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Ecology and salmon related articles

Chinook Run Appears
48 Percent Under Forecast

by Allen Thomas, Columbian staff writer
The Columbian, May 13, 2004

The spring chinook salmon run headed for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers appears to be 48 percent smaller than predicted.

State, federal and tribal biologists have updated the forecast, downgrading it from a prediction of 360,700 in December to 189,200 adult chinook.

Although counts at Bonneville Dam were small in March and early April, that was expected because the early returning 5-year-old component was anticipated to be 6 percent of the run.

But the 4-year-olds, which peak in mid-April at Bonneville, just never showed the expected strength. Chinook passing Bonneville through May 31 are considered the spring race.

If the run is 189,200, state fishery officials exceeded their allowed take under the federal Endangered Species Act, although not intentionally.

Wild spring chinook headed for the upper Columbia and Snake rivers are protected under the ESA. An agreement between the states, federal government and treaty Indian tribes limits non-Indians to killing no more than 2 percent of the wild fish.

Sport and commercial seasons in the lower Columbia target on the plentiful hatchery-origin chinook. Both groups release wild fish. Still, some wild fish die despite being released. Those dead fish are called "impacts.''

State biologists calculate and monitor during the season how fast those impacts are being used to ensure the 2 percent ceiling is not exceeded.

Although state managers set aside significant buffers to be sure the 2 percent ceiling was not achieved, no one anticipated the actual spring chinook run would be so far under the forecast.

If the run is 189,200, the non-Indian impacts are about 2.5 percent.

"Our management was responsible and conservative in all the fisheries,'' said Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Although predictions are generally a little high or a little low, the average of overages and underages is a 99 percent accuracy rate, she said.

In February, March and April downstream of Bonneville Dam, there were 164,000 fishing trips with a total catch of 33,450 spring chinook and a kept catch of 25,624.

In March, the commercial fleet caught 18,576 chinook and kept 13,546 fish. Another 7,300 chinook were caught and kept in off-channel areas such as Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Deep River.

Commercial fisheries in the off-channel areas were closed indefinitely last week to avoid any incidental catch of upper Columbia chinook, which is historically small in those areas.

Sport fishing in a portion of the Snake River also was closed to prevent any additional spring chinook harvest.

Tribal fishermen between Bonneville and McNary dams are allowed to catch 9 percent of the spring salmon run. They are projected to be at 8.1 percent at the end of netting on Friday.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian.
Chinook Run Appears 48 Percent Under Forecast
The Columbian, May 13, 2004

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