Fish run with a fat "tail" allows fishing times to expand on Columbia

COLUMBIA RIVER - A larger than anticipated Columbia/Snake River fall Chinook salmon return - and one that is showing a fat "tail" - allowed fishery managers last week to expand both sport and commercial opportunities on the Columbia mainstem.

State officials decided last Wednesday that the sport fishing season for Chinook on the mainstem from Bonneville Dam to near the river mouth at the Rocky Point-Tongue Point line will remain open until the end of the year. The decision reverses one made just two weeks ago to close the fishery Oct. 1. Fall Chinook fishing also remains open in the mainstem river above Bonneville Dam.

Representatives of the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife, meeting as the Columbia River Compact, also decided to expand last week's non-tribal commercial fishery in the mainstem waters below Bonneville. Two weeks ago officials had pondered whether or not to allow any commercial fishing last week at all on the lower river. In fact, two Sept. 23 commercial fisheries were cancelled because it was feared a September non-tribal commercial fleet's allocation of Chinook would be surpassed.

The return of upriver bright fall Chinook, which had been forecast in preseason at 287,000 adult fish, has repeatedly been increased in-season as counts at Bonneville hold strong. The most recent URB projection is for a return of 358,000 adults by the end of the run, said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River harvest manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That increased run forecast means that the tribal (a 23.04 percent impact on the URB run), sport (4.29 percent) and non-tribal commercial (3.96 percent) shares of the overall catch also grow. Columbia River fall salmon fisheries are structured to avoid excessive impacts to Snake River wild upriver-bright fall Chinook, which have protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The mainstem salmon daily limit in the area continues to be six fish, only two of which may be adults. Only one of the adult salmon may be a Chinook. All chum, sockeye and wild coho must be released. The area is also open for retention of hatchery steelhead.

The Technical Advisory Committee met last Wednesday to review dam count information and data retrieved from tagged fish that have been harvested in the lower river and by tribal fishers in the reservoirs above Bonneville Dam. TAC, comprised of federal, state and tribal fisheries officials, advises U.S. v. Oregon proceedings and also contributes to the Compact and sport fishery processes.

TAC decided to bump up the URB forecast and that of the Bonneville Pool Hatchery fall Chinook run from 182,000 to 184,000. The BPH or "tule" run is primarily composed of fish originating at Spring Creek Hatchery. The URP run is dominated by wild fish from the Columbia's Hanford Reach.

The combined URB, BPH and Mid-Columbia bright fall Chinook run forecast is 644,000 - up from a preseason forecast and comparable to the upriver return of 704,000 last year. The upriver run last year included the biggest Mid-Columbia bright return on record and the URB return, 373,200, was the largest since 1987 (a record 420,660).

Through Sunday, Oct. 3, the fall Chinook count at Bonneville Dam was 553,820 - a figure obviously that does not include upriver fall Chinook that were caught as a part of the sport and commercial fisheries in the lower river.

The overall adult fall Chinook return last year, including lower river runs, was nearly 900,000 - the largest since 1948. The latest forecast for the 2004 run is 754,000 (compared to a preseason projection of 634,900).

"We feel we have some room for additional commercial, as well as sport, fisheries," said LeFleur, who also chairs TAC.

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