By Wayne Kruse - For The Herald
There’s some reasonably optimistic fishing news from the Columbia River for a change — the spring chinook season on the big river should be a decent one.
Salmon managers from Washington and Oregon have approved seasons for Columbia springers, setting the stage for the first major salmon fishery of the year. Below Bonneville, catch guidelines allocate 6,680 upriver springers for a 38-day season that opens Thursday and runs through April 7. The fishery will be open to both boat and bank anglers from Buoy 10 to Beacon Rock.
Above Bonneville, the season runs March 16 through May 7 from the Tower Island power lines upriver to the Washington/Oregon border near Umatilla. The season will be for 53 days, with an initial catch guideline of 900 upriver chinook. Bank fishing will be allowed from Bonneville upriver to the power lines.
The daily catch limit will be one hatchery chinook as part of a two-fish daily limit that can also include hatchery coho and hatchery steelhead. Barbless hooks are required, and all wild-stock fish must be released.
This year’s initial catch guidelines include a 30-percent “buffer” to guard against over-harvesting the run. If actual returns meet or exceed expectations, reserve fish will become available for harvest later in the season. Fishery managers likely will meet in May — when half the run has historically passed Bonneville — to determine if the season can be extended.
According to the preseason forecast, roughly 248,500 springers will return to the Columbia this year, an increase of 20 percent from last season. That number includes 166,700 upriver fish headed for waters above Bonneville, and 81,820 returning to rivers below the dam.
Bill Tweit, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s special assistant for Columbia River fisheries, said the upriver forecast is an increase of 44 percent from last year, but still 10 percent below the 10-year average.
“This year’s fishery appears to be shaping up as a fairly normal one,” Tweit said. “Even so, we always have to take a conservative approach in setting fishing seasons until we can determine how many fish are actually moving past Bonneville Dam.”
That noise you hear is the state Department of Fish and Wildlife scrambling to make itself more transparent in its dealings with the tribal co-managers over salmon fishing seasons. Under marching orders to quit setting salmon seasons in meetings closed not only to the public but recently to its own governing commission as well, the department has come out with a release on the upcoming “North of Falcon” summer season-setting process absolutely bristling with transparency.
The state Fish and Wildlife Commission is a nine-member citizen panel appointed by the governor to oversee the department’s operations, and some of the commissioners were not pleased when the since-departed director, Jim Unsworth, and the department recently signed off on a 10-year salmon plan for Puget Sound. Apparently no one saw the plan prior to the signing except for tribal negotiators and department functionaries.
The important North of Falcon process comes around this time each year and involves user-group negotiations over summer recreational and commercial salmon fisheries. This year, the commission likely will be flexing its muscle in overseeing a department headed by an acting director who is not as likely as his predecessor to rock the boat.
Thus the transparent North of Falcon release from the Department of Fish and Wildlife on Feb. 16:
“More than 20 (meetings are) scheduled at various locations around the state as part of salmon negotiations. A list of the meetings can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon.
“Online Comments: The public can provide comments on fisheries and rule simplification through an online commenting tool as salmon seasons are developed. The online tool will be available in the coming weeks on the website above.
“Plenary Session: This year, the co-managers have agreed to invite the public to an informal discussion, which is tentatively scheduled to follow a state/tribal negotiating session in early April. Meeting information will be posted on the website above.
“Conference Calls and Daily Briefings: During the final days of negotiations, state fish managers will hold multiple briefings each day with the public as well as conference calls with constituents who can’t attend.”
Then the face-saver: “State salmon managers scheduled these opportunities under guidance from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor that sets policy for WDFW. Commissioners have instructed WDFW staff to continue to work with their tribal co-managers to make the season-setting process as transparent as possible.”