Columbia salmon staffers will recommend that spring Chinook fishing only be open in the lower river from Warrior Rock up to Bonneville to help protect low returns to two Southwest Washington tribs.
A fact sheet out ahead of Wednesday morning’s 10 a.m. joint ODFW-WDFW hearing to set seasons says that that framework would yield a catch of 4,050 kept fish on the mainstem through April 10, though popular waters and beaches at Cathlamet/Westport, Longview/Rainier and Kalama/St. Helens would be closed.
THIS SEASON’S LOWER COLUMBIA SPRING CHINOOK FISHERY WOULD BE CONCENTRATED ABOVE WARRIOR ROCK TO PROTECT LOWER RETURNS OF COWLITZ AND LEWIS FISH. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)
“The recommended season for the fishery downstream of Bonneville Dam is expected to minimize the harvest of Cowlitz and Lewis river spring Chinook and provide the protection to hatchery broodstock,” the document explains.
Randy Woolsley, a member of the Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group, says the returns are so low that managers can’t afford any impacts on those stocks from fisheries below the Lewis.
Poor ocean conditions in recent years are being blamed.
Woolsley says the situation is usually the opposite, with fishing focused lower in the big river to target typically more plentiful hatchery fish returning to westside streams and to try and protect ESA-listed springers headed to headwaters in Idaho and elsewhere.
Warrior Rock sits just above the mouth of the Lewis, up which 1,600 springers are forecast back. For the Cowlitz, that figure is just 1,300. Both figures are below last year’s preseason prediction and actual returns, and are also less than hatchery needs.
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The fact sheet — which arrived by email unusually late in the day — states that in a 2018 guidance letter federal overseers said that both tribs’ hatchery fish are “critical” to efforts reintroducing springers into the upper ends of both watersheds.
Still, on the mainstem Columbia, prime stretches along Sauvie Island, plus the Interstate stretch between I-5 and I-205 and the western gorge would be open for fishing with a limit of one hatchery king a day.
With action typically picking up in early April, however, the limited number of boat ramps between Warrior and Beacon Rocks could make for “pretty crowded” launching conditions, Woolsley forecasts.
The water from Beacon to the dam would be open only for bank fishing, as usual.
Between the Columbia’s upriver springer forecast of 99,300 and the 30 percent run buffer, there are 3,689 mortalities available below Bonneville, just under 500 from the dam to Oregon-Washington state line, and 357 in Washington’s Snake River.
Staffers are recommending that the Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day and first few miles of the McNary Pools be open for a 35-day season starting April 1.
If there’s any good news, it’s that while the Willamette forecast is down but a bit better than 2018’s actual return, it is expected to be open seven days a week, with a modeled harvest of 11,000 springers.