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Most of the new rules will take effect March 1, when fishing for spring chinook and sturgeon starts to heat up on the Columbia River. Sport fishing is currently open for both species on various sections of the river under rules adopted last year.
Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said fishing seasons for both species reflect the number of fish available for harvest within the states' conservation guidelines.
"We're expecting an average return of spring chinook this year, with a fairly high number of large fish in the mix," LeFleur said. "On the other hand, the abundance of legal-size sturgeon below Bonneville Dam has declined, so harvest guidelines for that fishery will be tighter this year."
2011 spring chinook seasons
According to the pre-season forecast, 198,400 upriver spring chinook will return to the Columbia River this year, close to the 10-year average. To guard against overestimating the run, the states will manage the fishery with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated in late April or early May.
"If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in spring," LeFleur said.
Initial seasons announced today allocate 7,750 upper river spring chinook to the sport fishery below Bonneville Dam, 1,650 to anglers fishing above Bonneville and 2,100 to the commercial fleet. Those guidelines do not include the catch of spring chinook returning to Columbia River tributaries such as the Willamette, Cowlitz, Lewis and Wind rivers.
As in years past, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared fish, marked with a clipped adipose fin. All unmarked wild spring chinook must be released unharmed.
Spring chinook fishing is currently open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge. Under the new rules approved today, the fishery will be expanded 22 miles upriver to Rooster Rock from March 1 through April 4.
Bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from Rooster Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam during that time.
Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines during that time.
Anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one hatchery-reared adult chinook per day as part of their catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked hatchery chinook per day.
Large, five-year-old fish are expected to make up an unusually high portion of this year's catch, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. More than 100,000 five-year-old spring chinook - each weighing 18 to 30 pounds - are predicted to pass through fisheries en route to the Willamette River or the upper Columbia River this year.
By comparison, only about 26,000 five-year-old fish returned to those areas last year, despite a strong run of 423,000 spring chinook to those waters.
"We're not expecting as many total fish back this year, but we are expecting a lot of big ones," Hymer said. "Some of those fish are already starting to show up in the catch."
2011 white sturgeon seasons
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon also agreed on new seasons for Columbia River white sturgeon that reflect mutual concerns about the declining abundance of legal-size sturgeon below Bonneville Dam.
New harvest guidelines approved today will limit this year's catch in those waters to 17,000 fish, a 30 percent reduction from last year. That action follows a 40 percent reduction imposed during the 2010 fishing season.
"In practical terms, this year's action is expected to reduce the amount of time sturgeon fisheries in the lower Columbia River will be open at the end of the season," said Brad James, another WDFW fish biologist.
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial fishery. In addition, 60 percent of the sport catch will continue to be reserved for the estuary fishery below the Wauna powerlines and 40 percent for the fishery upriver from the powerlines to Bonneville Dam.
Fishing seasons approved for 2011 in the lower Columbia River are as follows:
Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 to April 30; May 14 through June 26; and July 1-4. From Jan. 1 to April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 14 through the end of the season they must measure 41 inches to 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 three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31 and from Oct. 8 until Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. All fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May 1 through Aug. 31 in the sturgeon sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet.
At a previous joint state hearing, the two states took action to close the Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock to fishing at least through April 30.
Contrary to the trend in the lower river, monitoring and fishery data show that legal-size sturgeon populations are growing above Bonneville Dam, James said. In response, the states and tribes agreed to increase catch guidelines in two areas above the dam.
By their action, the harvest guideline was increased from 1,400 fish to 2,000 fish in the Bonneville Pool and from 165 fish to 500 fish in the John Day Pool. The 300-fish guideline in The Dalles Pool remains unchanged.
Even with the higher guideline in the Bonneville Pool, the states agreed to close those waters to sturgeon retention at the end of the day Feb. 18, when the catch is expected to reach the new 2,000-fish guideline.
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