There may be more interest in limiting fall Chinook retention at Buoy 10 to hatchery fish to stretch the season at the mouth of the Columbia.
A recently conducted ODFW-WDFW survey of the big river’s anglers found 53 percent supported the concept as a means to lengthen the popular fishery, while 47 percent preferred a shorter season with wild and hatchery kings both available for harvest.
The results, released today, follow a “suggestion” earlier this week from the Oregon City-based Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association to open the fishery as usual on August 1 for hatchery Chinook only “until further notice.”
“Let the fish tell us when it’s time to move to full retention,” write executive director Liz Hamilton and Randy Woolsey, NSIA’s advisor to the Columbia River Recreational Fishing Advisory Group, in the organization’s weekly industry newsletter. “Once fisheries managers have determined the constraining (Lower Columbia River) tule stocks have cleared the system, then staff could determine a date for reopening for non-selective Chinook fishing. This action would keep Buoy 10 open, and serve to protect our early and late fall coho fishing, while avoiding a full river closure from early fishing.”
Late last August saw significantly higher than expected Chinook handle rates at Buoy 10 after the fishery switched to any king on the 25th, with just six days of fishing producing an exploitation rate of 4.66 percent on lower river stocks compared to a preseason expectation of 2.02 percent for what had been planned to be a 14-day opportunity.
It led to a sudden closure at Buoy 10 and had cascading ramifications on fisheries all the way up to Bonneville Dam through the end of September, causing headaches and anger the whole way around.
In their newsletter, Hamilton and Woolsey acknowledge the difficulties around forecasting and managing salmon runs, but point out the necessary closures to keep within conservation needs also harm businesses dependent on the fisheries. They’re asking for more predictable fishing opportunities and say the hatchery-only approach could also yield data on the ability of the sport fleet to reduce the number of clipped Chinook spawning in the wild, also known as pHOS.
Yet while a thin majority of anglers preferred hatchery kings and a longer season to full retention and a shorter fishery, another question in the DFWs’ survey muddles things.
Asked about three strategies to limit Chinook retention in the mainstem Columbia, about 4,250 supported limiting the number of kings anglers could keep each season, around 3,750 supported keeping both hatchery and wild kings, and just under 3,500 supported the hatchery-only option.
Requiring anglers to focus on hatchery Chinook means having to potentially grade through wild fish to find a keeper. Not every year will see a bonkers record return of Spring Creek Hatchery kings like 2022 did.
Another question centered on limiting where and/or when salmon fishing occurs, with around 3,900 in support of a select-days-of-the-week approach (say, Monday, Wednesday, Friday), 3,250 or so supported subarea closures, around 4,100 supported opening fishing after August 1, about 3,400 supported nonretention of Chinook in certain areas and/or certain times, while 4,000 supported limiting guides and charters by area or days of the week.
That last one is a hot button, but state fishery managers say it “will not be considered this year,” nor will gear restrictions like no bait or no lead rules, or area-specific endorsements, “given the need for further discussion and exploration with co-managers and stakeholders to determine if and/or how strategies could be successfully implemented, including statutory hurdles.”
As it stands, the survey is expected to help ODFW and WDFW as they work on future Columbia fall Chinook fisheries and in the meanwhile it is telling the managers more about their constituency.
According to the agencies, over 7,500 fishermen filled out the survey (97.2 percent described themselves as recreational anglers, 2 percent as guides or charters) with 90 percent of those being annual license holders. They fish for fall Chinook from the free-flowing Hanford Reach downstream to the ocean, but mostly below Bonneville, with Buoy 10 being the most frequently worked waters (2,166 responses), followed by the Warrior Rock-to-Bonneville stretch (1,903).
A total of 5,828 said they were licensed in Oregon, 901 in Washington, with 798 holding licenses in both states. Some 5,608 fished out of a boat, either a personal craft or a guide or charter’s, while 1,534 worked the bank.
“Staff have gained valuable information from the survey and are considering ways to refine survey questions and potentially use similar surveys as a regular tool moving forward,” the DFWs state.