Steelhead fishery in lower Columbia delayed by slow salmon returns

OLYMPIA – The slow passage of spring chinook salmon over Bonneville Dam has prompted fishery managers from Washington and Oregon to delay a recreational steelhead fishery originally set to begin Tue., May 16 in the lower Columbia River.

The annual fishery for hatchery steelhead and jack chinook salmon, stretching from Rocky Point upriver to the Interstate 5 Bridge, is closed until further notice, said Ron Roler, a fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Roler said the halting movement of spring chinook past Bonneville Dam has delayed an updated projection of the size of this year’s run, a key factor in determining if additional spring chinook will be available for harvest under state catch guidelines.

Although the rules for the steelhead fishery require anglers to release any adult salmon they catch, any salmon that do not survive count toward the annual harvest guideline for sport fisheries in the lower river, Roler said.

“All these fisheries are closely connected,” Roler said. “Right now, we’re waiting for an update on the spring chinook return, so we can determine how the steelhead fishery will fit within the spring chinook guideline.”

As of May 10, only about 26,200 of the 160,400 upriver spring chinook anticipated under this year’s preseason forecast had been counted at Bonneville Dam. In most years, an updated estimate is issued by the first week of May, after about 50 percent of the run has passed the dam.

Roler cited this year’s high, cold, and turbid water conditions in the Columbia River as a major reason for the slow movement of spring chinook upstream. Another factor may be the unusually warm water conditions in 2015, which likely took a toll on a portion of this year’s run, he said.

Sport fisheries below the dam reached their initial catch guideline of about 6,900 fish last month, but spring chinook counts at the dam didn’t top a thousand fish per day until early May.

“We should know pretty soon if the run is lower than expected, or just slow,” Roler said. “Spring chinook don’t spawn until fall, so they’re not in a big hurry to get upstream. That’s especially true if they encounter unusual water conditions along the way.”

Information provided by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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