With a forecast for the lowest return of upriver Chinook salmon in 21 years and at the urging of both commercial and recreational fishermen, Oregon and Washington state fishery managers have closed the spring Chinook season on the Columbia River.
The states had proposed an additional five days of fishing at a meeting this week, including one day for a commercial main stem tanglenet fishery.
Allowed impacts to Endangered Species Act-listed salmon were still on the table and fishery managers try to provide additional fishing opportunities when such impacts are available.
But a recent update of run numbers showed a 12% downgrade for the upriver spring Chinook return. Though the forecast of 72,000 adult Chinook salmon was still within management buffers, it was the lowest return since 1999 and there were concerns about brood stock collection for hatcheries.
Commercial fishermen and anglers asked the state to close the fishery rather than extend it, citing conservation concerns.
“They almost never agree on anything,” said Rick Swart, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. But in this case there was a general consensus across the various groups.
“I had some reservations myself heading in,” said Tucker Jones, Columbia River Program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He was not surprised by the response from fishermen.
“My experience with anglers and commercial fishermen is they are interested in opportunity when opportunity exists,” he said. “But they’re also pretty forward thinking and they’re not looking to mortgage the future for opportunity today.”
For commercial fishermen, there was also the feasibility of the single-day tanglenet fishery to consider.
The spring season for gillnetters in select areas off the river’s main stem had already been very poor, said Jim Wells, an Astoria fisherman and president of Salmon for All, a commercial fishing advocacy group.
A single-day tanglenet fishery farther upstream would not have helped, he said.
Beyond concerns about the shortage of salmon, this late in the season the river is thick with shad, he noted. Fishermen running tanglenets would have had difficulty complying with rules to return any listed fish caught to the water quickly if they were also sorting through that many shad.
“So yeah, that was a pretty easy one for us to say, ‘No thanks,’” Wells said.