northwest. Now, their existence is under threat, along with the communities they support.

Fishery managers in Washington and Oregon are concerned the spring and summer chinook salmons runs on the Columbia River are going to be one of the lowest on record.

And the state agencies are calling for a meeting next week to consider emergency restrictions on commercial and recreational fishing along parts of the river.

By Friday morning, 189 adult salmon had crossed over Bonneville Dam. That’s less than 8 percent of the 10-year average of 2,392 fish for the same date.

By Thursday, just four salmon adults had passed over McNary Dam, compared to a 10-year average of 106 fish for that date.

An emergency rule was issued extending the spring chinook fishery below Bonneville Dam downstream to Warrior Rock for two days, April 13 and 14.

Spring chinook bank fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam, which opened April 1, is set to close May 5.

Bill Tweet, representing director Kelly Susewind for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at the two-state Columbia River Compact on Wednesday, openly questioned if spring chinook angling should stop until biologists had more certainty that the forecasted chinook return materializes.

Paul Hoffarth, District 4 fish biologist for the state agency in Pasco, shares the same concerns.

bonneville fish.jpg
Courtesy Fish Passage Center (www.fpc.org)

“On the fishery managers side, there is a plan in place that establishes guidelines for harvest based on forecasts that include a ‘30% buffer’ and ‘catch balancing’ to protect stocks from overharvest.” he said.

“Right now, there are fish allocated to the fishery that have not been harvested under the guidelines. Are the provisions to protect the runs and prevent overharvest sufficient? In most years, yes, but probably not all. Is this one of those years? We will know very soon,” he said.

Fifty percent of the spring run typically passes Bonneville Dam by May 8.

Tweet is worried the run forecast is wrong and that we are heading for a really poor run.

mcnary fishing
Fishery managers in Washington and Oregon are concerned the spring and summer chinook salmons runs on the Columbia River are going to be one of the lowest on record. Tri-City Herald file

Outlook for the summer also poor

Hoffarth and many others are not confident about the outlook for the summer run either.

“Based on the information I have received there is no planned summer chinook fishery at this time. The summer chinook returns forecasted back to the Columbia River this year are too low to support a summer chinook fishery; at least in the lower and middle sections of the Columbia River,” he said. “Some potential for opening limited fisheries in the Upper Columbia if the actual returns meet the forecast.”

Columbia River conditions measured at Bonneville Dam are currently slightly lower and colder than recent five-year averages for this date in April.

Water temperature currently measure 46 degrees, which is colder than the average of 48. Visibility is 4 feet, which is about average.

According to the winter fact sheet joint staff report released on April 10 by the Oregon And Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife, the estimated recreational chinook catch through April 7 is 1,282 adult fish kept and 238 released from 21,442 anglers.

Paul Krupin is an avid local outdoor enthusiast and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com.
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