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Anglers push for chinook

VANCOUVER, Wash. – For four hours on Saturday, anglers pounded the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission here to allocate them enough spring chinook to fish daily through April between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam.

The commercial fishing industry had a different idea: Extend the old sharing agreement for another year while a 13-member sport-commercial committee tries to hammer out a long-term plan.

Commission members have three weeks to mull the conflicting advice before making their decision Feb. 1 or 2 in Olympia.

This year’s spring chinook management is expected to be unlike any in decades. A big run of 269,300 chinook headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam is forecast, yet a poor return of just 34,000 is anticipated to Oregon’s Willamette River.

Almost all spring fishing – sport and commercial – may be upstream of Interstate 5 to protect Willamette River chinook.

A policy that shared the upper Columbia spring chinook impacts 57 percent for sportsmen and 43 percent for the commercial fleet expired at the end of 2007. More than a dozen sportsmen on Saturday told the commission the allocation should be changed to 70 percent sport and 30 percent commercial, which should give anglers enough chinook to fish into May with a two-salmon limit.

Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat said the 70-30 split is not unreasonable considering the commercials get 93 percent of the Columbia River coho.

Bob Rees, president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, said Willamette River spring chinook, estuary sturgeon, ocean salmon and Columbia River fall chinook fisheries all will be down in 2008, leaving Columbia spring chinook as the bright spot.

Dan Grogan of Vancouver, president of Fishermen’s Marine and Outdoor, two Oregon retail sporting good stores, said the lower Columbia spring chinook run is bracketed by an ocean commercial fishery and a tribal commercial fishery upstream of Bonneville Dam. Then sportsmen have to give up almost half the allocation to 100 lower Columbia gillnetters, he added.

Mark Pearsall, tackle buyer for retailer Joes, said there has been a 50 percent drop in sales of spring chinook-related products since 2002, resulting in job layoffs.

“We need a season we can plan on for more than three days ahead,” Pearsall said.

Not surprisingly, the commercial testimony was quite different.

Bill Hunsinger of Astoria said a spring chinook meal costs $17 to $18 at the grocery store and $25 in restaurants, and the gillnetters are the only way the non-angling public can get the fish.

“The guides are just as commercial as I am,” said Steve Gray of Seaview, Wash., a gillnetter. “Some guides catch more fish per person than commercial fishermen.”