Columbia spring Chinook

Chinook salmon — especially those that arrive in the spring — are considered the Pacific Northwest’s premier seafood.

PORTLAND — Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon on Wednesday approved a sport fishery for spring Chinook salmon on the Columbia River that reflects continued low numbers of fish available for harvest this year.

According to preseason projections, about 81,700 upriver spring Chinook will reach the Columbia this year, which is up 12 percent from last year’s return, but just 43 percent of the 10-year average. Those fish return to hatcheries and spawning areas upriver from Bonneville Dam.

This year’s projected return of 81,700 upriver spring Chinook would be the second lowest since 1999 (last year’s return was the lowest at 73,100), but still well above the record-low return of just 12,000 fish in 1995.

In addition, fishery managers are also expecting lower returns similar to last year for several major lower Columbia River tributaries, particularly the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers. This year’s spring Chinook run is projected to fall short of broodstock goals for the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers by 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said poor ocean conditions continue to play a sizeable role in lower projected returns.

“There should still be some good fishing opportunities in the Columbia River Basin this spring, but this run so far is looking similar to 2019,” Lothrop said. “We’ll be closely monitoring returns to make sure we can meet Endangered Species Act requirements and support future runs.”

Salmon fishing is currently open from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Interstate-5 bridge through the last day of February, but spring Chinook usually don’t arrive in large numbers until late March and April. The new fishing regulations approved Wednesday will take effect in the following areas:

Columbia River below Bonneville Dam: Fishing will be open 7 days a week from March 1 through March 31 on the Columbia River upstream from Warrior Rock boundary line to Bonneville Dam. Anglers will also be able to fish Thursday, Friday, and Saturday each week beginning April 1. Anglers may retain two hatchery salmonids (Chinook or steelhead) per day, but only one may be a Chinook. The lower river downstream from Warrior Rock will be closed to fishing beginning March 1 until further notice to conserve spring Chinook returning to the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers.

Columbia River above Bonneville Dam: Waters from the Tower Island power lines (about 6 miles below The Dalles Dam) upstream to the Oregon/Washington state line above McNary Dam, plus the Washington banks between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines will open to salmon fishing April 1 through May 5. Anglers may retain two hatchery salmonids (Chinook or steelhead) per day, but only one may be a Chinook.

In all open waters, only hatchery salmon and steelhead identified by a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained.

The expected harvest for the fishery below Bonneville Dam is approximately 2,500 adult Chinook and above Bonneville Dam is 340 adult Chinook. Managers will monitor the fisheries and dam counts and make adjustments as necessary.

“Though we were hoping for some relief in 2019, it looks like warm ocean waters are once again likely to impact this fishery,” Lothrop said. “Conservative management is critical when ocean conditions are having a detrimental impact to Chinook survival like they have in recent years.”

Under an agreement reached earlier this month by the directors of WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, barbless hooks will again be required for anglers fishing for salmon and steelhead on the Columbia River mainstem from the mouth to the Washington/Oregon state line upstream of McNary Dam.

Anglers are strongly advised to review the rules for the waters they plan to fish in WDFW’s sport fishing pamphlet at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations, as well as emergency rule changes, available at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.

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