Very low steel­head num­bers near Tri-Cities means sea­son is clos­ing

Tri-City Herald - - News - BY AN­NETTE CARY acary@tric­i­ty­her­ald.com An­nette Cary; 509-582-1533

The steel­head sea­son is be­ing closed in the area near the Tri-Cities be­cause of extremely low re­turns of the fish.

The sea­son usu­ally is open from Oct. 1 un­til April 15 for steel­head from the blue bridge up­stream to the old Han­ford town­site wooden power line tow­ers.

This year it closes Satur­day.

Every fall the trap at the Ringold Springs Hatch­ery on the Columbia also catches steel­head when they are set with the in­tent of col­lect­ing spawn­ing fall chi­nook.

The steel­head don’t spawn un­til the spring, so their tail fin is clipped and they are hauled to the Tri-City area to be re­leased back into the river.

Num­bers are counted to es­ti­mate how many may re­turn to spawn at Ringold in the spring, in­di­cat­ing whether there will be enough brood stock for the hatch­ery.

This year just 96 steel­head have en­tered the trap in the past five weeks, said bi­ol­o­gist Paul Hof­farth of the Wash­ing­ton state Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife.

It’s the low­est re­turn in

18 years.

Last year, which was one of the worst for re­turn­ing steel­head, there were 277 that en­tered the Ringold trap by this time of the year, Ho­farth said. In 2014 there were 867.

The hatch­ery, which raises the steel­head for fish­ing, needs 300,000 fer­til­ized eggs this spring to meet the pro­duc­tion goal of 180,000 ju­ve­nile steel­head for re­lease in

2020.

Low re­turns are par­tially due to warm wa­ter as the ju­ve­nile steel­head mi­grate down the Columbia River to the ocean in the spring, Ho­farth said.

A high snow­pack and spring rains pro­vide the ideal con­di­tions for good flow, and the cool wa­ter that help steel­head thrive.

Added to that have been poor re­cent ocean con­di­tions and birds nest­ing at the river in the spring that prey on ju­ve­nile steel­head as they swim close to the sur­face of the wa­ter.

Fish and Wildlife also an­nounced this week that there would be no salmon and steel­head fish­ing on the Columbia River down­stream of the blue bridge in the Tri-Cities un­til Jan. 1.

Af­ter end­ing the sea­son early in the sum­mer, the agency con­sid­ered whether it could be re­opened this fall.

But fall chi­nook counts at Bon­neville Dam fell far short of the num­ber an­tic­i­pated, and re­open­ing fish­eries for coho and steel­head down­stream of the Columbia River this fall would im­pact the fall chi­nook, Fish and Wildlife con­cluded.

By Jan. 1 the the fall chi­nook should no longer be present.

Some trib­u­taries re­main open for salmon and steel­head fish­ing, but an­glers should check for emer­gency fish­ing rule changes be­fore head­ing out.

JUST 96 STEEL­HEAD HAVE EN­TERED THE TRAP AT RINGOLD SPRINGS HATCH­ERY IN THE PAST FIVE WEEKS. THAT’S THE LOW­EST RE­TURN IN 18 YEARS.

Tri-City Her­ald file

The steel­head sea­son is clos­ing Satur­day in the Columbia River from the blue bridge to the old wooden power line tow­ers at the for­mer Han­ford town­site. It usu­ally is open into the spring.

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