Outdoors

Snake River unlikely to permit spring chinook fishing

Washington will open spring chinook salmon fishing this year, but the Snake River near Clarkston is not likely to be in the mix.

Instead, fishing will likely be held near Little Goose Dam and below Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River.

There is a decent chance for a season between Casey Creek and Lower Granite Dam and a slim chance salmon fishing could be allowed on a portion of the Tucannon River.

There is also a microscopic chance for a season on the Snake River above Lower Granite Dam.

But Glen Mendel, district fish biologist at Dayton, said the odds are against it.

Washington doesn't have an Endangered Species Act permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service to hold chinook salmon fishing seasons above Lower Granite Dam.

So any season on the Snake River above the dam would have to be in conjunction with Idaho.

Fisheries managers in Idaho are leery of allowing salmon fishing on the Lower Snake River because it could limit their ability to open seasons in other places like the upper Salmon River.

"We have no ESA coverage from Lower Granite Dam to the Idaho border," Mendel said. "We are working (on a plan) to give us ESA coverage for various fisheries. Hopefully by next year we will have it completed."

In order to have fishing seasons for hatchery chinook in rivers that are also home to wild chinook protected by the ESA, states need to get permits from the federal government.

The permits allow them to incidentally kill a small percentage of the wild run during fishing activities.

Mendel said the state is predicting a return of 2,200 hatchery chinook to the Tucannon River.

A fishing season could be held there but because the state lacks a federal permit it is not likely to happen this year.

"(The predicted return) is way above anything we have seen in the last 30 years," Mendel said. "The problem is we don't have ESA coverage. At this point we are trying to get through a fisheries management plan, but it may not be complete to activate a fishery (this year)."

Another problem with the Tucannon is few of the hatchery chinook there have been marked by having their adipose fins removed.

That would make it difficult for anglers to discern hatchery fish from wild fish. Mendel said returns have been so low on the Tucannon for so long that the state stopped marking the hatchery fish there to give them a better shot at making it through downriver fisheries.

"We are kind of caught in this transition with the unexpected high return and not having adipose-clipped fish."

He said that the state will try to mark more hatchery fish from the Tucannon in the future.

The state is trying to open a 5- to 7-mile stretch of the Snake River between Casey Creek and Lower Granite Dam. That season would be contingent on the department's ability to have enough employees on hand to properly monitor and manage a fishing season there.

Mendel said the scope of the season traditionally held near Little Goose Dam could be increased to include more miles of river.

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