Recreational fishing seasons on the lower Columbia River anticipate a strong 2012 run of spring chinook salmon, but reflect the decline in the number of white sturgeon available for harvest.
Most of the new fishing regulations adopted by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon will take effect March 1, when fishing for spring chinook and sturgeon starts to heat up on the lower Columbia. Until then, both fisheries are open on various sections of the river under rules OK’d last year.
This year’s spring chinook season is based on a projected return of 314,200 upriver fish to the Columbia River, which would be the fourth-largest on record. The 2011 forecast called for a run of 198,400 upriver fish.
The sport fishery is scheduled to run through April 6, but could be extended if enough fish are available for harvest.
The harvest guidelines adopted will allow anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam to catch and keep up to 14,500 hatchery spring chinook before the run forecast is updated in May.
To guard against overestimating this year’s run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated in late April or early May.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have set a meeting April 5 to review the catch and determine if the season can be extended. If the catch to that point has not reached the initial harvest guideline, the two states will consider an immediate extension.
“Not only is the run forecast well above average, but fishing conditions should be a lot better than last year when anglers had to contend with weeks of high, turbid water,” Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a prepared statement.
As in years past, only hatchery-reared spring chinook marked with a clipped adipose fin may be retained. Any unmarked wild spring chinook must be released.
As expected, tighter catch guidelines for white sturgeon on the lower river will reduce fishing opportunities for that species for the third straight year. Responding to the continued decline of sturgeon abundance below Bonneville Dam in recent years, the two states adopted fishing regulations designed to reduce the catch by another 38 percent this year.
This year’s sturgeon fishery will be opening later or closing earlier on various sections of the river, LeFleur said.
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the recreational catch will be allocated as follows: up to 4,160 fish in the estuary, up to 2,080 above Wauna and between 1,768 and 2,022 in the Willamette River.
The harvest share between recreational fisheries upstream and downstream from the Wauna power lines will be flexible and may be adjusted in-season to meet the states’ expectations for fishing seasons and ensure the harvest rate does not exceed catch guidelines.
Unlike the lower river, legal-size sturgeon populations appear to be growing above Bonneville Dam, said Brad James, a Washington fish biologist. This year’s harvest guidelines for sturgeon fisheries above the dam have not yet been set.
To learn more
The new fishing regulations for white sturgeon and spring chinook salmon are posted at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations.
fishing season details
2012 spring chinook
Chinook fishing is currently open daily from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge. Under the new rules, the sport fishery will expand upriver to Beacon Rock from March 1-April 6. During that period, the sport fishery will close on three Tuesdays – March 20 and 27, and April 3 – to accommodate commercial fishering.
Starting March 1, bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from Beacon Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam.
Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open on a daily basis March 16-May 2 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the state line 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines during that time.
Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one hatchery adult spring chinook as part of their daily limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked adult springers per day effective March 16.
2012 white sturgeon
New harvest guidelines approved for the lower river will limit this year’s catch to 9,600 fish, a 38 percent reduction from last year. That action follows a 30 percent catch reduction in 2011 and a 40 percent reduction in 2010.
To keep this year’s catch within the new harvest guideline, the fishery will end 23 days earlier than last year in the estuary below the Wauna powerlines and start eight days later in the fall from the powerlines upriver to Bonneville Dam.
Fishing seasons approved for 2012 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:
Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily through April 30 and May 12-July 8. Through April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38-54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 12 through the end of the season, they must measure 41-54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed Thursdays-Saturdays through July 31 and from Oct. 20-Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38-54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.
All sturgeon fishing will be closed from May 1-Aug. 31 in the sturgeon sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam. Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock also will be closed to fishing at least through April 30.