Managers Look For Ways To Reopen Lower Columbia For Coho

Don’t put those lures away just yet, Columbia salmon anglers.

Washington managers say they’re looking to see if they can reopen a large section of the lower river for coho, but it depends on Snake-bound Chinook getting out of the way first and federal buy-in.

COHO RETENTION HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO CONTINUE DEEP INTO FALL ON THE COLUMBIA BUT WILL CLOSE EARLY DUE TO CONCERNS ABOUT LOW RETURNS OF CHINOOK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

The good news comes after a sharply downgraded fall king forecast earlier this month put nontreaty fisheries on that ESA-listed stock over allowable impacts by half a percentage point, leading to the big river being shut down to salmon fishing all the way from Buoy 10 to the Tri-Cities.

Yet as Idaho Chinook begin to clear the Lower Columbia, angling has already been greenlighted in side channels at the mouth starting this coming Monday, and more water below Bonneville could be reopened as well.

“We know there are healthy numbers of harvestable coho returning to the Columbia over the next month that could be harvested, so we are making every effort to explore the options,” said WDFW Fish Program head Ron Warren in an unusual statement posted to the agency’s website yesterday.

He added that while managers will be going over all of the fisheries, he didn’t anticipate that the river above the dam will be reopened.

October does produce coho below Bonneville, but not like above there as late stocks return to east Gorge tribs like the Klickitat River next month and in November.

This month’s “rare” closure of the Columbia displeased anglers who have otherwise enjoyed stellar salmon seasons this decade.

And they want to raise our fees for next year?” Timothy Hermsen posted on our Facebook page in response to the news.

But they [just] opened the mouth of the Deshutes … makes sense … SMFH,” added Troy Broders.

And Jamie N Travis Larson theorized, Hanford Reach is going to get a whole lot busier.”

Yes, but even there the limit has been reduced to one adult king a day.

The upriver bright run, which returns to the Reach and Idaho, was originally forecast to come in at 205,060, but last week was downgraded to 122,600 fish, “60% of the preseason forecast,” and it potentially could end up as “the lowest return since 2007,” according to a fact sheet.

Accrued impacts by recreational and nontreaty commercial fishermen on Snake wilds hit 8.73 percent; the allowable rate at this runsize was 8.25 percent.

Warren said that keeping the river open, even under rules requiring kings to be released, would have been a violation of the Endangered Species Act because of potential additional mortalities.

“It is a rare event to exceed an ESA impact limit, and we take this apparent overage very seriously,” he said in what also reads in part as a mea culpa, the second offered by top salmon managers for the fall season on the Columbia. “Fishery managers take great care to plan fisheries that remain within the federally allowed ESA limit, and we will be considering changes to our management to avoid repeating this situation. After all, we expect project proponents and others whose actions affect salmon to adhere to ESA requirements, and we have the same expectations for our own areas of responsibility.”

This year’s preseason prediction was a far cry from recent ones, when as many as 954,100 fall Chinook were counted at Bonneville and over 1.3 million entered the Columbia.

Warren blamed the low numbers on 2015’s drought and the Blob, the effects of which lingered as this year’s fish were in the North Pacific, and he said that 2019 could see poor returns too due to the age structure of the run, comprised largely of 4-year-old fish.

But in the meanwhile, there’s a chance anglers will be able to get back on the lower river this fall as late coho roll upstream.

“For that to happen, fishery managers must be able to demonstrate that ESA-listed Snake River wild fish are no longer likely to be caught or handled in the fishery,” Warren explained.

Coded-wire tag data shows that angling near the mouth of the Columbia has “virtually no impact” on listed upriver kings after September’s third week, allowing for SAFE zones to reopen to recs and comms.

He said that WDFW and ODFW will coordinate with federal overseers to open “individual fisheries” where appropriate as number crunching shows it’s possible.

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