Record number of rainbow trout returning to the Columbia River
Record numbers of rainbow trout are returning to the Columbia River this year, prompting conservationists and anglers to call for an end to recreational fishing for anadromous fish.
As of this week, only 29,000 rainbow trout have passed the Bonneville Dam since July 1 – the lowest number on record, less than half the average for the past five years, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
A coalition of conservation and fishing groups has sent a letter to agencies in Oregon, Washington and Idaho that manage fish and wildlife calling for an immediate closure of the recreational rainbow trout fishery on the Columbia River, the lower Snake River and their tributaries.
“It’s a really, really dire year for rainbow trout – especially wild rainbow trout – in the Columbia River basin,” said Rob Kirschner, legal and policy director of The Conservation. Angler, who advocates for the protection and restoration of wild fish in the Pacific Northwest and Kamchatka, Russia.
“We are trying to protect every eligible parent,” he added. “Each of these fish matters.”
Rainbow trout on the Columbia and Snake rivers are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. After hatching in freshwater rivers and streams, the rainbow trout – the anadromous rainbow trout – migrate to the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn.
Their population has been devastated by habitat destruction, including the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, as well as overfishing and climate change. The high water temperatures on the Columbia and Snake rivers were also detrimental, as much of the northwest faced excessive heat and relentless drought.
Commissioners and staff from the Oregon and Washington departments of fishing and wildlife met virtually on Friday to discuss options for limiting the damage. Most fisheries on the Columbia require anglers to release any rainbow trout they catch this fall.
“There just aren’t many places to make big savings,” said Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River Fisheries Officer in Washington.
The groups that wrote the letter to the commissioners say that is not true. They say shutting down the recreational rainbow trout fishery completely for the fall could prevent unnecessary fish deaths – and fishermen would benefit.
“(We) just don’t believe that the ESA-listed rainbow trout fishery during their worst comeback on record is appropriate for these fish or future generations of fishermen,” the letter said. “For a species that has provided generations of memorable fishing experiences, asking anglers to sit down a season is reasonable and necessary given the circumstances.”
Signatories to the letter included representatives from the Native Fish Society, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Fish Conservancy, North Umpqua Foundation and Fly Fishers International, in addition to The Conservation Angler.
The commissioners of the Oregon and Washington state departments of fisheries and wildlife have yet to make any decisions or recommendations regarding recreational rainbow trout fishing, the OPB reported.