Six Hundred Thousand Fall Chinook Heading Our Wayby Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, June 27, 2002
Harvest managers have OK'd fishing seasons for the upcoming bonanza of fall chinook that is expected on the Columbia River. Agency prognosticators have predicted nearly 659,000 fall chinook will enter the river over the next month or so, which would be the third largest return since 1948. Nearly 300,000 upriver brights are predicted to be a big element of that parade, which would be the highest number returning to that part of the river since 1988. Returns to Bonneville Pool hatcheries are expected to be the largest of the past 26 years (136,000) and upriver summer steelhead are expected to be nearly off the chart, managers are expecting close to half a million of them.
But coho runs are predicted to be much lower than last year's blockbuster return of more than one million fish to the Columbia, with only 172,000 expected to enter the river after ocean fisheries are taken into account. That would be the smallest number since 1998.
Sport fishing opened in the lower river Aug.1 and some commercial fishing has commenced that targeted net-pen raised chinook. The current salmon glut has kept dock prices down from California to Alaska. Lower Columbia gillnetters are only getting 50 cents a pound.
Tribal gillnetters, who fish with set nets upstream of Bonneville Dam are slated to begin soon; they have already begun harvesting the fall run with more traditional methods, hoop nets, dip nets and hook and line. They may catch close to 150,000 chinook this fall if predictions hold, which would eclipse their harvest record of 146,000 fish from the 1988 run. They should expect even lower wholesale prices, but many sell their catches over the bank to the general public.
Tribes will be allowed to harvest 23 percent of the upriver bright fall run, with a little more than 8 percent allotted for non-Indian fishers, split nearly equally between sport and commercial fishermen.
Harvest managers consider ESA-listed Snake River wild fall chinook as a subset of the upriver bright run which spawns principally in the Hanford Reach of the mainstem Columbia, but they've been having hard time counting the run. According to the joint staff report released July 18 by Washington and Oregon fisheries managers, no determination has yet been made for wild fall returns to the Snake from last year's run, nor has a projection been made for this year's return to Lower Granite Dam.
In the case of Snake River fall chinook, the issue is complicated by difficulties in simply keeping track of wild populations, where recovery goals, at first glance, may have been surpassed last year. NMFS had estimated that about 2,700 wild fish returned to the Snake last year, about 200 more than the agency's interim recovery goal. However, WDFW official Glen Mendel told NW Fishletter that the feds had failed to account for the large numbers of unmarked fall chinook that were released by the Nez Perce tribe in 1999. About 600,000 subyearling chinook were released from sites above Lower Granite Dam without having their adipose fins clipped, though about one-third of them had been coded-wire-tagged.
Fish managers announced Aug. 21 they were cutting the sport limit at the mouth of the Columbia from two chinook to one, based on an analysis of the return that shows more wild ESA-listed fish are mixed in with hatchery stocks than they had anticipated.
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