Low Chinook numbers close fishing on Chehalis River

VIDEO: Fishing closed on Chehalis River due to low stream flows

Low levels of spring Chinook salmon forced an emergency closure of the Chehalis River and its tributaries.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials hoped to see about 1,400 spring Chinook salmon return to the waterway, but, when predictions showed that number was closer to about 400, they closed fishing.

“When I was in my 20s, I'd jump in my truck, ride down to the river, catch my limit within a couple of hours,” said Scott Crawford.

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Crawford’s is a fishing guide in Grays Harbor County and the owner of Chrome Inc. Sport Fishing. He’s been fishing his whole life. He said times have changed.

"It's very difficult to provide a limit to clients that we have,” said Crawford.

He said conditions are especially bad on the Chehalis River.

"Right now, the river is really, really low and warm and any kind of pressure or stress on the fish isn't good,” said Crawford.

This week, WDFW announced an emergency closure for fishing on the Chehalis River and its tributaries, including South Fork Chehalis River, North Fork Newaukum River, South Fork Newaukum River and Skookumchuck River.

The state said low stream flows are hurting the spring Chinook.

The Chehalis River is where the fish hold and stage through the summer.

“We have to think about the future: conservation first, opportunity next,” said Robert Allen, WDFW region 6 program manager.

To protect the Chinook, the state shut down fishing for all species. Boats could cause the salmon stress, injury and death.

"We're hoping spring Chinook will find their way to the spawning grounds. That's our goal,” said Allen.

Crawford said the measures may hurt his bottom line, but he believes they're a good move. He worries that, if actions aren't taken now, conditions will only get worse down the road.

"If there were fish available close to home, certainly we'd be doing that, but that's just not the case,” said Crawford.

WDFW hasn’t set a date for when fishing will reopen in the Chehalis River.

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