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NW Fishletter #391, March 4, 2019

[10] Poor Return Forecasts Curtail Columbia River Chinook Fishing

The states of Washington and Oregon have reduced this year's fishing for spring Chinook on the Columbia River due to a reduction in projected returns.

The curtailment--announced at a joint meeting Feb. 20--includes mainstem and tributary closures on the lower river, and catch limits on Chinook headed to the upper Columbia, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) spokesman Craig Bartlett. Fishing for up-river Chinook will also close once catch limits are met, but may reopen once enough Chinook have crossed Bonneville Dam, he added.

About 99,300 upriver spring Chinook are expected to reach the Columbia this year, according to a news release from WDFW. That's 50 percent less than the 10-year average, and 14 percent fewer than last year's spring Chinook returns, the agency reported.

If forecasts are accurate, spring Chinook returns will be the lowest since 2007, but well above the 1995 record-low return of 12,800 fish, the news release said.

Expected returns to several lower Columbia River tributaries are especially low. The Cowlitz and Lewis rivers will close to Chinook fishing on March 1, and the mainstem Columbia River closes from Warrior Rock to Bonneville Dam from March 1 through April 10. That's to conserve fish for the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers, which are not expected to get enough hatchery Chinook returning to meet what's needed for broodstock, Bartlett said.

Ryan Lothrop, WDFW's Columbia River policy coordinator, said the poor returns are largely due to poor ocean conditions. Warm ocean conditions present a challenge to salmon survival, and the past few years present conditions similar to those in the 1990s, making fish managers especially cautious, he said in the news release.

"Anglers will still find some good fishing opportunities in the Columbia River basin this spring, but conservation has to be our first concern," Lothrop said in a statement, adding, "We have a responsibility to protect salmon runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and get enough fish back to the spawning grounds and hatcheries to support future runs."

Anglers are advised to review the new rules on the agency's website.

Fishing for Chinook and steelhead will continue as planned on the Willamette River, a news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. Forecasts for 40,200 adult Chinook are slightly higher than last year's actual returns, the agency said. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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