Big Spring Chinook Run
by Allen Thomas
There is very good reason to believe we're going to see a huge spring chinook salmon run in Columbia River in 2008.
We're talking something akin to the mega-runs of 2001 and 2002.
We're talking, maybe, 300,000 fish.
While no one except Columbia River fishery insiders pay much attention to things like jack counts at Bonneville Dam, those numbers are exceptional this year.
Through Tuesday, the cumulative count of jacks at the dam was 14,104. That number is the second-best total for May 22, lagging behind only 19,286 in 2000.
A year ago Tuesday, the jack count was 2,415.
'I believe the count is going to be in the top three, maybe first or second, of the all-time jack counts,' said Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 'This is really good.'
Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission agreed with LeFleur.
'I wouldn't go out and buy a new boat just yet, but it's definitely a cause for optimism.'
Jacks are 3-year-old spring chinook. They are used to predict the return of 4-year-olds for the coming year.
The upper Columbia run is comprised mainly of 4-year-old spring chinook. The 5-year-old component is forecast based on the return of 4-year-olds.
Next year's spring chinook forecast normally is announced in mid-December.
The prediction is based on looking a jack returns at a variety of hatcheries and dams in the middle and upper Columbia, plus in the Snake River basin.
Some years, jack counts can be inflated by the return of small adult salmon.
That does not appear to be the case this spring, Ellis said.
In 2000, the jack tally at the end of counting on May 24 was 24,363. The next year the run was a mega 416,468.
In 2001, the jack total was 17,055, and the next year the run was 295,111.
But in 2003, the jack count of 17,558 contributed to a forecast of 360,000, yet the actual return in 2004 was 193,370.
'As evidenced by 2003, a big jack count doesn't necessarily mean a big adult run the next year,' Ellis said. 'But it's good to see.'
Compared to this year's run of 76,000 to 81,000, any of the above numbers look excellent.
Wouldn't it be great to have a repeat of 2001 to 2003, when the lower Columbia was like a fishing festival in April?
Willamette outlook poor
Ironically, while the jack counts are rosy in the Columbia, they are dismal in Oregon's Willamette River.
Some years, the Willamette spring chinook run is as large as the Columbia's.
Through May 15, the jack count at Willamette Falls was 45. That compares with 75 in 2006 and a eight-year average of 530.
'At this rate, it could be the lowest on record,' said Cameron Duff of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 'It is clear that the low jack count is an indication of a poor run to come, but it's only part of the picture.'
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