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Save Our Wild Salmon

August 29, 2019

salmon.steelheadWith a reduction in the upriver steelhead forecast by 27.2 percent, the two-state Columbia River Compact at its hearing yesterday, Aug. 28, extended the states’ ban on steelhead retention in the mainstem Columbia River that began in August to Sept. 30. The ban on retention is from Buoy 10 in the lower river estuary upstream to The Dalles Dam. The area upstream of The Dalles Dam to the John Day Dam is already closed to steelhead retention.

A review of the 2019 steelhead returns to the river by the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, which met Aug. 26, resulted in a reduction in the TAC steelhead forecast that pass Bonneville Dam. The preseason estimate was 118,200 fish, but TAC’s in-season forecast was dropped to 86,000. In doing so, TAC also reduced the expected passage of unclipped A-run and B-run fish to 38,000, a slight reduction from the preseason forecast of 40,250.

“The majority of the downgrade is due to the clipped hatchery-origin A-Index component tracking lower than forecast,” the Compact’s Fall Fact Sheet No. 4 says.

The ban on steelhead retention is for both hatchery and wild fish.

With the low numbers of steelhead, Tucker Jones, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the states would keep a close eye out for further changes. Hatchery steelhead are needed for brood stock and biologists are concerned there won’t be enough fish returning to fill hatchery needs.

This action expands on regulations adopted earlier this year to help reduce impacts to upriver steelhead which included area-specific retention closures, a reduced bag limit (one fish when open), and a no-fishing sanctuary at the Deschutes River mouth, according to an ODFW news release.

In addition, release of both hatchery and wild steelhead are required from the John Day Dam upstream to McNary Dam: Sep 1 – Oct 31, and from McNary Dam upstream to the OR/WA Border (upstream of McNary Dam) Oct 1 – Nov 30.

There was little disagreement about closing steelhead retention among the public who testified by telephone at the hearing, although The Conservation Angler in comments sent after the hearing thought the Compact should take additional steps to protect steelhead.

“The State Action closing ‘steelhead retention’ does not close steelhead fishing, nor does it close steelhead fishing in the cold water refugia (CWR) along the mainstem Columbia in places like the Wind River, Drano Lake (aka known as the Little White Salmon) and the Big White Salmon,” The Conservation Angler said.

The conservation group also pointed out that more wild steelhead have passed Bonneville Dam than hatchery steelhead (26,992 wild and 22,358 hatchery) and the same holds true for passage at The Dalles Dam (10,491 wild and 7,009 hatchery).

The Compact also rescinded a fall commercial mainstem fishery scheduled for Aug. 28 and 29 as the gillnetters are reaching their allocation of upriver bright fall chinook.

Through August 28, a total of 35,096 adult fall chinook and 6,999 jacks have passed Bonneville Dam which is similar to expectations, the Fact Sheet says. The 10-year average for adults is 64,866, almost twice this year’s passage on this date, and for jacks 10,619. Some 349,600 fall chinook are expected, based on the preseason forecast. Over the last 10 years, the average 50 percent complete date has been September 9.

Also at Bonneville through August 28 counts of early stock coho salmon – coho passing the dam prior to October 1 – is 4,889 adults, which is consistent with expectations, and 549 jacks. The 10-year average on this date is 5,585 adults and 534 jacks. Some 611,300 coho are forecasted this year. Passage of upriver early stock coho is typically 50 percent complete by September 10.

In other recreational fisheries, Buoy 10 was open to chinook retention August 1-20 as planned preseason and remains open to retention of hatchery coho with a two-fish daily bag limit. Total chinook and upriver bright mortalities remained within preseason expectations for the retention season. Chinook handle since the retention season closed has been tracking higher than expected, according to the Fact Sheet.

An issue raised at the hearing was that the Buoy 10 coho fishing has not resulted in many marked keepers. Most of the coho have been wild, while lots of chinook have been getting handled. Anglers have been catching plenty of fish in the Buoy 10 fishery, but have to release many of those caught.

The recreational salmon fishery from Puget Island upstream to Warrior Rock, near St. Helens, was open to chinook retention August 1 – 27 and chinook retention from Tongue Point to Puget Island was open concurrent with the Buoy 10 fishery. This fishery is currently open to retention of hatchery coho with a two-fish daily bag limit. Total chinook and upriver bright mortalities are projected to exceed preseason expectations for the retention period. Additional chinook mortalities will be accrued during the chinook non-retention period, the Fact Sheet says.

Chinook retention will remain open through Sept. 8 from Warrior Rock upstream to Bonneville Dam. Through Aug. 25, the chinook catch is tracking ahead of preseason expectations.

Recreational angling from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam is ongoing and is currently open for chinook and coho with a one salmonid daily bag limit. The fishery was planned to be managed in-season based on actual catches and the upriver bright run size. Through Aug. 25, an estimated 36 adult chinook have been kept from approximately 800 angler trips.

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