WA: Columbia River fishing seasons set for spring chinook, sturgeon
PORTLAND – Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today set
fishing seasons for 2012 on the lower Columbia River that
anticipate a strong run of spring chinook salmon but a further
decline in the number of white sturgeon available for harvest.
Most new fishing regulations adopted today will take effect
March 1, when fishing for spring chinook and sturgeon starts to
heat up on the lower Columbia. Until then, both fisheries are open
on various sections of the river under rules approved last
This year’s spring chinook season is based on a projected return
of 314,200 upriver fish to the Columbia River, which would be the
fourth-largest on record. The sport fishery approved today is
scheduled to run through April 6, but could be extended if enough
fish are available for harvest.
Harvest guidelines adopted by the two states will allow anglers
fishing below Bonneville Dam to catch and keep up to 14,500
hatchery-reared spring chinook before the run forecast is updated
in May. Upriver fish bound for rivers above the dam are expected to
make up the majority of the catch, but salmon returning to the
Cowlitz, Lewis, Willamette and other rivers below Bonneville also
contribute to the fishery.
As in years past, only hatchery-reared spring chinook marked
with a clipped adipose fin may be retained. Any unmarked wild
spring chinook must be released unharmed.
Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said this year’s spring
chinook fishery looks promising, especially compared to last
“Not only is the run forecast well above average, but fishing
conditions should be a lot better than last year when anglers had
to contend with weeks of high, turbid water,” LeFleur said.
But tighter catch guidelines for white sturgeon on the lower
Columbia River will reduce fishing opportunities for that species
for the third straight year. Responding to the continued decline of
sturgeon abundance below Bonneville Dam in recent years, the two
states adopted fishing regulations designed to reduce the catch by
another 38 percent this year.
“This year’s sturgeon fishery will be opening later or closing
earlier on various sections of the river,” LeFleur said. “Anglers
should check this year’s fishing rules carefully before they head
The new fishing regulations for white sturgeon and spring
chinook salmon will be posted on WDFW’s website at
http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ by the end of the day Jan.
2012 spring chinook seasons
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 adopted
today, the sport fishery will expand upriver to Beacon Rock from
March 1 through April 6. During that period, the sport fishery will
close on three Tuesdays – March 20, March 27 and April 3 – to
accommodate commercial fisheries.
Starting March 1, bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from
Beacon Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam.
Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank
anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through May 2 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.
Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam
may retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult spring chinook as part
of their daily catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two
marked adult spring chinook per day effective March 16.
This year’s forecast of 314,200 upriver spring chinook is up
significantly from 2011, when 198,400 upriver fish were projected
to enter the Columbia River. Although last year’s run exceeded that
forecast, extremely high water conditions put a damper on catch
rates for much of the season.
To guard against overestimating this year’s run, the states will
again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the
forecast is updated in late April or early May.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have already
scheduled a meeting April 5 to review the catch and determine if
the season can be extended. If the catch to that point has not
reached the initial harvest guideline, the two states will consider
an immediate extension, said LeFleur, the WDFW fishery manager.
“We’ve agreed to take a conservative approach until May, when we
typically know how many fish are actually returning,” Le Fleur
said. “If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look
toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in
2012 white sturgeon seasons
New harvest guidelines approved for sturgeon fisheries in the lower
Columbia River will limit this year’s catch to 9,600, a 38 percent
reduction from last year. That action follows a 30 percent catch
reduction in 2011 and a 40 percent reduction in 2010.
Monitoring data jointly collected by Washington and Oregon
indicate that the abundance of legal-size white sturgeon has
declined by nearly 50 percent since 2003. Factors often cited for
the decline include increased predation by sea lions and a drop in
the abundance of smelt and lamprey, which contribute to sturgeons’
To keep this year’s catch within the new harvest guideline, the
sturgeon fishery will end 23 days earlier than last year in the
estuary below the Wauna powerlines and start eight days later in
the fall from the powerlines upriver to Bonneville Dam. Fishing
seasons approved for 2012 in the lower Columbia River are as
Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is
allowed daily from Jan. 1 through April 30 and from May 12 through
July 8. From Jan. 1 through April 30, sturgeon must measure between
38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 12
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. 20 through 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. Sand Island Slough
near Rooster Rock also will be closed to fishing at least through
As in years past, 80 percent of the allowable catch will be
allocated to the sport fishery and 20 percent to the commercial
fishery. Under the new harvest rate, the portion of the catch
available to recreational fisheries will be allocated as follows:
up to 4,160 fish in the estuary, up to 2,080 above Wauna and
between 1,768 and 2,022 in the Willamette River.
The harvest share between recreational fisheries upstream and
downstream from the Wauna power lines will be flexible and may be
adjusted in-season to meet the states’ expectations for fishing
seasons and ensure the harvest rate does not exceed area catch
Unlike the lower river, legal-size sturgeon populations appear
to be growing above Bonneville Dam, said Brad James, a WDFW fish
biologist. This year’s harvest guidelines for sturgeon fisheries
above the dam have not yet been determined.