Columbia River Spring Chinook
by Allen Thomas
State and tribal officials say they think the monster run of spring chinook salmon forecasted for the upper Columbia River actually will be big this year.
A huge run of 470,000 upper Columbia spring chinook is predicted to enter the river in 2010, but projections of the run have been far off the mark in recent years.
Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said Tuesday the biologists have looked at several models that predict the run from 250,000 minimum "to as high as you want to go."
Sportsmen in the lower Columbia River caught 29,125 chinook and released 4,370 more in 166,027 angler trips in a fishing season that ended on Sunday. That's a record for kept fish, topping 25,100 in 2001, said Chris Kern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Of those 29,125, 22,928 are upper Columbia fish and count against catch allocations.
The gillnetters killed 1,279 upper Columbia chinook in their off-channel fisheries such as Youngs Bay and Blind Slough plus 7,519 in their main Columbia season.
Sportsmen upstream of Bonneville Dam had a kill of 471 chinook through Sunday.
Non-Indian sport and commercial harvest combined totals 32,197 upper Columbia chinook, Kern said.
Add the 32,197 to a Bonneville Dam count of 56,735 through Monday, and almost 89,000 upper Columbia spring chinook already are on the books.
Chinook passing Bonneville Dam through June 15 are counted as spring chinook.
The run does not peak at Bonneville Dam until early to mid-May, and until state and tribal biologists feel confident they can come close to projecting the final size of the run, non-Indian fishermen must wait to see if more fishing will be allowed.
Catch-balancing provisions between non-Indians and the four Columbia River treaty tribes have not been achieved the past two years. The states and tribes agreed to buffer the run by a minimum of 30 percent this year to avoid the tribes getting shorted again.
"The river looks pretty fishy," said Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But until they pass the dam, it's hard to know how fishy it is."
"We've got a beautiful run of fish this year and it's looking better every day," said Les Clark, a commercial fisherman from Chinook, Wash.
Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the run looks strong but "it's a little early to distinguish if it's an early run or a large run."
Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the run need to be about 300,000 for the non-Indian catch to meet allocation agreements.
Washington and Oregon will start looking at options how future sport and commercial fishing might be structured, she said.
But a resumption of fishing depends on when a panel of state, tribal and federal biologists feel comfortable with making an updated run forecast, LeFleur said.
If the run is indeed 470,000, there will be much more sport and commercial fishing, said Guy Norman of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"We've agreed to operate under the buffer until an update," he said. Harry Barber of Washougal asked the states to give priority to waters upstream of Interstate 205 if sport fishing resumes. There was no sport fishing from boats upstream of I-205 in the season that ended on Sunday.
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