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Spring Chinook Seasons Set For Columbia River

Catch data, updated forecast will determine course of fishing season

Anglers may fish for hatchery-reared Columbia River spring chinook salmon downstream of the Interstate 5 bridge at least through April 19 under an agreement reached Jan. 26 by Washington and Oregon fishery managers.

The season, which began Jan. 1, is open seven days per week.

"It's important to recognize that staff expects the season will last significantly longer than April 19," said Curt Melcher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This is a conservative approach."

The decision provides for the greatest number of angler days, while protecting fish stocks listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and providing for a commercial fishing season, said Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That was the stated intent of both the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions earlier this month.

With poor returns projected for the second straight year, both states agreed to discuss any additional spring chinook sport-fishing days and areas in mid-April.

Fishery managers plan to use catch data and an updated forecast of the run size to determine the course of the fishing season, Tweit said.

Biologists predict that 161,400 spring chinook will enter the Columbia River in 2006, with 88,400 destined for tributaries upstream of Bonneville. Last year, 195,400 actually entered the river after biologists predicted a run of more than 400,000 fish.

Concentrating this year's recreational fishery in the lower river will help protect will fish destined for rivers upstream of Bonneville Dam while helping to extend the fishing season, Tweit said.

"Handling mortality for wild upriver fish is the primary constraint on the spring chinook fishery," he said. "By focusing the fishery on the lower river--where hatchery fish from several runs predominate--we can extend the fishing season."

Rules in effect for spring chinook fisheries on the Columbia River require anglers and commercial fishers to release any wild salmon or steelhead they intercept. Mortality rates for released wild chinook--also known as "allowable impact"--cannot exceed 2 percent of the wild run, under federal ESA guidelines.

In recent years, actual mortality rates have been well below the ESA limit, said Tweit, noting that both states have been managing the sport and commercial fisheries early in the year as if the allowable impact were 1.5 percent. More fishing days will be added if the run size comes in as predicted, he said

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