Columbia steelheaders are going to have a tough go of it in 2017, no thanks to 2015’s Blob.
Managers are reducing bag limits on the big river and Southwest Washington tribs first, then closing retention for the species to deal with low forecasted returns of summer-runs and protect critically weak ESA-listed B-runs bound for Idaho and stocks headed to North-central Washington.
“Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” WDFW’s Ron Roler said in a press release out this afternoon. “Now that ocean conditions have shifted – as they do on a recurrent basis – we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly.”
Starting June 16 and continuing through July 31, anglers will only be able to keep one hatchery steelhead in the Columbia from the Astoria-Megler Bridge up to The Dalles Dam, as well as in parts of six coolwater tribs.
Those include the Cowlitz below the Lexington (Sparks) Road Bridge; Lewis below the East Fork; Wind below Shipherd Falls; Drano Lake; and White Salmon below the bridge by the former powerhouse site.
Nightfishing will also be banned on the mainstem Columbia up to The Dalles Dam except for anglers enrolled in the northern pikeminnow program, as well as on the above trib sections.
Then, from Aug. 1-31, steelhead retention will close on those same waters as well as at Buoy 10.
Drano will also be closed to steelhead in September.
Restrictions are likely in Oregon’s lower Deschutes and John Day Rivers during that period too, according to a recent article, which also states that the protections will continue upstream into the Snake, where a 30-inch maximum size limit and nightly closures are being considered.
According to WDFW, the Columbia from The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam will close to steelheading in September, John Day to McNary in September and October, and McNary Dam up to Highway 395 in Pasco in October and November.
The rule tweaks come as managers expect only 130,700 summer-runs back to Eastern Washington, Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho rivers, the fewest since 1980 and just 38 percent of the recent 10-year average.
But what’s really driving things is that the prediction of 7,300 B-run steelhead includes only 1,100 wild fish.
Because of how that stock is managed under the Endangered Species Act and harvest sharing with the tribes, just 22 B-run mortalities are available for sport and nontribal commercial fisheries in the Columbia and those tribs.
That’s very few fish to go around for a lot of anglers, though B-runs tend to be most vulnerable in Gorge tribs.
Fed by glaciers and snowfields, these provide coolwater refuges for steelhead as they move up the much warmer Columbia. Passage at Bonneville Dam peaks in mid-August, early September at The Dalles.
As the mostly hatchery stocks wait for the Columbia to cool, anglers can do very well at Drano and elsewhere by fishing prawns under a bobber or trolling plugs.
Commercial and tribal fisheries will also be constrained, according to WDFW.
According to a federal fisheries biologist recently interviewed by Eric Barker at the Lewiston Morning Tribune, this year’s low forecasts harken back to The Blob, which on land produced very low snowpacks over winter 2014-15, warmer than usual air and water temps that spring and summer and largescale fish dieoffs, and at sea moved forage around, essentially starving steelhead and salmon.
Last year the effects manifested with a blown A-run forecast, and this year it’s As as well as Bs that will take the hit.
“This is the lowest return we have forecasted I think on record,” NOAA’s Jeremy Jording told Barker. “Even if you go back into the 1990s, this year would be even lower than anything we observed during that poor period of survival.”