HOOK AND FUR: Expect lower fish returns this year
Friday, February 17, 2017 12:28 PM
By Bob Brown
In general, it doesn’t look like river fishing in Regions 5 and 6 this year is going to be anything to write home about. That doesn’t mean it is going to be a bust, but probably mediocre at best if Columbia River forecasts are correct.
The Columbia Basin Bulletin reported Feb. 3 that in its first hearing of the year, the two-state Columbia River Compact comprised of the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments took a conservative approach to setting fishing periods in the Columbia because of lower forecasts of returning fish.
According to those forecasts, the upriver and lower-river spring chinook run is down 17 percent to 227,890 from the 2016 actual run of 274,652 fish. The upriver summer chinook forecast is down about one-third, from an actual count in 2016 of 91,046 to 63,100 this year, and this isn’t the end.
The sockeye salmon forecast is also down about 44 percent, from last year’s actual run of 354,466 to this year’s forecast of 198,500. However, some 1,400 Snake River sockeye are expected to return this year, and is similar to the 2016 actual sockeye return.
The compact committee also predicted the smelt return will be down 40 percent from last year’s 5 million pounds to an expected 3 million this year.
Salmon-return forecasts are based on run reconstruction methodology.
Help finalize hunting rules
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public comments on proposed recommendations for the 2017-18 seasons. Through Feb. 22, the department will accept comments to help finalize hunting rules and regulations for the upcoming year. Most of the proposals address changes in special permit levels and hunting area descriptions proposed since the Wildlife Commission approved the state’s last three-year hunting plan in 2015.
One change proposed by WDFW would significantly increase the daily limit of white-fronted geese and white geese in response to those species' growing abundance. Another would allow the department to restore points to hunters who draw a permit for a damage hunt, but are not called to participate in a hunt.
“The department is encouraging everyone interested in the upcoming hunting seasons to check the proposed changes, which can be found on the department’s website, and send us your comments,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game manager.
WDFW mea culpa
It's a rare occasion when the WDFW admits it screwed up, but the department recently did exactly that when it admitted to not being more forthcoming about the loss of more than 400,000 young summer steelhead last year at the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery.
WDFW planned to release 625,900 summer steelhead and 90,600 cutthroat trout late in 2016, but the actual release was only 202,200 steelhead and cutthroat, mostly likely due to increased bird depredation, ineffective bird hazing, exclusion of nets, and a fish-counting device prone to error due to technical limitations.
Called before the state Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee to explain what happened to about 70 percent of the hatchery’s steelhead and cutthroat, Kelly Cunningham, a WDFW deputy assistant director, told the assembly the department doesn't have a very compelling story to tell.
"Our biggest failure with respect to this issue is our failure and lack of formal and timely communications," Cunningham said.
Bob Brown lives in Roy and is a freelance outdoors columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.