Tag Archives: columbia river

U.S. House Passes Senate’s Sea Lion Bill; Next Stop: White House

The U.S. House today passed the Senate’s Columbia sea lion bill and it now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature, according to Northwest lawmakers.

A SEA LION LOAFS ON AN ASTORIA DOCK. (BENJAMIN STANDFORD, NOAA-FISHERIES)

The bipartisan Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act, which gives states and tribes more leeway to manage the predatory pinnipeds feasting on ESA-listed Chinook and steelhead as well as other stocks in the river and its tributaries, was approved by unanimous consent, just as it was in the upper chamber last week.

“I suspect many would wish the times were different and this legislation wasn’t necessary,” said Jaime Pinkham, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “But the reality is that this legislation has become necessary. Tribal and state fisheries co-managers collaborated to explore and implement alternatives for over a decade and the imbalance shifted the greatest risks to the salmon and steelhead, and we remember how the story ended at Ballard Locks. I’m grateful Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to give us the local flexibility to protect the tribal treaty resources we share with others in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.”

S.3119, as the bill is known, was cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID).

“Today’s passage of our bill to control sea lions was a hard-fought victory – it’s a personal victory for each of us who treasure our Northwest salmon runs and want to see them preserved for generations to come,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3) in a joint press release with Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5). “I’m grateful for the partnership of my colleague Kurt Schrader, and for Senators Risch and Cantwell for shepherding this through the Senate. I’m so pleased we are able to give Northwest fish managers this critical tool to help save our salmon and steelhead runs.”

Herrera Beutler, a Republican, and Schrader, a Democrat, represent communities on either side of the Lower Columbia.

Schrader said it was a problem he’d worked on since first coming to Congress.

“Ratepayers and my constituents are paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually towards the largest mitigation program in the country for threatened and endangered salmon. These sea lions, whose population has become totally inconsistent with their historic range, have been undoing all of that work by feasting on the endangered species. Our legislation will provide a great step forward in eliminating this threat to our iconic Oregon salmon that are struggling to survive once and for all,” he said in a press release.

In another quickly issued press release, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) applauded the “bipartisan effort to improve management of pinnipeds threatening salmon” in both chambers of Congress.

“We really appreciate our state’s Congressional delegation’s leadership and support to pass this legislation,” added Nate Pamplin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s policy director. “The sea lion population in the Lower Columbia River has increased dramatically in recent years, presenting a greater threat to wild salmon and steelhead runs than ever before.”

He said the bill, which had widespread support not just in the aisles of Congress but among stakeholders, would “provide us and co-managers with the tools needed to protect these vulnerable fish populations.”

Rodmaker Gary Loomis of Coastal Conservation Association said “CCA was proud to be part of this coalition effort and is thankful of the years of efforts by our members in support of this legislation.”

The news actually came as state salmon managers and sportfishing industry officials were meeting in Clackamas to review the 2019 Columbia spring Chinook forecast, which is roughly just one-half of the 10-year average.

That is due in part to very poor ocean conditions in recent years, but in 2014, the loss of 40 percent of the year’s first Columbia salmon run — an estimated 104,333 fish — was attributed to sea lion predation.

So when the bill came before federal lawmakers in Washington DC this afternoon, NSIA’s Liz Hamilton says that ODFW staffers paused the run forecast meeting to watch on the big screen.

“Applause all around,” she said of the room’s reaction to the House’s move, “combined with optimism for the future of Willamette wild winter steelhead and hope for other stocks deeply impacted by pinniped predation, including sturgeon.”

Earlier this fall federal overseers granted ODFW a permit to remove up to 93 sea lions around Willamette Falls after state officials estimated that there was a 90 percent chance one of the Oregon trib’s steelhead runs would go extinct if nothing was done.

The states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho have had federal permission to remove specific animals gathered at Bonneville Dam since March 2008.

This bill, which amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act for five years, extends that authority to the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs Tribes and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

It allows for the lethal removal of sea lions in the Columbia from the dam down to River Mile 112 and upstream to McNary Dam, as well as in the river’s tributaries with ESA-listed salmonids.

2019 Columbia Spring And Summer Chinook, Sockeye Forecasts Out

One of 2019’s first Northwest salmon forecasts was quietly posted late last week, a not-so-stellar prediction for Columbia spring and summer Chinook as well as sockeye.

According to ODFW and WDFW, the big river will see an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon.

A COLUMBIA RIVER ANGLER SIZES UP HIS SPRING CHINOOK DURING 2016’S RUN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

All of those figures are well below 10-year averages but should come as no surprise given recent ocean conditions.

Expectations for next year’s first salmon runs of the year were essentially set all the way back in 2017 when federal fishery overseers warned that that spring’s offshore survey of juvenile Columbia salmon foresoothed poor 2018 returns continuing into 2019.

Still, some individual stocks are expected to hold steady or even improve slightly this coming season.

And things may improve down the road as 2018’s spring ocean sampling did find above-average numbers of coho and average to just slightly below average numbers of Chinook. That might translate into better silver fishing this summer and for springers and summer kings in 2020.

“Stay hopeful” was Liz Hamilton’s reaction last Friday when asked about this year’s adult numbers.

The executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association pointed to a linkage between spring spill down the Columbia hydropower system to benefit outmigrating smolts and subsequent increased adult spring returns in past years.

“The ocean isn’t as quite as good as it was then, and the high waters of the last two springs weren’t quite as high, but we do have a court order for spill that we didn’t have then combined with more fish to start with. And if we win our battle for more spring spill, you’ll see even better smolt to adult returns, as much as two to three times improved!” she said.

Hamilton is among the state fishery managers and industry officials who are meeting today at 1 p.m. in Clackamas to go over 2019’s figures, the first steps as we move towards setting the seasons in midwinter.

As for the forecasts, those are:

Columbia springers (all runs, SAFE to Central Idaho): 157,500, down 91,000 from the overall 2018 forecast and 20,000 fewer than the actual return; just over half of the 10-year average and would be the lowest since 2007 if it returns as predicted

Willamette: 40,200, one of the lowest forecasts in 10 years but above 2018’s actual return; 10-year average is 64,900

Sandy: 5,500, slightly more than 2018’s forecast and more than actually came back last year

Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis: 4,300 (1,300, 1,400, 1,600), the lowest forecast this millennium; 10-year average is 15,300

Mid-Columbia (Wind, Drano, Hood, Klickitat, Yakima, Umatilla): 40,000, slightly up from 2018 and 5,000-plus fish more than actually returned

Upriver (Upper Columbia, Snake springs and summers): 99,300, 60 percent of last year’s preseason forecast and 16,000 fewer than actually returned; would be the fewest since 2007; 10-year average is 204,500

Upper Columbia summer Chinook: 35,900, down from the 2018 forecast of 67,300 and actual return of 42,120; would be lowest since 2000

Columbia, Snake sockeye: 94,400, down somewhat from 2018’s forecast; includes 74,500 to the Okanogan/Okanagan and 18,300 to Lake Wenatchee; overall, less than a third of the 10-year average

The caveat to that last one is that sockeye have proven somewhat tough to reliably forecast. Last year’s prediction didn’t allow for Columbia fisheries, but when the run came in twice as large, managers were able to open a season.

Columbia spring Chinook seasons are typically set by late February, usually with a 30 percent upriver runsize buffer to guard against an unexpectedly low return. Managers can add additional fishing time if angling is slower than expected or the midseason update is better than expected.

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.

Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. THE ENDANGERED SALMON AND FISHERIES PREDATION ACT PASSED BY THE SENATE AND WHICH GOES NOW TO THE HOUSE WOULD GIVE STATE MANAGERS MORE LATITUDE TO LETHALLY REMOVE THE SPECIES IN TRIBUTARIES OF THE COLUMBIA. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.

And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.

It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.

In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.

With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.

But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.

Once again.

Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.

That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.

A PAIR OF WOLVES CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAMERA NEAR MT. HOOD. (ODFW)

This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.

Here’s what today’s said:

“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

Now it’s more open-ended.

And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.

It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.

Offshore Survey Finds Improved Young Coho, King Numbers

A federal fisheries biologist is sharing his guarded assessment of 2018’s annual spring survey of young salmon off the Northwest Coast, one that offers a glimmer of hope for future Columbia River runs but also comes as the Pacific continues to give off mixed signals.

A SPRING SURVEY OFF THE NORTHWEST COAST FOUND GOOD NUMBERS OF YOUNG COHO REARING IN THE OCEAN. (NWFSC)

“Our catches make me optimistic, but based on some of the other data we have, I’m only cautiously optimistic,” says Brian Burke, a research supervisor at the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Seattle office in Montlake.

He says samplers found average to just slightly below average numbers of Chinook offshore, which is actually better than it sounds.

“A big improvement from last year,” Burke terms it, pointing to 2017 which saw some of the lowest numbers of young Columbia kings on record.

Juvenile coho numbers were also very low last year, but more were found offshore this spring.

“A large number of coho — much more than average,” reports Burke.

It all might be good news for 2019 and 2020 fisheries, but you can also look at federal and state data for correlations between June yearling catches and subsequent adult returns and find just about anything you want to.

Last year the feds did warn that 2017’s survey could mean poor returns this year continuing into 2019.

The official salmon forecasts and trends for Columbia spring, summer and fall Chinook, coho and sockeye will begin to come out early next month.

Sportfishing industry members huddling with state managers Dec. 11 at ODFW’s Clackamas office to get the scoop will be hoping for good news after this season saw reduced angling opportunities and large-scale closures of the big river.

While ocean productivity does appear to have improved somewhat for salmon relative to 2014 through 2017, it’s not clear whether things are back to “normal,” per se, from the Blob.

“When we see things like pyrosomes and pompano that were never really caught prior to 2014, we know the system has not completely reset from the impacts of the Blob,” Burke says, and cautions, “We are also seeing a potential new blob this year – obviously, the impacts of that are not known.”

There’s much more to the ecosystem than just salmon, of course, and down near the base of the Northwest’s offshore food chain, “friendly faces” — northern coldwater copepods — returned this spring.

They were entirely absent in 2015 and 2016 and might have led to the former year’s emaciated salmon smolts, while their 2017 arrival came very late in the season, according to a report on NMFS’s Newportal blog.

“Whether the improvements we’ve seen in 2018 relative to the prior three years are a trend or just noise, it’s hard to tell,” Burke says. “Results from 2019 sampling should help clarify whether the Blob years were an anomaly or part of the new normal.”

Here’s hoping they were an anomaly and Blob Jr. doesn’t take after its father.

WDFW Announces Steelhead Changes On Straits Rivers, Reach, Columbia

Editor’s note: Updated at 5:30 p.m. November 8th 2019 with smolt release stats for the Hoko and Sekiu Rivers.

Heads up for Olympic Peninsula, Tri-Cities and Columbia Gorge steelheaders on several recent rule changes as one run begins and another never really got started.

We’ll take them one at a time, starting on the Eastside.

The Hanford Reach will close to steelheading as of Nov. 10 due to a very low return of summer-runs.

WITH A VERY POOR RETURN OF STEELHEAD TO THE RINGOLD SPRINGS HATCHERY, WDFW IS CLOSING THE HANFORD REACH EFFECTIVE THIS SATURDAY, NOV. 10. THE REYES BROTHERS — ISSAC, LEVI AND IVAN — SHOW OFF A SUMMER-RUN CAUGHT THERE IN MARCH 2015. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

According to state managers, only 96 have entered the Ringold Springs Hatchery so far, “the lowest return on record in the past 18 years,” putting the goal of collecting 300,000 eggs to produce 180,000 smolts in 2020 in peril.

By this time in 2017, 254 fish had checked in at the facility. In 2016, 224 had.

This year has seen an overall poor return of steelhead to the Inland Northwest, and earlier in the season retention was closed on the Columbia downstream of Highway 395 in Tri-Cities, and limits were dropped in the Snake system.

By 2016-17 catch stats, the latest available, the best fishing in the Reach was in October, with 108 retained, but the waters between Highway 295 and the old powerlines at the Hanford town site did put out dozens of fish each month through March.

Two mountain ranges away to the northwest, along with your floats and jigs you’ll want to bring a tape measure if you fish two Clallam County streams this winter.

When hatchery steelhead were released into the Hoko and Sekiu Rivers in spring 2016 and 2017, they weren’t fin clipped as usual “because of warm river temperatures and consequent fish health concerns,” according to a WDFW emergency rule-change notice

So then how do you know if you’ve caught a keeper or a wild steelhead that must be released?

Take that big fin on its back and put your measuring device against it.

“Dorsal fin heights of hatchery steelhead are shorter than comparably sized wild steelhead. The standard of 2 1/8 inches has been used elsewhere to identify unclipped hatchery steelhead,” WDFW states.

The same rule tweak was in effect last winter on the Hoko and previously on a river further south on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Hoko produced 129 hatchery steelhead during the 2016-17 season, mostly in December.

According to state fisheries biologist Mike Gross, just under 24,000 smolts were released into the Hoko for return this year, 10700 in the Sekiu.

In another e-reg, WDFW announced that the night fishing and retention closures on the lower Wind and White Salmon Rivers were being lifted effective immediately.

Those and other restrictions in the Columbia and its Gorge were put in place due to a weak return of A-run summer steelhead that pull into these thermal refuges. Their passage through the area is typically done by this time of year.

And finally, salmon and steelhead fishing will reopen on the mainstem Columbia up to Highway 395 starting Jan. 1, 2019, WDFW announced.

The big river was closed in late summer when the run of fall Chinook did not materialize in the expected numbers and catches exceeded impacts on Snake River wilds.

As kings made their way further upstream, Washington fishery managers looked for ways to reopen the waters for coho angling.

Nothing ever came to pass, but an explanation appeared in the e-reg resetting the Columbia’s regs to permanent rules:

“… (T)hese fisheries would continue to accrue fall chinook ESA impacts at a time when the non-treaty fisheries do not have additional fall chinook ESA impacts remaining.”

Big Catch, Turnout At 6th King Of The Reach Derby

It took five years for King of the Reach live-capture derby anglers to tally 10 million fertilized salmon eggs collected for a fall Chinook broodstock hatchery program on the mid-Columbia.

A HELPER AT KING OF THE REACH HOLDS A NICE WILD FALL CHINOOK BUCK BROUGHT IN BY ANGLERS DURING THE LIVE-CAPTURE DERBY. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

The sixth edition could yield that many and change alone, thanks to the “biggest turnout ever for volunteers and fish.”

WDFW fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth says the 648 bucks and 562 hens caught on the Hanford Reach by 277 fishermen in 77 boats and delivered to Grant County’s Priest Rapids Hatchery have the potential to produce 12,616,000 fertilized eggs, if all the male and female fish mixing is done just right.

AN ANGLER HANDS OFF A CHINOOK TO A SHORE ATTENDANT. MORE THAN 1,200 FALL SALMON WERE COLLECTED THIS YEAR, THE MOST EVER. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

“Basically 100 percent of the Priest Rapids and Ringold Springs Hatchery production for next year’s release would have a wild parent,” Hoffarth says. “Real life, with holding mortality and other factors WDFW might be able to reach 70 percent of production, which is huge.”

He says that not too long ago, just 10 percent of the hatchery kings had at least one wild parent.

THE DERBY SAW GREAT FISHING THE FIRST DAY, WITH SLOWER ACTION THE FOLLOWING TWO DAYS. (VIA PAUL HOFFARTH, WDFW)

The derby is a joint state-utility-Coastal Conservation Association of Washington project that uses anglers and guides to collect wild upriver brights in the Reach to improve the stock’s fitness and ensure that hatchery fish remain genetically similar to the natives in the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia.

It occurs after the fall fishing season is closed. Participants are required to register as volunteers, and boat captains need fish transporting permits and a way to haul the salmon to collection points, either in a livewell or a big cooler with a pump.

The previous five derbies saw a total of 2,111 fall kings brought in. Before this year, the most brought in was in 2015 when 510 were taken to the hatchery, according to Hoffarth.

As for the King of the Reach, that’s guide Tyler Stahl who brought in 76 kings.

Fellow guides TJ Hester and John Plugoff turned over 66 and 59, respectively.

On Facebook, CCA-Washington called the derby “nothing short of extraordinary. Loads of fish, tons of people, and fun all around.”

Rob Phillips, a columnist for the Yakima Herald, participated and shared his thoughts.

Southwest Washington Fishing Report (10-30-18)

THE FOLLOWING WDFW FISHING REPORT WAS TRANSMITTED BY BRYANT SPELLMAN

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Mainstem from the mouth upstream to McNary Dam

  • From the Buoy 10 line upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco:
    • Closed to angling for and retention of salmon and steelhead.

WHILE STEELHEAD REMAIN CLOSED IN THE COLUMBIA, FISHING IS GOOD FOR THE SPECIES IN THE SNAKE, REPORTS TRI-CITIES ANGLER TROY BRODERS, WHO SHARED THIS IMAGE OF A RECENT CATCH. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 51 bank rods kept 15 coho jacks and released 1 chinook jack.  11 boats/23 rods kept 4 coho, 3 coho jacks and released 1 chinook, 1 coho and 1 coho jack.

Above the I-5 Br:  82 bank rods kept 1 coho jack, 3 steelhead and released 40 chinook, 1 chinook jack, 1 coho and 2 coho jacks.  9 boats/22 rods kept 1 coho, 9 coho jacks, 1 steelhead and released 1 chinook and 10 coho jacks.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 935 coho adults, 2,717 coho jacks, 110 fall Chinook adults, 32 fall Chinook jacks, 73 cutthroat trout and 11 summer-run steelhead adults during seven days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power released 181 coho adults and 428 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle and they released 77 coho adults and 214 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood.

Tacoma Power released 242 coho adults, 1,212 coho jacks, 33 fall Chinook adults, 22 fall Chinook jacks and six cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and they released 227 coho adults and 879 coho jacks into Lake Scanewa in Randle.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 3,540 cubic feet per second on Monday, Oct. 29. Water visibility is 11 feet and the water temperature is 54.14 degrees F. River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility

Kalama River – 9 bank anglers kept 1 coho, 1 steelhead and released 1 chinook and 8 coho.

Lewis River – 109 bank anglers kept 1 chinook, 2 coho, 2 coho jacks and released 2 chinook, 1 chinook jack, 2 coho and 2 coho jacks.  10 boats/24 rods kept 3 chinook jacks, 3 coho, 3 coho jacks and released 3 chinook.

Klickitat River – 38 bank anglers kept 1 chinook, 1 chinook jack, 1 coho jack and released 2 chinook and 1 chinook jack.

Fishing Rule Changes:

  • Grays River:  effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream to the mouth of the South Fork:  release all Coho
  • West Fork Grays River:  effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream:  release all Coho.
  • Cowlitz River:  Until further notice closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the Barrier Dam including all lower Cowlitz tributaries, except the Toutle River.  Until further notice, the closed waters section below the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Barrier Dam is 400’, at the posted markers.
  • Washougal River, including Camas Slough:  Until further notice closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the bridge at Salmon Falls.
  • Toutle River:  effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream to the forks:  release all Chinook.
  • North Fork Toutle River:  effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream to the posted markers below the fish collection facility:  release all Chinook.
  • Wind River:  from the mouth to 400’ below Shepherd Falls, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead.
  • Drano Lake: Effective Oct. 17, 2018 until further notice. Closed to all fishing in the waters downstream of markers on a point of land downstream and across from Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery and upstream of the Highway 14 Bridge.
  • White Salmon River:  from the mouth to the county road bridge below the former location of the powerhouse, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead

STURGEON

From the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to McNary Dam including adjacent tributaries – Until further notice, white sturgeon open for catch and release fishing only. Fishing for sturgeon at night is closed.

WA Fish Commission OKs Willapa Crabbing Change, Talks Columbia Salmon Policy

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Sport crabbers will be able to set their pots in Willapa Bay in the fall two weeks earlier than in the past after the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the change at a meeting Monday.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), agreed to allow recreational crabbers to set pots in Willapa Bay on Nov. 15, two weeks earlier than usual. WDFW staff proposed the change to provide more opportunity for recreational crabbers and to reduce gear conflicts with commercial crabbers. 

During the special, half-day meeting in Olympia, commissioners also reviewed the outcomes of a 5-year-old policy that significantly changed salmon fisheries on the Columbia River.

The Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy, approved by the commission in 2013, is designed to promote orderly fisheries, wild salmon and steelhead conservation, and economic stability in the state’s fishing industry. Strategies for achieving those goals includes allocating more salmon to sport fisheries, promoting the use of alternative fishing gear in commercial fisheries and increasing the production/releases of salmon in off-channel areas.

Commissioners took public comment on the salmon policy and heard panel discussions that included representatives from conservation organizations as well as commercial and recreational fishing groups.

The commission’s review of the Columbia River policy will continue next month during a meeting in Vancouver with Oregon commissioners. More information on that meeting will be available online in the coming weeks at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html.

Hanford Reach Angler Pines For Past Years’ Larger Returns Of 5-year-old URBs

By Rick Itami

Back in the early 1990s when I first tried my luck at catching the famous upriver bright fall Chinook salmon in the Hanford Reach of the mighty Columbia River, I was amazed to see huge fish rolling all over the river.

THE NUMBER OF 5-YEAR-OLD FALL CHINOOK RETURNING TO THE COLUMBIA RIVER’S HANFORD REACH HAS DROPPED IN RECENT YEARS. PRIOR TO 2006, ONE-THIRD OF THE RUN CAME IN AS 5’S, ON AVERAGE, BUT SINCE THEN THE PERCENTAGE HAS DROPPED TO 18. DAVE SITTON CAUGHT THIS BEAST IN 2012. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And when I say huge, I mean salmon running in the 30- to 40-pound range. The first time I hooked one of these giants, I fought it for 20 minutes before my 30-pound-test monofilament finally snapped when I tried to horse the fish into the net.

In those days, outdoor sections of newspapers often contained photos of smiling fishermen displaying monster fall Chinook caught with regularity.

Fast forward to the present and you have a totally different scenario. You simply do not see anglers landing many really large fish as before.

Toby Wyatt, owner/operator of Reel Time Fishing (208-790-2128) and who is one of the most successful guides on the Hanford Reach, says his clients land just a few fish in the 30-plus-pound range. Most of his catch ranges in the 10- to 20-pound range. He misses getting his clients into the monsters.

So what happened to the giants of the Hanford Reach?

AUTHOR RICK ITAMI HOLDS AN UPRIVER BRIGHT FROM THIS PAST SEASON, A 12-POUND HEN. A FISH’S AGE, THE LENGTH OF TIME IT SPENDS IN THE PACIFIC AND OCEAN PRODUCTIVITY DETERMINE HOW BIG A SALMON GROWS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Paul Hoffarth, Region III fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirms the drop in size of fish. Surprisingly and for unknown reasons, Hoffarth says that a significant shift in the age structure of fish happened all in one year — 2006.

Prior to 2006, roughly one-third (34 percent) of the upriver brights were the big 5-year-old fish and 37 percent were 4-year-olds.

Beginning in 2006, the percentage of 5-year-olds has averaged 18 percent (with a range of 10 to 28 percent) and has never recovered.

Hoffarth does not know why the decline happened so suddenly and no studies have been done to determine a cause or causes. Therefore, no one knows if the age structure will return to pre-2006 levels.

So we anglers are left in the dark as to what the future of the upriver bright population has in store in terms of the size of fish caught. Let’s hope whatever caused the flip in the age structure of these magnificent fish will just as suddenly flip the other way.

I would love to see a river full of rolling giants again.

Hanford Reach Fall King Fishery Closing Early Next Week

Fall Chinook fishing on the Hanford Reach will stay open through Monday, giving anglers one last weekend to catch upriver brights on the free-flowing Columbia.

SPOKANE’S RICK ITAMI WAS A BIT PESSIMISTIC ABOUT FISHING FOR HANFORD REACH FALL CHINOOK, GIVEN THE LOWER RUN, BUT ONCE THERE HE FOUND WILLING BITERS, INCLUDING A 12-POUND HEN THAT WILL PROVIDE EGGS FOR HIS STEELHEADING ADVENTURES THIS WINTER AND A 10-POUND BUCK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

While this year’s run is down and the limit has been dropped to one a day, fishermen have still been finding biting salmon.

Some have been reporting success running tuna-stuffed Brad’s Super Baits behind Pro-Trolls. They’ll probably have less competition this weekend, which is also the deer and duck opener across the state.

The Reach above the wooden powerlines at the old Hanford townsite to Priest Rapids Dam was set to close after Oct. 15, but it wasn’t clear when the waters from there down to Tri-Cities would shut down as the run continued to trickle past downstream dams.

An early October update from state fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth warned the quota might be met by Oct. 7, then another earlier this week said fishing would stay open through this Friday, Oct. 12.

“Based on the updated return estimate for natural-origin Hanford Reach fall Chinook, all adult Chinook in excess of escapement will be harvested by Oct. 15,” WDFW said in an emergency rule-change notice sent out this afternoon.

If you still want to fish the free-flowing Columbia for upriver brights — and for a good cause — sign up for late October’s 6th Annual King of the Reach derby, a three-day event that collects wild fall Chinook for the Grant County Public Utility District’s Priest Rapids Hatchery, improving the stock’s fitness and ensuring that hatchery fish remain genetically similar to the natives here.