5:08 P.M., MAY 31, 2023, UPDATED AT BOTTOM WITH ODFW AND WDFW PRESS RELEASES
With the feds breathing heavily down their necks, “intensely frustrated” state managers had to shut down hatchery spring Chinook and steelhead fishing on the Lower Columbia effective tomorrow after Endangered Species Act limits on listed salmon were exceeded.
The decision takes effect June 1, cancelling four days of planned fishing on the big river, and runs through June 15. Fishing for hatchery summer Chinook and steelhead is expected to open from Tongue Point to Bonneville on June 16. Meanwhile, shad fishing will be allowed to continue on the Columbia below the dam.
According to a fact sheet released ahead of this afternoon’s hastily called Columbia River Compact meeting, treaty ceremonial and subsistence, platform hook and line, and permit fisheries caught 113 percent of their quota, 11,990 fish versus the 10,582 available to them.
Stuart Ellis, representing the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission, said mid-May platform hook and line fishermen saw “surprisingly high catch rates relative to the abundance of fish,” leading them to close their fisheries in response back on Mt. St. Helens Day, May 18.
“We caught a lot of fish in a short amount of time,” Ellis acknowledged.
The total treaty fishery impact on Snake River wild springers was set at 7.40 percent this season, but will end up at 8.38 percent.
Combined treaty and non-treaty impacts through the end of today are projected to hit 9.09 percent, a .09 percent exceedance of the federal biological opinion authorizing the fishery on the listed stocks.
Yesterday, the National Marine Fisheries Service told state and tribal fishery managers that action needed to be taken because of that.
But during today’s conference call, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Tucker Jones balked at having to shut down fishing on such short notice – essentially, just eight hours – pointing to 145 river miles and many access points to cover to get the word out to the wider public and the possibility that some anglers might not hear about it and inadvertently get in trouble.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Dr. Charlene Hurst said she shared those perspectives.
Jones asked how much keeping the fishery open Thursday to give anglers more notice would cost in terms of springer impacts, and the answer from ODFW staff was four-one hundredths of a percentage point at current catch rates.
Speaking to boats and trains needing time to stop, he found himself “intensely frustrated” and called the timeline to shut fishing down “frankly completely unreasonable.”
NMFS’s Jeromy Jording, however, was not moved. His agency, he said, “cannot support any action that continues to accrue impacts above the ESA limit.”
“I’m not faulting the states for being in this position, but when a limit is achieved, the action should be immediately stopped,” Jording said.
He stated that tomorrow if an angler were to be ticketed by a federal fish and wildlife officer, they stood to be hit with an ESA violation.
The insinuation from NMFS that sport fishermen might be arrested by “federal agents” because of having to shut the season down on such short notice was “shocking” to Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
“This closure is particularly disappointing since the sport fishery is at a fraction of 1 percent mortality on wild Chinook, and yet is needed to cover the tribal fisheries impacts. We get this and support the move, but it is all the more difficult to shoulder, given the consistent and harsh criticism served upon the sportfishers by tribal fishers over the decades. This closure will be hard on all our community, but most of all on the guide community, the smallest of small businesses,” Hamilton said.
Jim Fowler, a guide and tackle store owner in Hammond, near Astoria, touched on that last point, stating that such short-notice shutdowns were destroying the trust of anglers to schedule fishing trips.
“Make plans, spend money, poof, it’s gone,” he said.
Ultimately, Fowler supported the staff recommendation, but wanted the DFWs to do a better job.
As much heartburn as today gave him, Jones acknowledged that fisheries for Columbia salmon are “interconnected” and have to be managed within overall impact rates.
“I find myself in line with the staff recommendation,” he said in making the final motion to close the spring season, “but I don’t have to like it.”
He was seconded by Hurst.
Asked by Jones how many times one fishery sector’s overage had led to the closure of others, ODFW’s Jeff Whisler said that in his 30 years, “this is a new one” when it came to the spring season. WDFW’s Ryan Lothrop recalled the tribes absorbing a sport overage during a past fall Chinook fishery.
It’s tough news for recreational anglers who had higher hopes for this year, based on a preseason runsize forecast of 198,600 springers. Overall catches have been much slower than expected, even with an April fishery extension and then two more in late spring. Nontreaty fisheries, which include recreational seasons on the Lower Columbia, Gorge and Snake, and commercial operations in Youngs Bay, and other smaller fisheries, are expected to easily stay within their nontreaty ESA limit of 1.60 percent and will clock in around .71 percent, all said and done.
Mid-May’s inseason runsize update saw the return downgraded to 139,000, but a strong surge had the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee boost that back to 153,000 early last week before a possibly weak tail to the run had TAC dropping it down to 143,000 yesterday.
Columbia sportfishing advisor Harry Barber called for a root cause analysis to get to the bottom of how the exceedance occurred.
Jones pointed to poor returns of constraining Snake wild Chinook. ODFW has found that the lower four dams on the river in Washington are the single largest mortality cause for outmigrating smolts.
“This is why NSIA has worked for decades with the tribes, states and other organizations to protect and restore these fish. Sportfishing businesses have been in the lead for hydro protection, marine mammal management, hatchery funding and more. This closure really punctuates how dire the situation is for wild Snake River Chinook, and what a stranglehold this has on our fisheries. We need to breach the dams, or science tells us we will eventually lose them, while our fisheries dwindle,” Hamilton stated during the meeting.
THE FOLLOWING IS AN OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE
CLACKAMAS, Ore.—Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington closed recreational Chinook and steelhead fishing on the Columbia River during a joint state hearing today effective June 1 through the remainder of the spring fishing season.
The action was taken after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) advised them to close the season immediately as any salmon and steelhead fishing that occurred beyond today (May 31) would be out of legal compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
Effective Thursday, June 1 through Thursday, June 15, angling for and retention of all salmon and steelhead is prohibited in the mainstem Columbia River from Tongue Point/Rocky Point line upstream to Bonneville Dam. (The fishery from Bonneville Dam upstream to the OR/WA border was closed on May 25.) Shad fishing remains open.
Yesterday afternoon, the expected return of upriver adult spring Chinook to the Columbia River mouth was downgraded from the 153,000 fish predicted on May 24 to 143,000 fish, based on passage at Bonneville Dam. Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington were also provided treaty catches through May 18 which were higher than expected.
After reviewing these key pieces of information, it became clear that combined in-river fisheries were over the allowed impact rate on ESA-listed spring/summer Snake River Chinook and Upper Columbia spring Chinook. NMFS advised the states that action would need to be taken immediately to close the fishery. (Recreational fishing for Chinook and steelhead had been scheduled to continue in the area downstream of Bonneville Dam through June 4.)
“It’s hard to have to close these fisheries when we have managed them conservatively while facing run-size uncertainty this year, but we need to be responsive,” said Tucker Jones, ODFW Columbia River Program Manager. “Fisheries are the only impact source that is scaled to actual abundance, unlike hydrosystem or predation impacts, and are the only impact that we can manage in real time.
“Rather than pointing fingers at a particular fishery, it’s important to acknowledge the real problem, that there are way too few wild Snake River spring/summer Chinook coming back,” Jones continued. “NOAA’s recent “Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead” report acknowledges this, and notes that without aggressive, urgent actions, including restoration of the lower Snake River for Snake River spring/summer Chinook, achieving healthy and abundant populations won’t be possible. While fisheries are playing their critical role in the conservation and recovery story, it’s important that the region continue to push other sectors to do the same.”
A NMFS representative on the call during the joint state hearing today thanked fishery managers for their swift action, responsiveness, and for working within ESA limitations.
Columbia River spring Chinook salmon seasons are driven by balancing opportunity with Endangered Species Act limitations, provisions in the management agreement between the states, Columbia River tribes, and the federal government that specify the total harvest guideline of upriver-origin spring Chinook, and guidance from the Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife commissions regarding allocations among the non-treaty fisheries.
THE FOLLOWING IS A WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE
OLYMPIA – The recreational fishery for spring Chinook salmon and steelhead will close on the Lower Columbia River at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, June 1, fishery managers from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today.
After analyzing spring Chinook salmon catches to date for both treaty and non-treaty fisheries, fishery managers are closing the salmon and steelhead fishery downstream of Bonneville Dam through June 15.
Preliminary data showed impacts to Snake River and Upper Columbia wild spring Chinook salmon — which are both listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — were exceeded by the collective treaty and non-treaty catches to-date. The ESA coverage is provided by the U.S. vs. Oregon Biological Opinion.
“The state used about half the allowable ESA impacts, but we have a duty to manage wild salmon stocks within ESA impact limits, which makes this action necessary for the conservation of upriver spring Chinook ESA-listed stocks,” said Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River fisheries manager with WDFW. “The cold spring and river conditions have contributed to an unusual fish passage and run timing this year. Fishery managers will continue to monitor actual returns closely in the weeks ahead.”
Combined treaty and non-treaty fisheries have exceeded the allowable 9.0% ESA impact rate with 9.09% estimated through May 31. For more information on catch and ESA impact information, go to the Columbia River Compact Fact Sheet.
The current upriver spring Chinook salmon run size is 143,000 as compared to the pre-season forecast of 198,600 and is below the previous week’s estimate of 153,000 fish. Fishery managers set the Columbia River spring Chinook salmon fishery based on the number of fish expected to return from the ocean and the allowable impact to wild salmon and steelhead stocks listed for protection under the federal ESA.
Fishing will remain open for hatchery spring Chinook salmon in the Wind River and Drano Lake. The Snake River spring Chinook salmon fishery remains closed. Shad fishing will remain open in the lower Columbia River. The mainstem Columbia River summer salmon and steelhead fishery is scheduled to start on June 16.