Columbia River chinook conservation needs were a prominent concern in development of the Pacific Salmon Treaty by the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, chinook exploitation rates have been higher than originally anticipated at the time of treaty negotiations, because ceilings for northern ocean fisheries (Alaska and Canada) were premised on higher survival rates (Figure 5B.6). As a result of reduced rates of chinook survival, the goals of the coastwide chinook rebuilding program established by the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) are not being met (Chinook Technical Committee Report 1994).
Recent reductions in Oregon and Washington coastal fisheries, due to concerns about low numbers of naturally spawning salmon, has led to exploration of alternative fishing methods. One approach is selective fishing in which all hatchery fish are marked and fishing regulations are developed for the retention of marked fish only. The Ad-hoc Selective Fishery Evaluation Committee of the Pacific Salmon Commission has identified numerous issues that need to be resolved if the selective fishery strategy is to be employed consistent with data needs and management for weak stock conservation.
Reductions in harvest ceilings for northern ocean fisheries, including incidental mortalities, will help meet the goals of the coastwide rebuilding program to progress toward achieving full production, escapement, and harvest goals. A management system relying on an abundance based approach will lead to establishment of appropriate ocean harvest levels.
- Immediately seek, through PSC processes, reductions in total chinook mortalities in northern ocean fisheries, which will lead to completion of the chinook rebuilding program. Encourage reductions in incidental mortalities by reducing the number of chinook nonretention days.
- Establish within 3 years a mutually agreeable approach to managing Alaskan and Canadian ocean fisheries based on changes in chinook abundance.
- Annually review all ocean fishing regimes, including alternative fishing methods, to determine effects on chinook rebuilding program.
- Take empirical observations of survival rates into account in all ocean fisheries management, and adjust fishing regimes accordingly.
Substantial reductions in total mortalities in northern ocean fisheries harvesting chinook will help achieve rebuilding goals for 1998, and returns of upriver bright fall chinook to the Columbia River will be increased by about 15%. Oregon and Washington ocean fisheries will be managed to conserve stocks, consistent with treaty obligations in U.S. v Oregon.
Use the existing Pacific Salmon Treaty, Pacific Fisheries Management Council, and U.S. v Oregon processes and committees to implement harvest recommendations.