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NW Fishletter #245, April 11, 2008

[3] Sporties Catch Thousands Of Chinook Below Bonneville Dam

While California fishermen were trudging through the halls of Congress last month, trying to drum up support for an investigation of NMFS and the collapse of Sacramento River salmon stocks, Columbia River sportfishers were reeling in spring chinook right and left -- 4,441 by March 31, according to WDFW harvest manager Joe Hymer.

The chinook count at Bonneville Dam was a paltry 769 fish by April 9, but Hymer said that should change when flows pick up and spill starts on April 10. He said sportfishers were getting about one fish per boat and most of the action was around Vancouver, the best catch rates since 2002. About 1,500 boats were counted on the river on the last Saturday in March.

Another positive note, according to Hymer, was the fact that chinook jacks are showing early this year, which could mean another big run next year.

Sporties are only allowed to keep fish with a clipped fin, which means it was raised in a hatchery. They had released 680 wild fish by the end of March.

Harvest managers hope to keep sportfishing open between Hayden Island and Bonneville Dam from the middle of March until the end of April. They have reduced the bag limit to one hatchery chinook a day.

A 10-hour commercial gillnet fishery on April 1 snagged 674 hatchery spring chinook. About two dozen boats participated. The commercials are slated to fish every Tuesday until they catch their allotment--about 5,200 chinook. They were reportedly getting $9 to $10 a pound for their catch.

The sports side has been allotted more hatchery fish because their impacts on wild, ESA-listed fish are less than the gillnetters. Sports fisherman will be allowed to keep fishing below Bonneville until they catch 18,600 hatchery springers.

Washington and Oregon agreed this year to split the overall 2-percent impacts by non-Indians a bit more in favor of the sport side -- 61 percent to 39 percent. Before, it was a 57-to-43 split.

Another new wrinkle this year is the presence of tribal fishers below Bonneville Dam. An agreement between WDFW and the Yakama Nation has sanctioned tribal subsistence fishing from Bonneville Dam to Beacon Rock, 4.5 miles downriver. Tribal members may fish with more than one pole.

"The agreement was reached cooperatively with the Yakama Nation, and clarifies fishing areas and enforcement responsibilities immediately below the dam," said WDFW southwest regional manager Pat Frazier.

The tribes got a big boost in their allotment this year, thanks to a sliding scale used by managers to adjust catches in times of plenty, like this spring when 269,000 upriver springers are expected to show up. The tribal fishers will be allowed a 10-percent impact on the upriver run, up from last year's 7 percent. They mostly fish above Bonneville Dam with nets. -B. R.

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