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B-run Blooper Bumps Down Fish Count

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 23, 2003

Good ocean conditions didn't do much good against drought and low water in 2001

The number of wild B-run steelhead expected to return to the Clearwater River was downgraded recently after biologists discovered an error in their calculations.

Biologists from Oregon and Washington had expected about 11,500 wild B-run steelhead to return above Bonneville Dam and make their way up the Columbia and Snake rivers. Typically a little less than half the fish that show up at Bonneville Dam make it all the way to Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of Clarkston.

Now the number returning to Bonneville will likely be closer to 6,700, according to Cindy Lafleur, a fisheries manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Vancouver.

The Technical Advisory Committee, a group that helps determine how fisheries will be split between Columbia River Indian tribes and the states of Washington and Oregon, already had lowered the estimate of hatchery B-run steelhead expected to return.

It's likely both the wild and hatchery runs of B-run steelhead were hit hard by the drought and low water conditions of 2001, when they left Idaho for the Pacific Ocean.

"Both hatchery and wild group-B fish are returning in smaller numbers than predicted. It makes sense that both of those would be affected by the 2001 flows," said Lafleur.

B-run steelhead originate from the Clearwater River, although some hatchery B-run fish are released in the Salmon River. They generally spend two years in the ocean and return larger in size than A-run steelhead.

The A-run group of fish return to the Salmon, Snake, Grand Ronde and Imnaha rivers and generally spend just one year in the ocean.

Improved ocean conditions have led to robust returns of steelhead the past few years. But in 2001, record low stream flows made for dismal juvenile salmon and steelhead migration conditions.

Scientists did not know if the good ocean forage could mitigate the horrible migration conditions. Bill Horton, ana-dromous fish coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise, said predictions are made assuming conditions will be normal. But 2001 was a drought year with bad river flow conditions and generally good ocean conditions. Those types of anomalies can throw off predictions, he said.

Biologists expect 13,000 to 15,000 hatchery B-run steelhead to return this year and a little more than 3,000 wild B-run steelhead.

But fall chinook continue to return in glowing numbers this fall. Lafleur said fall chinook are tricky to count. They can spend one, two, three or even four years in the ocean. So it's difficult to know how many of the fall chinook returning this fall left the Snake River as juveniles in 2001, she said.

"With fall chinook you can have a bad year and it will affect one brood and not the other age groups around it," Lafleur said. "It doesn't show up as drastically."

Last year 52,000 hatchery B-run steelhead and 14,000 wild B-run steelhead returned above Lower Granite Dam.

Eric Barker
B-run Blooper Bumps Down Fish Count
Lewiston Tribune, October 23, 2003

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