Biologists stop recreational salmon fishing in lower Columbia River

September 1, 2022
Biologists stop recreational salmon fishing in lower Columbia River

Starting Friday, no salmon, steelhead fishing allowed from Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam

Ambushed by unexpectedly high returns of fall chinook salmon into the Columbia River, but handcuffed by federal regulations to protect some of them, Oregon and Washington biologists took unprecedented action Thursday to shut down all salmon and steelhead fishing on the lower river, from its mouth at Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam.

No fishing for any salmon or steelhead downriver of the dam will be allowed from Friday morning until further notice. Fishing remains open upriver from Bonneville and, for hatchery coho salmon, in the ocean off the river’s mouth.

“This closure is a big deal and a decision not taken lightly, but we’ve got to do this to ensure fisheries remain within their conservation limits on these listed runs of fish,” Tucker Jones, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s ocean salmon and Columbia River program manager, said in a statement. “It kills us to have to close fishing before Labor Day Weekend, especially when we recognize how important recreational angling is to both the conservation of salmon and to the economics of local communities that rely on this fishery.”

Sport catches of chinook at Buoy 10 after fishing began in early August were among the highest on record.

They included protected wild tule chinook from lower river tributaries, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and thus subject to angling restrictions. Tules are important as an ocean caught fish from Oregon to Alaska, but use up fat reserves quickly as they enter freshwater and spawn earlier than other chinook. So they aren’t considered as desirable by many anglers as their fat-laden upriver cousins.

Those that are caught and kept, hatchery and wild, are monitored within federal sideboards. Those parameters have been exceeded by what most believe will be a much larger run than predicted earlier this year. Chinook also seem to have lingered in the lower river rather than continue their usual trek to spawning grounds by late August.

Federal and state managers, however, can’t speculate and must set regulations for the lower river and take in-season actions based on forecasts. There’s no method of updating the lower river chinook run during the fishing season. Upriver runs can be reassessed based upon both catches and physical counts of each fish at Bonneville Dam.

The action Thursday came on the threshold of a predicted abundant arrival of coho salmon; fish already were showing up in catches Tuesday and Wednesday from the Buoy upriver.

Frustration — from anglers and managers alike — dominated Thursday’s telephone conference call of the Columbia River Compact, which sets sport and commercial seasons on the jointly managed Columbia.Anglers and fishing guides among more than 150 listening in on the call — also an unusually high number — said they’d planned vacations and have friends and clients arriving from across the nation who will have to be told they can’t fish.

“I’m not happy,” said Jones of ODFW. “I believe in these fisheries ... I view them as part of the conservation solution ... keeping people engaged in the resource. It kills me to have to do this. I want to keep people fishing.”

Staff biologists on both sides of the river are scrambling to gather more data with an eye to meeting again — after Labor Day weekend — and possibly reopening the coho season. Coho dominate Buoy 10 catches from late August through most of October.

-Bill Monroe

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