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Month: February 2019

States Projection low spring chinook returns and constrain Columbia River fishing seasons

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VANCOUVER, Wash. – Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today approved a sports fishery, for spring chinook salmon on the Columbia River that reflects a significant reduction in the number of fish available for harvest this year.

According to preseason projections, about 99,300 upriver spring chinook will reach the Columbia this year, down 14 percent from last year and 50 percent below the 10-year average. Those fish return to hatcheries and spawning areas upriver from Bonneville Dam.

In addition, fishery managers are also expecting much lower returns than last year to several major lower Columbia River tributaries, particularly the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers. On the Cowlitz, this year’s spring chinook run is projected to reach just 11 percent of the 10-year average and fall short of meeting hatchery production goals.

Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said those projections are largely the result of poor ocean conditions, which have complicated fisheries management in recent years.

“Anglers will still find some good fishing opportunities in the Columbia River Basin this spring, but conservation has to be our first concern,” Lothrop said. “We have a responsibility to protect salmon runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and get enough fish back to the spawning grounds and hatcheries to support future runs.”

Although salmon fishing is currently open from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Interstate-5 bridge, spring chinook usually don’t arrive in large numbers until mid-to-late March. The new fishing regulations approved today will take effect in the following areas:

  • Columbia River below Bonneville Dam: Salmon fishing will open March 1 through April 10 on the Columbia River upstream from Warrior Rock boundary line to Bonneville Dam. Anglers may retain two salmon, two steelhead, or one of each per day, but only one salmon may be a chinook. The lower river downstream from Warrior Rock will be closed to fishing from March 1 through April 10 to conserve spring chinook returning to the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers.
  • Tributaries: The Cowlitz and Lewis rivers will also close to salmon fishing March 1 to conserve spring chinook for hatchery escapement needs, but will remain open for hatchery steelhead retention. The Kalama River will remain open to fishing for salmon and steelhead, but the daily limit of adult salmon will be reduced to one fish on March 1.
  • Columbia River above Bonneville Dam: Waters above Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington state line above McNary Dam will open to salmon fishing April 1 through May 5. Anglers may retain two salmon, two steelhead, or one of each per day, but only one salmon may be a chinook.

In all open waters, only hatchery salmon and steelhead identified by a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained.

Along with new area restrictions in the lower Columbia, fishery managers also reduced initial harvest limits for upriver spring chinook returning to the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. If those fish return as projected, anglers in the Columbia and Snake rivers will be limited to a total of 4,548 fish, compared to 9,052 last year, prior to a run size updated in May.

Lothrop noted that this year’s projected return of 99,300 upriver spring chinook is the lowest since 2007, but still well above the record-low return of just 12,800 fish in 1995.

“Experience has shown that warm-water ocean conditions present a challenge to salmon survival,” he said. “As in the 1990s, we have observed that cyclical warming effect during the past few years with similar results. During these times, we have to be especially cautious in how we manage the fishery.”

Anglers are strongly advised to review the rules for the waters they plan to fish, available on the department’s website at

WDFW is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.



WDFW Commission to take public input on hatchery reform and salmon management policies

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OLYMPIA – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will take public input on various topics – including hatchery reform, salmon management in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, and several land transactions – during an upcoming meeting in Olympia.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), will meet Feb. 8-9 in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. both days.

A full agenda is available online at

WDFW staff will provide an update on a review of the state’s hatchery and fishery reform policy, which is intended to improve hatchery effectiveness, ensure compatibility between hatchery production and salmon recovery plans, and support sustainable fisheries. Staff will discuss the process they will use to review the policy and the science behind it. The public will have the opportunity to comment during the Friday meeting.

WDFW fish managers will also provide an update on the progress of the Willapa Bay Salmon Management Policy comprehensive review. That policy, approved by the commission in 2015, prioritizes recreational chinook fisheries in Willapa Bay while focusing commercial fishery opportunities on coho and chum salmon. 

To meet conservation objectives, WDFW requires the release of any wild chinook salmon in these fisheries and manages fishing seasons to hold mortality rates for those fish within a prescribed limit. WDFW staff will seek guidance from the commission on priorities for the 2019-20 season.

Also at the meeting, state fishery managers will provide an overview of last year’s salmon fisheries in Grays Harbor, including an assessment of harvest levels and conformance with conservation objectives.

After staff presentations, the commission will take public input on both the Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor policies.

In other business, commissioners will consider three transactions, including the acquisition of 1,100 acres to protect waterfowl habitat in Grays Harbor County, an 80-acre conservation easement to protect Mazama pocket gopher habitat in Thurston County, and an easement to Ferry County for wellhead protection.

Additionally, the commission is scheduled to take action on proposed wildlife-rehabilitation rules and will hear a briefing on the Lower Columbia River sturgeon population and proposed 2019 fisheries.